Travel, Death, and the Exotic Voyage Home: “The Hunter Gracchus”



As I have argued throughout this book, Kafka often creates nostalgic travelers who—like turn-of-the-century dime-store heroes— attempt to make their way to “second homes.” Karl Rossmann goes hopefully to America; Josef K. plans to escape the courts by journeying to his mother’s house in the country; the Penal Colony officer wants nostalgically to return to an “old” era; and K. longs to enter the Castle. Kafka himself imagines second homes in an assortment of locations (Spain, South America, the Azores, Madeira, Palestine, a generic island in the “south”). But each of these journeys is derailed, infected by Kafka’s telltale discourse of disorientation. This repeated detouring of nostalgia becomes most evident, toward the end of Kafka’s life, in his reflections on the journey toward death. Although not Kafka’s last story, the unpublished fragments now known as “The Hunter Gracchus” (“Der Jäger Gracchus”) were written just months before Kafka’s first tubercular haemorrhage; and they offer us Kafka’s most sustained meditation on death as a disorienting voyage.1 Death, here, is depicted as the grand voyage toward, in Gracchus’ words, the “other world” (Jenseits) (GW49; NSI 309). This other world becomes, as in Kafka’s later epistolary musings on his own death, Gracchus’ own longed-for utopian destination.


Fundamental Error Primitive Life Divine Retribution Freudian Model Ment Claim 
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  1. 1.
    Kafka never finished “Gracchus,” and the manuscript now exists only as a series of fragments. In order to provide for clearer citation, I follow Malcolm Pasley’s division of the text into four fragments (GW 47–55; see also GW xiv-xv)—even though Hartmut Binder is right to notice a very brief fifth fragment (NSI 311) Binder, “‘Der Jäger Gracchus’: Zu Kafkas Schaffensweise und poetischer Topographie,” Jahrbuch der deutschen Schillergesellschaft 15 (1971): 375–440Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Rainer Nägele, “Auf der Suche nach dem verlorenen Paradies: Versuch einer Interpretation zu Kafkas ‘Der Jäger Gracchus,’” German Quarterly 47 (1974): esp. 66–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© John Zilcosky 2003

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