“The Life I Formerly Led as an Ape”: Imitation and Intermediacy in “A Report to an Academy”

Essay completed 14 April 2017

Franz Kafka’s 1917 short story “A Report to an Academy” is a characteristically bleak assessment of human nature as restricting rather than liberating. The story’s narrator begins his oration by thanking his audience for inviting him to give an account “of the life I formerly led as an ape” (Kafka 250). If Red Peter is no longer an ape, is he a human, or something in-between? Through Red Peter, Kafka questions whether convincing human imitation is equivalent to being one. No matter how closely Red Peter imitates the human, in his narrative he repeatedly calls attention to what still separates him from humanity. As Red Peter describes how he learned to mimic human behavior, Kafka explores how the former ape’s imitative performance and interspecies intermediacy interact to reveal the instability of the human designation. Continue reading ““The Life I Formerly Led as an Ape”: Imitation and Intermediacy in “A Report to an Academy””

“If It Means Anything to You”: Finding Meaning in “Hills Like White Elephants”

Essay completed 1 March 2017

Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants” has a multifaceted relationship with meaning. The majority of the text consists of dialogue between a couple whose conversation refers to personal matters that keep the reader an outsider, separated from the full context of the story. In a 1996 article in Twentieth Century Literature, Robert Paul Lamb argues the obscurity of the main characters’ language ensures that “Hills Like White Elephants” “can be comprehended only in light of the entire story” (469). The obscurity of the language comes from the multiple layers of meaning accompanying each line of dialogue. The reader soon discovers that the actual content of a character’s statement cannot be taken at face value. The characters rarely mean exactly what they say. Their detached, simple diction as they discuss an operation provides another layer of obfuscation, suggesting a disconnection between what they say and their actual feelings. An analysis of this veiled conversation demonstrates how different forms of communication change the shifting power dynamics beneath the text. Continue reading ““If It Means Anything to You”: Finding Meaning in “Hills Like White Elephants””