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Written by Mason Tabor
The image of the stoker
The stoker's central role in the original short story The Stoker was consequential through its rich imagery. The job of stoking the ship's engine is critical in the ships ability to transport immigrants. So the job of the stoker in a literal sense is to help bring people to better lives, providing mobility, despite his static situation, always bound to the same tedious, repititious task in the same dark, hot room, isolated and frustrated.
The irony of this image in its employment in Amerika is that the protagonist stumbles upon a stoker who has lost his job, not one who is frustrated by the type of work he is forced to do. The first plot detail that involves Karl is his attempt to regain the job of the stoker for him. The stoker then isn't a central character in the narrative, pointing to the absurdity of his status and the thematic core of the book, that finding meaningful work is not a reality for everyone, regardless where they move to.
Karl's work in the Hotel
Karl Brußmann's job in the hotel is similar in nature to the stoker's in that they both involve providing a service that results in mobility for others, but not themselves. This constitutes a central frustration in the narrative, rendering the image a poignant, meaningful image. It is no wonder then, that when Karl has the option to help his drunken acquaintance, he does it, even though it costs him his job. In essence, he was doing the same job he had been doing: helping others to no advantage for himself.
The image of the theatre company
An interesting feature of the story is that it is framed by two occupations: the first is the stoker, the last is the promise of a wonderful life in Oklahoma with a theatre company. Kafka is careful to point out that Brußmann's role in the company will only be technical, but still, there is a sense of wonder from travel and a fulfilling potential found in the artistic atmosphere that Brußmann's future promises. The last image of the novel is one of art providing solace to the frustrations of human absurdity, and that is as close to advice as Kafka could have given without being heavy-handed.
This image is ironic because it achieves the opposite effect that one would expect. Instead of providing a sense of wonder and potential, the view seems altogether defeating, isolating and shattering. The image is shown to represent the futility of human connection, not the beauty of it. The constant hustle in the city streets even invades Brußmann's dreams, filling each moment of his life with the constant buzzes and whirs of a destructive urban machine, that he expresses as a source of fragmentation and obscurity.
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I forgot to say that I have one piece of evidence that chimney sweepers in the 19th century also did window cleaning for an extra small fee or to get a tip. This was in London but I'm looking for medieval or ancient sources. Thank you.