The story begins with a man from the north who is with a group of Arabs. The story takes a sharp turn toward surreal and bizarre when a pack of jackals surround him and explain their hatred of the Arabs and that they have been waiting for him to end their long standing dispute by killing the Arabs with their scissors, as is part of their prophecy. We see already a Kafkaesque journey for a solution to their problem. In a manner similar to other Kafka stories, an animal is used to represent the Jews as primitive and barbaric “brutes” (410). Through this conflict, Kafka seems to be commenting on the condition of Jews throughout the world. When the Arab enters and sees the narrator talking to the jackals, we see his perspective.
“So, you too, sir, have seen and heard this spectacle,” said the Arab, laughing as cheerfully as the reticence of his race permitted. “So you know what the animals want,” I asked. “Of course, sir,” he said. “That’s common knowledge—as long as there are Arabs, these scissors will wander with us through the deserts until the end of days. Every European is offered them for the great work; every European is exactly the one they think qualified to do it. These animals have an absurd hope. They’re idiots, real idiots. That’s why we’re fond of them. They are our dogs, finer than the ones you have. Now, watch this. In the night a camel died. I have had it brought here.”
Four bearers came and threw the heavy carcass right in front of us. No sooner was it lying there than the jackals raised their voices. Every one of them crept forward, its body scraping the ground, as if drawn by an irresistible rope. They had forgotten the Arabs, forgotten their hatred.” (410).
From this passage, we can see the cruelty of the Arabs to the jackals, and the extent of their power over them. To the Arabs, the jackals are mere entertainment and can be exploited and manipulated. The Arabs, representing the west, are clearly less favorable to the jackals than the European, who represents the east. Kafka’s preferences toward eastern Judaism as more authentic than western Judaism are very clear here. However, more generally, I believe Kafka is commenting on the prevalent “Jewish problem” throughout Europe during the modern period. Jews were viewed as distinct and harmful, and antisemitism was rampant. Kafka makes it clear that the jackals merely want freedom from the Arabs, but once the Arab brings them a camel carcass, they forget their hatred for the Arabs and cling to the carcass. I think this is representative of Jews being granted some freedoms or some level of acceptance. When this happens, they forget all of their oppression. Earlier in the story, the eldest jackal noted that they must do everything with their teeth, whether good or bad, but they instead choose to rely on the narrator, the man from the North. They have high hopes for the narrator to save them from the Arabs, almost as a messianic figure. However, the story ends on a note that this will never happen, and that this hope is futile.
With this interpretation, it is not surprising that this story was first published in a Zionist magazine. It seems to suggest that the Jews need a place of their own, and they must take their fate into their own hands. However, it ends with a very pessimistic, Existentialist ending, implying that the Jews will not do so.
Kafka, Franz. “Jackals and Arabs.” The Sons. N.p.: Schoken, 1989. 407-11. Print.