Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Short Story Review: "The Judgment" by Franz Kafka

Those who are familiar with the work and the eccentric genius that is Czechoslovakia's very own Franz Kafka knows about his struggles throughout his life. Somebody who struggled mentally and emotionally throughout his life, his relationship with his father was one that created an insecurity with which Kafka would live with and this was reflected within his writing. He had three sisters and both a mother and father that would outlive him (he died in 1924, his parents died in the 1930s, while his sisters died during the Holocaust), but most notably a father that would degrade his son for not meeting his expectations as being masculine enough according to his tastes. Simply put: Franz Kafka's father felt as if Franz failed him. This emotion is explored in the work that I feel does the most powerful job in describing the relationship between Kafka and his father. While "The Metamorphosis" presents a father that is hot-tempered and is perhaps the most notable work within Kafka's life, it is "The Judgment" that puts a concentration on a father that sees his son as being hopeless. The story leaves plenty of questions lingering in the head regarding the question of, "what just happened?" but one can affirm in fact that, yes, this DID just happen.

Georg Bendemann works for his father as a merchant and is spending his time writing letters to an unnamed friend of his who lives in Russia. This friend was struggling at home and made the decision to move where he was struggling even more. Some of these struggles went to the point of being physical, such as jaundice. This friend of his made the decision to remain isolated to the point that his comments were emotionless and indifferent, almost as if the distance made his heart grow colder instead of fonder to the situation. This coldness was demonstrated at the death of Georg's mother. During this time, Georg got engaged to a Frieda Brandenfeld, who objected to such a friend from attending, but the communication between Georg and the unnamed friend continues.

Why have the friend go unnamed? Perhaps this would have to do with building his reputation. To have this friend nameless creates a mysterious emotional cloud to which adds to the enigma of what is his personality. If he was given a name, one may start to build an impression, make judgments, and this would turn into an opportunity to learn much more about this individual. More than likely, Kafka only wants us to know so much about this friend. This "only knowing so much" affair was common for this author, a prime example being a complexity behind the appearance of Gregor Samsa in insect-form in "The Metamorphosis." This same approach is used to provide the reader with scarce details involving Georg's friend. We know enough about him, but not too much.

The key character and the one Kafka probably wants us to pay the most attention to is Georg's surviving father, who lost his wife in what he felt was a larger loss for him. He initially became less aggressive, but this would only be an emotion that was bottled up. He remains within the darkness of his area, which reflects his emotions to the situation. Not only has he lost his wife, but he feels that the relationship with his son is almost nonexistent. He is beginning to lose the ability to take care of himself which leads to childlike tendencies, such as dirty underwear. His son often ignores his basic needs and will only tend to him when necessary, which leads to anger on his father's behalf. With regard to his relations with the friend, he first believes he does not exist. Then, after Georg reminds him, exclaims that he DOES know this friend and that he has betrayed everyone, his friend, his mother's will, and his father's health and well-being, in order to fulfill his sexual desire and go forth with engagement with Frieda. His father adds how this friend turns away from everything he says, but is happy to listen to him, and that he's so obsessive that he is not taking specific priorities into account. Georg's father sentences him to drown, which leads him to be forced away from the house and out to a bridge where he finds himself drowning to death in the water. The ending describes the flow of traffic moving forth and paints a picture of life going by just as it has, ignoring another loss.

Written in 1912, Kafka completed this within one sitting. It demonstrates how close this story really was to the events within his life. Georg is clearly Kafka, while the father in the story can really come off as being Kafka's very own. The fact that the mother dies in this story is a tested variable and not a real life occurrence, but his mother's word was blocked out so much by his father's disappointment that his mother was almost nonexistent and thus the reason to have her die in "The Judgment." Frieda is reflective of someone Kafka had relations with, but in reality, the two never married. Franz Kafka never had the ability to get married and his last relationship with a Dora Diamant ended with his death in 1924. "The Judgment" is clearly an image of Kafka's greatest fears regarding his father and it creates an impression that haunts the reader, a feat he accomplished quite well.

If you look hard enough, chances are you would be able to find a work from Kafka at any local bookstore. Otherwise, I would suggest getting this complete collection of every short story he approved for publication. In fact, this is everything he approved for publication, for he wanted his unfinished novels to be burned (The Trial, The Castle, and Amerika). Here is a link to the complete collection: http://www.amazon.com/Franz-Kafka-Complete-Stories/dp/0805210555/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1400617086&sr=1-1&keywords=franz+kafka.

I highly suggest anything from Franz Kafka and will continue to read his shorter works with each opportunity that I am able.

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