Franz Kafka

A Report to an Academy

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A Report to an Academy Summary

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Written by acclaimed German author Franz Kafka, the short story “A Report to an Academy” (1917), is about an ape named Red Peter who has learned to behave with human-like qualities. He makes a presentation at the request of a scientific academy about how he has achieved his remarkable transformation.

During his presentation, Red Peter states that the five years it has taken him to transform into a human has erased virtually all of his memories involving his youth on the Gold Coast. During his presentation, he focuses instead on his entrance into the human world and his various accomplishments since, considering himself an accomplished artist.

Red Peter’s transformation was a means of survival, as he had been captured by members of an expedition who shot him twice, once on the cheek, and once below the hip, which contributed to his name, Red Peter. He is not overly fond of this name but it does differentiate him from a trained ape simply called Peter who recently passed away. After being tranquilized, he found himself on a boat, confined to a small cage en route to Europe. Realizing that escape would be impossible, he, therefore, sought another way out, understanding that taking on as much of the human world as possible would certainly be to his advantage.

While on board the ship, he observes the humans around him. Quickly seeing that he must take drastic measures in order to survive, he decides to cease being an ape. He watches the sailors on the ship drink and smoke. One night, he grabs a schnapps bottle that has been left within his reach and drinks the remainder of the alcohol. He then forces himself to form the word “hallo” to the amusement of all onboard.

He feels that he has overcome his existence as an animal, becoming more highly evolved, presumably a human, or as close to one as he could possibly get. He states that one learns what one has to do in order to survive, acknowledging that he would never have had access to such a wealth of knowledge had he chosen to remain an ape.

Sadly, the memories of his past are becoming increasingly unclear in his mind, to the point that he has forgotten the feeling of freedom associated with being a wild animal. Though he rarely thinks about it, he occasionally is reminded of this loss and all that comes with it, sending him into a state of mourning. The issue is that he feels it is impossible to regain any sense of that freedom without giving up what it is that makes him human. According to the narrator, being free and being human are two mutually exclusive states. It is impossible to hold both at the same time, as this would be equal to attempting to exist in two different modes at the same time.

The story ruminates on this theme in detail, the tragedy of being caught between two distinct states of being, two worlds. On the one hand, Red Peter has sought his development as a fully-fledged human; on the other, it has been forced upon him as a means of survival.

When he arrived in Hamburg, forced to choose between a life in the zoo or in the variety shows, he chose the latter. He has learned to imitate human behavior so remarkably well that people pay good money just to observe him. He gains a public following, glued to his progress towards humanness. Eventually, he hires teachers whom he works with to advance his learning and gain new skills and behaviors to perfect the illusion.

His dilemma is illustrated in the fact that he exists among humans during the day, at lectures and variety shows, but at night, he returns to sleep with his chimpanzee mate who is half-trained. He has a hard time facing her as he describes the look in her eye as that of a broken animal. For him, becoming human and living in their world was a choice, although not an easy one. For her, however, living among humans is sure to drive her crazy.

The narrator feels trapped between two worlds as well as his past and present lives. He recognizes that he has transitioned into something new, no longer representing what he used to in the form of an ape; however, in the human world, he is still perceived as such. He regrets that he cannot supply any more information about his life as an ape, recognizing that attempting to transition back to an ape is more difficult than his transition towards humanness.

His only desire now is not to be judged for his behavior but rather to spread knowledge.