The Kafkaesque Decorum

“The first sign of understanding is the wish to die” — Franz Kafka

Some people claim Franz Kafka’s fiction doesn’t make sense, that he writes with detailed precision and realism, while his craft walks you into an absurd labyrinth of logic — an incomprehensible world. This twisted combination of dualities may be the reason why he has remained one of the world’s most discussed and widely read authors today.  Jason Baker writes, in the introduction of Barnes and Nobles Classics series, “The Metamorphosis and Other Stories”, “Rather than a linear argument, Kafka writes a spiral one, which often makes readers dizzy.” For Kafka, he attempts to express the inexpressible.

The majority of his works contain the themes of man’s anxiety and alienation, as most of his characters are revolved around the middle and working classes. In his novella, “The Metamorphosis,” the main character Gregor Samsa awakes from sleep to find himself turned into a monstrous bug and must cope with the division it brings with his family and work. This theme in the story is said to portray Kafka’s life.

In his novel, “The Trial”, the main character Josef is an ordinary workingman who is arrested and is tried for execution and never learns why he was convicted.

Born into a middle-class, German-speaking Jewish family on July 3, 1883, in Prague, Bohemia (now Czech Republic), Kafka spent most of his life coming to terms with his domineering father and the oppressive lifestyle of his family. His father, Herman Kafka, was a strict business retailer of fancy men and women’s goods, while his mother, Julie, helped manage Herman’s business. Both of Kafka’s parents would work up to 12 hours a day.

After getting a degree in Doctor of Law in 1906, he started working graveyard shifts for an Italian insurance company in 1907, until his unhappiness led him to another insurance company, Worker’s Accident Insurance Institute . He worked there until 1922, when he discovered he had tuberculosis.

Kafka, throughout his life, suffered from clinical depression and social anxiety, which is said to have led him to his physical illnesses of insomnia, constipation and migraines — and ultimately died because of his tuberculosis on June 3rd,1924.

Whether Kafka’s personal life of suffrage ran parallel with his writing or not, what he accomplished in the literary and philosophical world, during his time, was somewhat prophetic. He was among the first to argue the degrading impact of bourgeois labor, as his literature predicted the post-modern corporate world we live in today and the alienation of modern man — he depicted the modernism movement.

Critics has hailed Kafka for his “universality” in his writing —able to be interpreted with many posibilities. “The Metamorphosis” has inspired Catholics, Freudians and even Marxists, each in a different way. He oscillates between allegory and realism, parabolic — a technique where he manages to make his parables succeed in distorting the moral.

Kafka remains as one of the leading figures of the modernist movement and a pioneer to the philosophical idea of existentialism, building off his greatest influences, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Charles Dickens.

His most important works include:

“The Metamorphosis”
“The Trial”
“In the Penal Colony”
“A Hunger Artist”
“Before the Law”
“The Judgement”

Works cited: Barnes & Nobles Classics, “The Metamorphosis and Other Stories


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