The Parallel Bars in The Castle
June 15, 2013 1:38 PM   Subscribe

Why are there parallel bars in *The Castle*? Is it a translation particular to the Willa and Edwin Muir translation? If not, why are there parallel bars in a school?
posted by slowlikemolasses to Writing & Language (14 answers total)
Why wouldn't there be parallel bars in a school? I assume from the reference to a "vaulting horse" that we are talking about gymnastics equipment. It's pretty common stuff to have for phys ed classes, at least where I come from (Canada). Am I missing something?
posted by bethnull at 1:53 PM on June 15, 2013

Like bethnull, I don't see anything odd here. Schools tend to have physical education equipment, and 1920s central Europe was pretty keen on physical exercise (Sokols, Wandervogel, etc.). In the original, the text refers to "den Barren und das Pferd". The only other translations I can come up with are pretty unlikely (metal ingots and a live horse?). But it's a long long time since I read the book, so I may be missing some context, and my German is not great.
posted by pont at 2:16 PM on June 15, 2013

Response by poster: From what I remember no physical education takes place in the classroom. Was it common for physical education classes to take place in the same room, say, history is studied?
posted by slowlikemolasses at 2:20 PM on June 15, 2013

Classroom layout in 1920s Bohemia is something that might tax even the hive mind, but given the space required for vaulting horse run-ups, it's perhaps unlikely that the equipment was used in the classroom. The most plausible explanation I can think of is that the equipment was used outside but stored in the classroom to protect it from the elements. If I remember rightly, it's a small village school, so it's believable that they wouldn't have an indoor exercise hall, or perhaps even a separate storage room. In accounts I've read of contemporary rural schools in other countries, they are often small and rudimentary, with only one or two classrooms.
posted by pont at 2:46 PM on June 15, 2013

Response by poster: I just can't comprehend why this gym equipment would be at this school in the first place. Wouldn't mats have to be brought out, then later, dusted off, as well? Would students have needed to maneuver the equipment in and out of the school door, everyday? It seems like an excessive amount of work for a general education school.
posted by slowlikemolasses at 3:55 PM on June 15, 2013

Are you sure they're actually in a classroom and not in a gym or some such room? I realise it does say 'school room' but is that 'classroom' or 'room in a school'? I've not read the book, but I've taken a quick look at the context. The students seem to have been sleeping on the floor in this room, which wouldn't have been so straightforward in an awful lot of rooms in my school, given that there are desks and things.
posted by hoyland at 4:11 PM on June 15, 2013

On reflection, pont's answer probably makes more sense.

Digging around in the Duden also gives Barren meaning a feed trough (in southern Germany and Austria, though nothing that would make me able to guess if it's a reasonable word for Kafka), but that only makes sense if the horse is an actual horse, which it doesn't seem to be. (That would be a clanger in the translation, but stranger things have happened.)
posted by hoyland at 4:18 PM on June 15, 2013

My school had parallel bars. It was in a phys-ed space, but we sometimes had related classes in there. I suspect that back in the period this is about, gymnastics would have been a more important part of general education than it is today. So it's a little bit surprising to me too, but in a "huh, I guess that makes sense" way.
In a similar vein, it would not surprise me if mats were not used back then.
posted by anonymisc at 4:31 PM on June 15, 2013

Response by poster: I don't believe anyone is allowed to sleep in the classroom; K is allowed to live there by dispensation.
posted by slowlikemolasses at 4:32 PM on June 15, 2013

Best answer: If you look at the film adaptation, the children are exercising in an anteroom of the main classroom, and I do believe I spy a set of parallel bars.
posted by bethnull at 4:43 PM on June 15, 2013

Response by poster: In the film there seem to be several classroom. Am I misremembering the book's classroom as being only one room?
posted by slowlikemolasses at 4:51 PM on June 15, 2013

Best answer: One thing you need to consider is that in that time period, there was a huge fad for physical education and gymnastics -- in fact, the modern parallel bars and vaulting horse were both developments of Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, the so-called "father of gymnastics", or what was often known as physical culture -- basically movement, energy, and focus.

It may help you to picture the town where he wrote the novel, and apparently from which he drew inspiration. Additionally, the type of school building in question is probably a little bit different from what you might expect to see in the US even from the same era -- perhaps a bit like this one (but smaller). It may not have had a schoolyard as we understand.
posted by dhartung at 7:54 PM on June 15, 2013

Response by poster: And, anyway, with regard to the video: Isn't the room too small for the use of the parallel bars and the unseen, but presumably present, vaulting horse?
posted by slowlikemolasses at 1:35 PM on June 16, 2013

Speculation, but for the same reason I suggested mats might not be needed, I suspect that what the bars were used for originally was not the trained acrobatics of today, but something closer to how we might view a workout / fitness machine in the gym today. If so, not much space would be needed.
posted by anonymisc at 5:02 AM on June 20, 2013

« Older Learn me some ImageMagick   |   Set As Default means SET AS DEFAULT Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.