Karel Capek, “Vertigo”

When a wealthy man falls victim to incapacitating attacks of vertigo, a young doctor decides that the problem and solution both reside in the patient’s head.


Capek, Vertigo

Capek, Vertigo (with highlights)

Capek, Vertigo (vocabulary)

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Discussion Questions

  • Who is telling this story (the narrator)? Where did he learn this story? Who is he telling? Do you think he is a reliable narrator (i.e. do you trust that he is telling the reader the truth)?
  • How does the narrator feel about doctors, in particular psychotherapists? How does he describe them? Does this indicate positive or negative feelings around this area of medicine?
  • Why does Dr. Spitz treat only wealthy patients? Why might wealthy patients be the ones with the most repressions, as the narrator attests?
  • Why doesn’t Gierke open up to Dr. Spitz? Why doesn’t he tell him why he is experiencing vertigo?
  • Do you think the way Dr. Spitz discovered information about Gierke was ethical? At what point does an action become unethical? Does this make a difference if the patient lives or dies in the end?
  • What do you think might be the cause of Gierke’s death? Do you trust that he completed suicide, or were there hints of some other reason?
  • Do you think Gierke really killed his first wife, as Dr. Spitz claims? What evidence do you see in the text that Gierke did or didn’t kill his first wife?
  • What do you make of the description of Gierke’s wife, Irma? How do you feel about the way women and wives have been portrayed in this story or others that we have discussed this semester?
  • Why might Gierke have a desire to kill Irma?
  • Does “Vertigo” remind you of any other texts you have read, either in this discussion group or outside of the group? What similarities do you see?

2 thoughts on “Karel Capek, “Vertigo”

  1. Vertigo by Karel Capek was a fascinating story to read. After I finished reading it, I was struck with many questions. I was curious about how reliable the narrator was. Because the narrator was going off of memory and was not physically present when the story took place, how reliable is he as our storyteller? A second question I had was about the ending. How did Gierke die? Was it suicide? Did the wife murder him? Did the doctor really cure him? Perhaps not. Some of the best stories are the ones that pique our curiosity as a reader and allow us to use our imagination to create an ending. Whereas sometimes, ambiguity in a text can be frustrating, I think it progresses this story in a satisfying way. I think part of this story’s charm comes from the questions that are raised by the writer.

  2. Vertigo will definitely leave you with many question marks. Embrace the ambiguity and be prepared for an adventure. The end of the story reminded me with the end of “A Story of an Hour” and I was wondering if both writers were influenced by something similar or had a certain connection.

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