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Franz Kafka

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English Literature

Have you ever wondered what you would do if you awoke one day as a giant insect? What about being put on trial but never told of your crime? These are the scenarios that German-language author Franz Kafka imagined and put to paper, leading to some of the most influential and enduring works of 20th-century literature and the establishment of Franz Kafka in the literary halls of fame.

Who is Franz Kafka?

Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was a writer born in Prague, which was part of the Kingdom of Bohemia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time, and is the capital city of the modern-day Czech Republic. He wrote and spoke in German and is regarded as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century for his novels and short stories, which often involved anguished protagonists and absurd situations.

Franz Kafka: Biography

Franz Kafka was born on 3 July 1883 and grew up in a Jewish household in Prague with his mother, father, and three sisters; he also had two brothers who died as children. Kafka often felt the weight of being the oldest brother to his three sisters. Hermann Kafka, Franz's father, and Julie Kafka, his mother, worked together in the family business, running a clothing shop.

Kafka's father was authoritarian and overbearing, traits that are reflected in the domineering parental figures in Kafka's work. His mother, by contrast, was quiet and meek. Kafka was closest to his youngest sister Ottilie. When he was younger, he attended an academically rigorous school in Prague before studying law at the University of Prague. While he was at University, he met Max Brod who would become an important figure in Kafka's life as both his close friend and the man in charge of publishing Kafka's works.

Kafka was a shy individual; he had a lifelong love of reading and became increasingly interested in writing after entering the workforce and finding himself dissatisfied with the long hours of monotonous labour. He was an excessively tortured individual, riddled with anxiety and guilt over the smallest facets of daily life.1 He never married but had relationships with many women throughout his life.

Franz Kafka Prague city skyline StudySmarterPrague skyline; the city where Franz Kafka grew up, pixabay.

Franz Kafka: Cause of Death

Kafka contracted tuberculosis in 1917, which eventually led to his death in 1924. On his deathbed, Kafka requested his friend, Max Brod, who was in charge of Kafka's literary estate, not to publish any more of Kafka's work posthumously and not to reprint any of his previously published works. Brod defied this order, and the proliferation of his work resulted in Kafka's continued influence and importance as a writer in the 20th century.

Franz Kafka: Philosophy

It is difficult to reduce Kafka's writing to one philosophical position. Critics and readers alike have long disagreed when it comes to interpreting his works. Despite these disagreements, there are certain perspectives and philosophical themes that Kafka is frequently associated with.

Franz Kafka and Existentialism

Kafka's works often dealt with existentialism. His existentialist characters wrestle with guilt and anxiety over their decisions in chaotic, meaningless environments. In "The Metamorphosis" (1915), Kafka's protagonist Gregor Samsa finds himself in the absurd situation of having been transformed into a massive insect. Gregor must attempt to make meaningful decisions in a world that has suddenly lost all meaning. In The Trial (1925), Kafka's protagonist Josef K. is under arrest but never informed of his crime. Instead, he must navigate a reality in which he is persecuted despite not knowing why. These absurd situations illustrate the chaotic worlds Kafka constructs, and his penchant for anxious, guilty characters that struggle to come to terms with their surreal circumstances.

Existentialism is a literary philosophy that emphasizes an individual's free will and responsibility in decision-making in an inherently meaningless world.

Franz Kafka and Absurdism

In addition to existentialism, critics often consider Kafka an absurdist author. Absurdism in literature is the conflict between humans' search for purpose in existence and existence's inherent lack of meaning. While the absurdist literary movement developed after Kafka's death, many of its leaders, such as Albert Camus, were highly influenced by the writings of Kafka.

Kafka himself had likely read the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher who first posited a theory of the absurd. As previously mentioned, Kafka's works all concerned protagonists who strove to make decisions and find meaning in their lives when their existence had become completely absurd, as seen in "The Metamorphosis" and The Trial.

Absurdism in literature is the conflict between humans trying to find meaning in existence and existence's inherent lack of meaning

In sum, it is hard to distill Kafka's narratives into reflecting one particular philosophy, though he is often tied to existentialism and absurdism. At his core, Kafka writes about individuals grappling with the absurdity of existence, and the anguish of trying to make sense of a world that may just be entirely senseless.

What does Kafkaesque mean? Kafkaesque is a term that refers to a piece of art (whether it be writing, film, or visual art) or a life situation that exemplifies the nightmarish, surreal, and absurd qualities of Kafka's writings and the world he creates in his stories.

Franz Kafka: Short Stories

Kafka wrote many short stories; most of these were originally published in magazines, but he also published selections of his short stories later in his lifetime. In 1912 he published his first collection of short stories titled "Contemplations," which was also his first published book. It featured 18 short stories, many of which had previously been published in magazines and periodicals. In 1919, Kafka published his second collection of short stories titled "A Country Doctor," which featured 14 stories written by Kafka. Kafka published other short stories independently in magazines, such as "The Metamorphosis" and "The Judgment (1913).

Franz Kafka: Novels

Kafka wrote many novels, including his most famous, The Trial, which is about a man arrested for a crime he was never informed of. The Trial was his second novel, and it was published after Kafka's death by his friend Max Brod. Brod had to edit and rearrange most of the novel as Kafka had left it unfinished. Brod also published and edited Amerika (1927) and The Castle (1926), Kafka's other two novels, which were also unfinished at the time of Kafka's death.

What Motifs did Franz Kafka use?

Kafka's work commonly featured strained father-son relationships, likely drawn from his own relationship with his father. Themes of isolation and alienation from society also dominated his work, as seen in "The Metamorphosis" and The Trial. His writing was also often centered around the law, which can be connected to his time studying the law at the University of Prague. Kafka's protagonists are often guilt-ridden and face judgments, whether from society or their close relations. His short stories, "The Judgment" and "In the Penal Colony" (1919), reflect the pervasive motifs of judgment, punishment, and judiciary in Kafka's work.

What was Franz Kafka's Influence?

Critics and writers consider Kafka one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. His literary perspective is compelling for the same reasons it is also so hard to pin down; he flows between existentialism, absurdism, and something uniquely Kafka. His style was new and inspired a range of authors after his time, including Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Gabriel García Márquez, and J.D. Salinger. In his own original style and surreal humor, Kafka deftly wove a tapestry of absurd, rigidly bureaucratic worlds that his characters had to navigate. It is precisely his originality and visionary style that has secured his legacy as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century.

Franz Kafka - Key takeaways

  • Franz Kafka was a German-language writer considered to be one of the most influential writers of the 20th century due to his unique style and original stories.

  • Kafka's philosophical viewpoint is contested by critics and readers but is often related to existentialism and absurdism. His stories feature protagonists searching for meaning within surreal, nightmarish environments and absurd situations.

  • Kafka wrote short stories, such as "The Metamorphosis," "The Judgment," and "In the Penal Colony" as well as novels, such as The Trial, Amerika, and The Castle. Many of his works were published posthumously by his good friend and the man in charge of his publications, Max Brod.


1 Morris Dickstein, "A record of Kafka's love for a girl and hate for himself." The New York Times, 30 September 1973.

Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka was a German-language writer in the 20th century who is famous for his enduring legacy on the literary world. He wrote in an entirely original style and created written worlds of nightmares and the absurd that his protagonists had to navigate. He was highly influential on authors that came after him for his style and his themes of the absurd, existentialism, and alienation from society.

Kafka wrote many short stories and novels. His most famous short story is "The Metamorphosis" which is about a man who wakes up one day to discover that he has turned into a giant insect. His most famous novel is The Trial, about a man who is arrested for a crime but never told what that crime is. Kafka also penned numerous other short stories and novels, most published posthumously. His letters and personal diaries have also been subsequently published and are widely read today.

Critics and readers have struggled to find one philosophy that is representative of Kafka's writing. He has elements of existentialism and absurdism in his stories, which at their core deal with the struggle between individuals trying to find meaning and make moral decisions in a world that has become entirely absurd or meaningless.

Kafka wrote many short stories throughout his career. He often published short stories in magazines, but he also published collections of short stories. His first collection, Contemplations, was published in 1912. His second collection, A Country Doctor, was published in 1919.

Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was a German-language writer born in Prague. He wrote many short stories and novels and is considered one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. He is associated with Existentialism and Absurdism in his writing.

Kafka died of tuberculosis in 1924. He had contracted the disease seven years earlier. 

Final Franz Kafka Quiz

Question

Who is Franz Kafka?

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Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was a German-language author of short stories and novels, including "The Metamorphosis", The Trial, and "In the Penal Colony". He is one of the most influential writers of the 20th century given his wholly original style that touches on existentialism and absurdism.

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What did Franz Kafka write?

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Answer

Franz Kafka wrote many short stories and novels, including "The Metamorphosis", The Trial, and "In the Penal Colony". He published two short story collections, entitled Contemplations and A Country Doctor.

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What was Franz Kafka's philosophy?

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Kafka is compared with both existentialism and absurdism. His writing showcased chaotic worlds in which his characters navigated frightening, absurd situations. His works showcase the futility of trying to make sense of a senseless world.

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What does Kafkaesque mean?

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Kafkaesque refers to a piece of media or situation that has elements of Franz Kafka's writing. Kafkaesque generally contains the nightmarish, absurd qualities of Kafka's invented worlds.

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Where is Kafka from?

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Franz Kafka grew up in Prague in what was the Austro-Hungarian Empire but is now the modern-day capital of the Czech Republic

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How did Franz Kafka die?

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Franz Kafka died of tuberculosis; he had contracted the disease seven years previously and died in 1924.

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Who was Max Brod?

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Max Brod was a close friend and executor of Franz Kafka's literary estate. The two met in University and maintained a lifelong friendship. Brod is credited with Kafka's sustained influence given Brod was in charge of publishing Kafka's works.

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When was The Metamorphosis written?

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The Metamorphosis was published in 1915 by Franz Kafka, a German-language author, who began writing it in 1912.

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Who wrote The Metamorphosis?

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Franz Kafka wrote The Metamorphosis in 1912 and it was published in 1915

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What is The Metamorphosis about?

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The Metamorphosis follows Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman, as he wakes up one day to find that he has transformed into a giant insect. What follows is a story that examines familial relationships, alienation, and transformation, all within the bounds of this absurdist setup.

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What are the themes in The Metamorphosis?

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The Metamorphosis touches upon themes of alienation, familial relationships, transformation, and absurdism.

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Which of Gregor's family members was initially the most attentive to Gregor after he transforms?

  1. Mr. Samsa
  2. Mrs. Samsa
  3. Grete

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3. Grete

Grete brings Gregor food and removes the furniture from his room so that he can enjoy crawling along the walls and ceiling. As the story progresses, Grete too becomes resentful of Gregor, culminating in her calling him 'it,' finalizing Gregor's dehumanization.

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Where does The Metamorphosis take place?

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The entirety ofThe Metamorphosis takes place within the Samsa family apartment. Gregor is confined to his room for the story after his transformation. In the final paragraph, Mr. and Mrs. Samsa and Grete leave the apartment and ride a tram to the countryside. This is the only time the characters are described as having left the apartment.

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What is absurdism in literature?

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Absurdism in literature is the conflict between humans trying to find meaning in existence and existence’s inherent lack of meaning.

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What is Gregor's profession?

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Gregor works as a traveling salesman. He does not enjoy the job. He is the family's sole breadwinner and must work to pay of his family's debt.

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What is Gregor's relationship with his father?

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Prior to Gregor's transformation, Mr. Samsa treated him as nothing more than the barrier stopping the family from total financial ruin. After Gregor's transformation, Mr. Samsa treats Gregor with outright disdain. Mr. Samsa's new job infects him with new energy which becomes hostility when directed towards Gregor. He throws the apple that gets lodged in Gregor's back leading to his eventual death.

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Who are the characters in The Metamorphosis?

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The protagonist is Gregor Samsa, and the main characters are his family members: Mr. Samsa, his father, Mrs. Samsa, his mother, and Grete, his sister.

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