Kafka and his Portrayal of Characters

Kafkas Portrayal of Characters
Franz Kafka, born on July 3, 1883 in Bohemia, in the city of Prague, has been recognized as one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. Virtually unknown during his lifetime, the works of Kafka have since been recognized as symbolizing modern man’s distress and distorted alienation in an unintelligible, hostile, or indifferent world. None of Kafkas novels were printed during his lifetime, and it was only with reluctance that he published a fraction of his shorter fiction. Kafka went even as far as to request that his unprinted manuscripts be destroyed after his death. His friend, Max Brod went against his wishes and published his works, although many were unfinished (Sokel 35).

Kafka came from a middle-class Jewish family and grew up in the shadow of his domineering shopkeeper father, who impressed Kafka the ultimate father figure. The feeling of impotence, even in his rebellion, was a syndrome that became a pervasive theme in his fiction. Kafka did well in the prestigious German high school in Prague and went on to receive a law degree in 1906. He soon found a job at the Assicurizioni Generali Insurance Company in 1907 but soon left, due to the lengthy hours and intolerable conditions. Later in 1908, he began working at the Workers Accident Insurance Institute, where he would work most of the rest of his life. He regarded this job as the essenceboth blessing and curseof his life (Gray 78).He would work most of the rest of his life, although only sporadically after 1917, and in June 1922 he was put on temporary retirement with a pension (Gray 81-84). This job, although not great had short hours, and so allowed him time to think and write. In 1911, he was asked by his father to take charge of his brother-in-law Karl Hermanns asbestos factory, which took up a lot of his time until 1917 and literally almost drove him to suicide (83). Kafka spent half his life after 1917 in sanatoriums and health resorts; his tuberculosis of the lungs finally spreading to the larynx. Throughout his life, Kafka wrote during times he felt frustrated, either by a love, his family, or his sickness (Sokel 133). Kafkas method of relief from these frustrations was through his writing (133).
Kafkas coarse relationship with his father dominates his thoughts in life and his works. In the two works, The Metamorphosis and The Judgement, the image of a father is almost God-like. Until these works, Kafka had sought to escape from his father in his writing, only to find him dominating in all his work (157). Samsa Sr. who had part in his sons sudden change into an enormous bug, and Bendemann Sr. who was omnipotent and omniscient, sentences his son to death. In both works, the father-son relationship is described with bitterness.
Kafka wrote his father a confession, lacerating letter over 15,000 words long (Flores and Swander 26) and sent it to his mother to give to his father, of which, his father never received. His relationship with Fraulein B. that lasted from 1913 to 1917, and his engagement to Julie Whoryzek, the daughter of a synagogue janitor, exacerbated problems with his father. His father was horrified by his engagement to a janitors daughter, and offended Kafka by saying he would have to sell the family store and emigrate to escape the shame to the family name by Kafkas engagement.
In his three stories, The Judgement, The Metamorphosis, and In the Penal Colony, the son-figures are all guilty of original sin. The self-effacement of the son is shown: Georg Bendemann and Gregor Samsa have replaced the father as practical head and breadwinner of the family, and the condemned man on the prison-island has rebelled against military (paternal) authority (Anders 174). The Judgement emphasizes the sons offense, the fathers anger, and the punishment that follows swiftly (180). In The Metamorphosis it is not referred to as an offense, and the metamorphosis is not punishment, it is just simply stated at the beginning (183). Once Gregor changes into a beetle the size of a human being and gradually starves to death is when we see how he is punished when he in fact supported his family. In The Penal Colony, punishment is seen when a man is killed slowly in twelve hours by engraving a sentence into his flesh with a complicated system of vibrating needles (184).
Kafkas writing demonstrates his attempts to offset his morbid masochism (Oates 5). Most people think of the terms Kafkan and Kafkaesque refer to his dark tales, but in reality these terms stand for Kafkas cloudy, mysterious, inexplicable method of writing (6). According to Roy Pascal, author of Kafkas Narrators: A Study of His Stories and Sketches, There is a good deal of humor in these early stories, as in the novels and later stories, but it is often ambiguous and can be overlooked (40). Kafka was subtle with humor and preferred to use irony as a method of levity (41).
In Kafka’s short story entitled, “The Judgement,” written in 1912, we see one of the unusual uses of irony by Kafka. The central figure, Georg Bendemann, has just gotten into a long and somewhat heated argument with his aging and infirm father. Suddenly Georg’s father “threw the blankets off with a strength that sent them all flying in a moment and sprang erect in bed. Only one hand touched the ceiling to steady him” (Flores and Swander 134). The “transformation of the sick father to a grotesque ogre” (157) is not only shocking but comically so. Georg’s father goes on to kick and yell at Georg extensively. Through this entire barrage and beating from his father the only thought that pops into Georg’s head is “he has pockets even in his shirt” (148) referring to his father’s nightshirt.
In The Metamorphosis, Kafka points out the irony of just how far the people involved have fallen out of touch with reality. The reader sees how Gregor brings home the money for his family. Gregors goes from the head of the household to an incompetent beetle. Gregor Samsa, even after his metamorphosis, cannot conceive the possibility of being trapped in his shell, and trying to get out of bed, get dressed, and go to work. Because it is literally a beetle on a bed, the result is hilarious. The reader laughs but realizes at the same instant the Gregor Samsa in now literally as well as figuratively trapped. In his new context, he becomes passive, and disconnected from the reality that he once was a part of. Gregor Samsas beetle body makes an attempt to move: he hears his sisters playing the violin and he promises himself that she will play only to him, and that he will even take advantage of his situation and use his ugly body to ward off anyone who tries to take her from him. He drags his body in to the room where his sister is playing and succeeds in disgusting everyone present; he dies soon after. The huge beetle lumbering about is at once funny, horrifying and sad (Ward 1).
Kafka constructed his work from his personal biographical data of his life to comment upon his writings and his writings to comment upon his life (Flores and Swander 228). In the letter to his father he calls the Kafka family situation that terrible trial that is pending between you and ourselves. He also writes about the infinite sense of guilt which his father had instilled in him, adding, He is afraid that the shame of it will outlive him (Rolleston 105). Here he quotes the last sentence of The Trial.
Kafkas works are full of commentaries about his own life, his own views, his own perspectives. He deliberately removes the line between truth and fiction. Tongue in cheek, Kafka used his life as blueprints for his works. In doing so, he has played one of the strangest and most daring games a writer ever had played(Pascal 137). By telling of his life as a fable and commenting about his own style, he raised himself to the level of literature.
Kafkas Portrayal of Characters
Franz Kafka, born on July 3, 1883 in Bohemia, in the city of Prague, has been recognized as one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. Virtually unknown during his lifetime, the works of Kafka have since been recognized as symbolizing modern man’s distress and distorted alienation in an unintelligible, hostile, or indifferent world. None of Kafkas novels were printed during his lifetime, and it was only with reluctance that he published a fraction of his shorter fiction. Kafka went even as far as to request that his unprinted manuscripts be destroyed after his death. His friend, Max Brod went against his wishes and published his works, although many were unfinished (Sokel 35).

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Kafka came from a middle-class Jewish family and grew up in the shadow of his domineering shopkeeper father, who impressed Kafka the ultimate father figure. The feeling of impotence, even in his rebellion, was a syndrome that became a pervasive theme in his fiction. Kafka did well in the prestigious German high school in Prague and went on to receive a law degree in 1906. He soon found a job at the Assicurizioni Generali Insurance Company in 1907 but soon left, due to the lengthy hours and intolerable conditions. Later in 1908, he began working at the Workers Accident Insurance Institute, where he would work most of the rest of his life. He regarded this job as the essenceboth blessing and curseof his life (Gray 78).He would work most of the rest of his life, although only sporadically after 1917, and in June 1922 he was put on temporary retirement with a pension (Gray 81-84). This job, although not great had short hours, and so allowed him time to think and write. In 1911, he was asked by his father to take charge of his brother-in-law Karl Hermanns asbestos factory, which took up a lot of his time until 1917 and literally almost drove him to suicide (83). Kafka spent half his life after 1917 in sanatoriums and health resorts; his tuberculosis of the lungs finally spreading to the larynx. Throughout his life, Kafka wrote during times he felt frustrated, either by a love, his family, or his sickness (Sokel 133). Kafkas method of relief from these frustrations was through his writing (133).
Kafkas coarse relationship with his father dominates his thoughts in life and his works. In the two works, The Metamorphosis and The Judgement, the image of a father is almost God-like. Until these works, Kafka had sought to escape from his father in his writing, only to find him dominating in all his work (157). Samsa Sr. who had part in his sons sudden change into an enormous bug, and Bendemann Sr. who was omnipotent and omniscient, sentences his son to death. In both works, the father-son relationship is described with bitterness.
Kafka wrote his father a confession, lacerating letter over 15,000 words long (Flores and Swander 26) and sent it to his mother to give to his father, of which, his father never received. His relationship with Fraulein B. that lasted from 1913 to 1917, and his engagement to Julie Whoryzek, the daughter of a synagogue janitor, exacerbated problems with his father. His father was horrified by his engagement to a janitors daughter, and offended Kafka by saying he would have to sell the family store and emigrate to escape the shame to the family name by Kafkas engagement.
In his three stories, The Judgement, The Metamorphosis, and In the Penal Colony, the son-figures are all guilty of original sin. The self-effacement of the son is shown: Georg Bendemann and Gregor Samsa have replaced the father as practical head and breadwinner of the family, and the condemned man on the prison-island has rebelled against military (paternal) authority (Anders 174). The Judgement emphasizes the sons offense, the fathers anger, and the punishment that follows swiftly (180). In The Metamorphosis it is not referred to as an offense, and the metamorphosis is not punishment, it is just simply stated at the beginning (183). Once Gregor changes into a beetle the size of a human being and gradually starves to death is when we see how he is punished when he in fact supported his family. In The Penal Colony, punishment is seen when a man is killed slowly in twelve hours by engraving a sentence into his flesh with a complicated system of vibrating needles (184).
Kafkas writing demonstrates his attempts to offset his morbid masochism (Oates 5). Most people think of the terms Kafkan and Kafkaesque refer to his dark tales, but in reality these terms stand for Kafkas cloudy, mysterious, inexplicable method of writing (6). According to Roy Pascal, author of Kafkas Narrators: A Study of His Stories and Sketches, There is a good deal of humor in these early stories, as in the novels and later stories, but it is often ambiguous and can be overlooked (40). Kafka was subtle with humor and preferred to use irony as a method of levity (41).
In Kafka’s short story entitled, “The Judgement,” written in 1912, we see one of the unusual uses of irony by Kafka. The central figure, Georg Bendemann, has just gotten into a long and somewhat heated argument with his aging and infirm father. Suddenly Georg’s father “threw the blankets off with a strength that sent them all flying in a moment and sprang erect in bed. Only one hand touched the ceiling to steady him” (Flores and Swander 134). The “transformation of the sick father to a grotesque ogre” (157) is not only shocking but comically so. Georg’s father goes on to kick and yell at Georg extensively. Through this entire barrage and beating from his father the only thought that pops into Georg’s head is “he has pockets even in his shirt” (148) referring to his father’s nightshirt.
In The Metamorphosis, Kafka points out the irony of just how far the people involved have fallen out of touch with reality. The reader sees how Gregor brings home the money for his family. Gregors goes from the head of the household to an incompetent beetle. Gregor Samsa, even after his metamorphosis, cannot conceive the possibility of being trapped in his shell, and trying to get out of bed, get dressed, and go to work. Because it is literally a beetle on a bed, the result is hilarious. The reader laughs but realizes at the same instant the Gregor Samsa in now literally as well as figuratively trapped. In his new context, he becomes passive, and disconnected from the reality that he once was a part of. Gregor Samsas beetle body makes an attempt to move: he hears his sisters playing the violin and he promises himself that she will play only to him, and that he will even take advantage of his situation and use his ugly body to ward off anyone who tries to take her from him. He drags his body in to the room where his sister is playing and succeeds in disgusting everyone present; he dies soon after. The huge beetle lumbering about is at once funny, horrifying and sad (Ward 1).
Kafka constructed his work from his personal biographical data of his life to comment upon his writings and his writings to comment upon his life (Flores and Swander 228). In the letter to his father he calls the Kafka family situation that terrible trial that is pending between you and ourselves. He also writes about the infinite sense of guilt which his father had instilled in him, adding, He is afraid that the shame of it will outlive him (Rolleston 105). Here he quotes the last sentence of The Trial.
Kafkas works are full of commentaries about his own life, his own views, his own perspectives. He deliberately removes the line between truth and fiction. Tongue in cheek, Kafka used his life as blueprints for his works. In doing so, he has played one of the strangest and most daring games a writer ever had played(Pascal 137). By telling of his life as a fable and commenting about his own style, he raised himself to the level of literature.
Bibliography: Brod, Max, Franz Kafka, 2d ed. (1960); Citati, Pietro, Kafka (1990); Flores, Angel, ed., The Kafka Debate (1977); Glatzer, N. N., The Loves of Franz Kafka (1985); Gray, Ronald, ed., Kafka: A Collection of Critical Essays (1962); Hayman, Ronald, Kafka (1982); Heller, Erich, Franz Kafka (1975); Karl, Frederick R., Franz Kafka: Representative Man (1992); Lawson, R. H., Franz Kafka (1987); Pawel, E., The Nightmare of Reason: A Life of Franz Kafka (1984); Politzer, Heiny, Franz Kafka: Parable and Paradox (1962); Sokel, Walter H., Franz Kafka (1966); Udoff, Alan, ed., Kafka and the Contemporary Critical Performance (1987
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