This story succeeds where Kafka's 'Metamorphosis' fails. (In the more famous Metamorphosis a man, a miserable salesman, who lives the life of a work-beetle, overnight turns into a giant beetle and then lives out the rest of his miserable existence in that form: literally a mere beetle in life's great hierarchy of being. Unfortunately, within that story Kafka provides no reason whatsoever for this entomological grotesquerie, and life, not actually being that arbitrary (except on a madman's level of understanding), remains largely uncommented on. After all, the poor man might just have easily turned into unicorn or a dragon or a elf-lord and consequently lived out a thoroughly interesting life.)
But 'The Great Wall' is a polished gem. Even in translation its precision-cut thought and theme is evident. An educated man, not a labourer, but not a top architect or government mandarin, reflects on his life's work, overseeing the building of his small portions of the Great Wall. He knows his place in the great hierarchy of things. He knows that his contribution, objectively measured, is miniscule - yet also important. He understands more than the simple peasant work-ganger, and he understand something of echelons immediately above him, from whom he receives his orders. Some of the tactics of the great game he has fathomed. But the top echelon, its ultimate strategy? The real motives, and motives within motives - the knowing of all the checks and balances, the master plan of the emperor and his courtiers? Who can say. He has his place; he understands what he can and does what he can. He is content.
This report prepared by Michael JR Jose