One might take this parable and immediately make connections between the text and the technological/fetishistic concepts that we have been going over in our other readings. For example, Kafka brings attention to the fact that the narrator, so dependent on societal customs and second-nature habits to get him from Point A to Point B, looks pointedly from his wristwatch to the clock tower. This suggests some sort of partly “shocking,” partly enlightening moment, when the narrator begins to question for the first time what he has always accepted to be true. It does not seem coincidental that what the narrator examines are material commodities: human life is translated into a calculated system of time telling, which is then controlled through the usage of material goods.
To the policeman—trained in his art of discipline (as argued by Foucault), and thus subject to the same limitations as the narrator—the request for help that the narrator makes after “discovering” the greater mechanisms behind the way society is structured is simply a laughingstock of an idea. The policeman, “turn[ing] away with a sudden jerk,” is an image decidedly mechanical and reminiscent of just another cog in this society dominated by commodity fetishism. In a sense, Kafka is being cynical, and there is even a sense of hopelessness through the narrator's experience with the bureaucracy. If those who are meant to be in a position of power cannot do anything, then what can the average layperson do to accomplish anything different?
An alternative or perhaps supplementary reading aligns more closely to Hannah Arendt’s take on another one of Kafka’s parables in the preface to Between Past and Future. In particular, she is focused on Kafka’s stance on the tensions between the future and the past framed through the perspective of man (all in the mind):
Seen from the viewpoint of man, who always lives in the interval between past and future, time is not a continuum, a flow of uninterrupted succession; it is broken in the middle, at the point where [man] stands. Only because man is inserted into time and only to the extent that he stands his ground does the flow of indifferent time break up into tenses; it is this insertion…which splits up the time continuum...the insertion of man breaks up the unidirectional flow of time. (Arendt 11)This somewhat abstract depiction of what Kafka considers to be time may be seen through Give It Up! in that Kafka seems to have recreated the perfect dreamlike environment in which his version of time is best displayed. There are several techniques Kafka uses to create a dreamlike effect: there is an utter lack of details, similar to what one would experience when trying to recount a dream to someone else and only just barely grasping the gist of it. There is no identification of the narrator (is it a he? she? who? what?), there is no description of what the city or what sort of street the narrator is walking through, where the narrator is going to or why, or how late they are. Most of all, there is a general factor of incredulity: in reality, when faced with a request from a civilian, the average policeman is far too entrenched in learned, strictly enforced codes of behavior to dismiss and even abandon someone in need of help. The policeman’s actions go beyond what we would traditionally expect from someone of his position, further contributing to the idea of a dream.
There is some ambiguity regarding Kafka’s beliefs on what one could do in the aftermath of realizing the extent to which society as one may know it has been colored by the theories presented by Marx and his successors. As mentioned earlier, there seems to be some cynicism and perhaps a bit of hopelessness as the policeman—a figure who is meant to help reconcile the disoriented narrator’s worries—furthers the disorder not only by being unable to help the narrator, but also by making a joke out of the narrator’s near-existential quandary. On the other hand, the dreamlike quality of the parable leaves it more open-ended, emphasizing the importance of the present in the context of a linear construction of time. In a dream, there is only a somewhat vague sense of future and past; the present is what is most pressing and real to the subject of a dream that is progressing in a lateral direction. In this “dream,” the future seems far away—and practically inaccessible, due to the narrator’s inability to advance to his destination—and the past is not detailed in any significant manner. This leaves the present to be highlighted and emphasized. Lastly, by leaving out the narrator’s response to the policeman’s behavior, Kafka ends with opening the parable to interpretation. Perhaps he means to convey a more optimistic message: that the present is to be taken as the period where man truly disrupts the lateral construction of time, that in the present, man must act to change the course of society.