Throughout the last century there have been several authors that have not only had a profound effect on the literary landscape, but have revolutionized the way we think about the world as a whole. Franz Kafka must be considered amongst the most influential of this elite group. His writings were revolutionary not just in terms of plot, but In terms writing style. He wrote about the most absurd of concepts (For example a travelling sales mans sudden transformation into a giant, grotesque bug) and related them to the struggles of everyday life, something that he knew all too much about. As a Prague born, German speaking Jew, born in 1883, Kafka grew up in a time period where anti-Semitism was beginning to take root (1889 was the year of the Panama affair. The collapse of the Panama Canal project was blamed firmly upon Jewish financiers. Kafka’s two uncles Worked for the company and were subjected to French Anti-Semitism, sparked by French investors losing money in the fiasco.) so from an early age was exposed to mankind’s tendency to discriminate against those whom are deemed to be different. This was not only apparent to Kafka in the wider issues of the Jewish faith, but in his own personal life. As a shy and retiring young man, Kafka found it difficult to attract friends. It has been suggested however by Max Brod (Perhaps Kafka’s one true friend and the man who would later publish his work) that this was not the cause of any character failings, but in Kafka’s own selectiveness when it came to friends. Words were treated as a luxury ,used only upon people who Kafka felt were good hearted, who lived live as it should be lived;
“In his presence one felt directly that
what is great must prove to be as great, even when every
appearance speaks against it – that the noble kernel of the world remains untouched by all the abuses and perversions
This acute awareness of the many failings of humanity was a mixed blessing for Kafka. It was both the source of his genius, and the source of his loneliness.
This understanding of civilizations flaws was by no means the only influence upon Kafka. From childhood he was given repeated reminders of the fleeting nature of life, having lost two siblings, Georg and Heinrich, before his sixth birthday. In fact he confessed in his dairy that he had considered suicide, but dismissed it as pointless. To Kafka, death was an inevitability. He felt no need to extinguish his life when he knew he still had an abundance of creativity to offer to the world;
“I stood at the window a long time, and pressed
my face against the glass, and I more than once felt like
frightening the toll collector on the bridge by my fall. But I felt too firm a hold on myself the whole time for the decision to dash myself to pieces on the pavement to be able to de-
press me to the necessary level.”
This is something evident throughout most of his work. In the trial, the outcome of k.’s court proceedings seems pre-determined. Despite his many attempts to seek help, k. is left to tackle the relentless powers of the court alone. This is indicative of life itself, one must struggle alone against the inevitable; death.
Taking into account Kafka’s turbulent up bringing, it comes as no surprise that his work falls under the heading of existentialism. The philosophical school of existentialism focuses entirely upon the condition of existence. One of the forefathers of existentialist writing, Swedish born soren kierkegaard states that;
“ the individual is solely responsible for giving his or her own life meaning and for living that life passionately and...