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A Theology of Illness: Franz Kafka's "A Country Doctor"

From: Literature and Medicine
Volume 24, Number 2, Fall 2005
pp. 297-314 | 10.1353/lm.2006.0010


Franz Kafka's "A Country Doctor,"the story of a physician whose life is predicated on duty and responsibility, and yet who ultimately fails as healer and physician, is one of the first modernist stories about doctoring. In this perplexing story Kafka struggles to find the meaning of "duty" in a doctor's life as well as the relationship of "duty" to Kafka's concept of "faith." Kafka may have borrowed many of the concepts and images in his story from Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals. But unlike Nietzsche, who was an atheist, Kafka was a religious skeptic. This story reflects his ambivalence toward his Jewish faith. He argues for the importance of faith by confronting its absence: How are we to live without it? Without faith, can physicians perform their duty to heal? Kafka believes that illness is fundamentally spiritual in origin, that physicians need moral knowledge to truly heal, and that the practice of medicine should be an act of faith.

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