The Stoker

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"The Stoker"
AuthorFranz Kafka
Original title"Der Heizer"
Published inAmerika
Publication date1913

"The Stoker" (original German: "Der Heizer") is a short story by Franz Kafka. Kafka wrote it as the first chapter of a novel he called Amerika; but he abandoned the novel in 1913 and published the one completed chapter alone as a pamphlet later that year. Since his death, it has usually been published along with the uncompleted fragments of Amerika. [1]



The story begins with sixteen-year-old Karl Rossmann arriving at New York harbor on a slow-moving ship. Rossman has been sent to America "because a servant girl had seduced him and got herself with child by him." As he is about to come ashore, he remembers that he has left his umbrella below deck. He asks a young man with whom he had been briefly acquainted during his voyage to watch over his trunk as he runs to get his umbrella.

The boy gets lost in the corridors and begins pounding on a door. A man lets him in and the two start having a conversation. The man explains that he is a stoker, that he works on the ship, and that he is about to be fired because his boss (a Romanian named Schubal) has a preference toward Romanians (the ship and the stoker are both German). He goes on to explain that he has worked on many ships and has always been praised for his hard work.

Karl sympathizes with the stoker's story and pledges to help him. Together they go to see the captain of the ship, who is in an informal meeting with a few people. The stoker is at first allowed to enter the room, but is asked to leave after the chief purser indicates that he is too busy to hear the stoker's case. As they are being shooed out of the room, Karl runs across the room and grabs everyone's attention. He then explains that he believes the stoker has been done an injustice and that he needs to be listened to.

The captain steps forward and asks the stoker to make his case. The stoker begins describing the details of his case, but in a random and disorganized way. Karl intervenes and asks the stoker to be more organized and to avoid unnecessary details. Just then Mr. Schubal comes in and denies any dishonesty on his part. He's accompanied by 15 witnesses, who are waiting outside.

Among the captain's guests is a senator named Mr. Jakob, who asks Karl for his name. After recognizing Karl's name, he explains that he is Karl's uncle and that he had been informed of Karl's arrival through a letter by the maid who had earlier seduced Karl. Consequently the focus of everyone's attention changes from the stoker to Karl and people begin congratulating the senator for finding his nephew.

Karl tries to use his newly found influence to gather some sympathy for the stoker's cause, but his uncle explains that it is really up to the captain to decide what happens next. The captain orders a boat lowered for the senator and his nephew. As he is entering the boat, Karl begins to weep.

Karl looks at the windows of the office as he is being rowed away. Schubal's witnesses are at the windows and waving the boat goodbye. The stoker is not mentioned as being among them. Karl wonders if his uncle could ever replace the stoker.[2]


Having stopped work on the novel in January, 1913, in March Kafka sent the publisher Wolff a copy of the Metamorphosis, and tried to convince him to publish it along with The Stoker and The Judgment as a book called The Sons.

This plan was not followed, and in May The Stoker was published as a 48-page book in a run of Wolff's usual 1000 copies. It was presented as volume 3 of Wolff's Day of Judgment series.


  1. ^ Kafka, Franz (1996). The Metamorphosis and Other Stories, trans. Donna Freed. New York: Barnes & Noble. ISBN 978-1-56619-969-8. (217).
  2. ^ Kafka, Franz (1996). The Metamorphosis and Other Stories, trans. Donna Freed. New York: Barnes & Noble. ISBN 978-1-56619-969-8. (77–111).

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