There are some who say the word Odradek is of Slavonic origin, and they try to account for its formation on that basis. Others again believe that it derives from the German and is merely influenced by Slavonic. The uncertainty of both interpretations, however, probably justifies the conclusion that neither is correct, especially since neither permits one to attach meaning to the word.
No one, of course, would occupy himself with such studies if a creature called Odradek did not in fact exist. At first glance it looks like a flat, star-shaped spool of thread, and indeed it does actually seem to be wound with thread of the most various kinds and colours, all knotted together and even tangled up with one another. But it is not simply a spool for projecting from the middle of the star is a small wooden crossbar, and to this another little bar is attached at a right angle. By means of this latter bar on one side and one of the points of the star on the other, the whole thing is able to stand upright as if on two legs.
One might be tempted to suppose that this object had once been designed for some purpose or other and now was merely broken. But this does not seem to be the case; at least there are no indications of it; nowhere are there stumps or fractures visible that might suggest anything of the kind; the whole thing certainly appears senseless, and yet in its own way complete. It is not possible to state anything more definite on the matter since Odradek is exceptionally mobile and refuses to be caught.
He resides by turns in the attic, on the stairs, in the corridors, in the entrance hall. Sometimes he is not to be seen for months; so presumably he has moved into other houses; but then he invariably comes back to our own house again. Sometimes when one comes out of one’s room and he happens to be propping himself up against the banisters down below, one feels inclined to speak to him. Naturally one doesn’t ask him any difficult questions, one treats him – his diminutive size is itself sufficient encouragement to do so – like a child. ‘What’s your name?’ one asks him. ‘Odradek,’ he says. ‘And where do you live?’ ‘No fixed abode,’ he says, and laughs; but it is only the sort of laugh which can be produced without lungs. It sounds something like the rustling of fallen leaves. That is usually the end of the conversation. Even these answers, by the way, are not always forthcoming; often he remains dumb for a long time, like the wood he appears to consist of.
It is in vain that I ask myself what is likely to become of him. Is he capable of dying? Everything that dies has previously had some kind of goal, some kind of activity, and at this activity it has worn itself away; in the case of Odradek that does not apply. Can it be, then, that he might one day still be rolling down the stairs, with ends of thread trailing after him, before the feet of my children and my children’s children? He obviously does no harm to anyone; but the idea that he might also outlive me I find most painful.
By Franz Kafka
Translated by Malcolm Pasley
Additional information: Originally the story is titled Die Sorge des Hausvaters. An alternative title is The Cares of a Family Man. In 1919, the story appeared in Ein Landarzt. Kleine Erzählungen (A Country Doctor)
Of course what Odradek is, what it represents and many other questions are posed by the story but none is given any real answer. Some interpretations are briefly covered on the Wikipedia page The Cares of a Family Man.
To those who have discovered this story due to Death Stranding: The blue, rattle like, toy Mama is holding when reunited with her sister is a representation of the mysterious Odradek in this story, opting to depict it as some form of childhood item in that scene, though the ‘backpack’ item worn by the main character and others shares it’s name also.
Today is the fifth anniversary of this blog!