Franz Kafka was an author born on July 3, 1883 in Czekoslavakia who wrote several important works in early 20th century literature, such as the oft-anthologized novella Metamorphosis and short stories "The Judgment," "A Hunger Artist" and "In the Penal Colony" as well as the novels The Trial and The Castle. He wrote in German, the language he primarily spoke, though he learned a little Czech. His style is often described as dry and matter-of-fact, though the subject matter and detailed descriptions create a surreal, magical-realist atmosphere.
Kafka's works are influential enough to have an adjective ascribed to him when discussing the work of other authors: Kafkaesque. The term denotes a sense of incomprehensible, menacing complexity, often connected to immense bureaucracies or surrealistic events that occur in the context of an otherwise mundane environment.
Though not religious, Kafka came from a Jewish family. They did not regularly practice, but he became interested in Jewish culture, and even tried to learn Hebrew. He spoke often to friends about visiting or moving to Jerusalem, although such a trip never happened. He also became interested in Yiddish theater. Some have theorized that his interest in Judaism had a significant influence in his writing, since his worldly characters often encounter forces that seem otherworldly or transcendent. His closest friend, Max Brod, who is also largely responsible for Kafka's legacy since most of his work was published posthumously, thus interpreted his stories and novels in a theological context. Other critics have rejected this interpretation as too simplistic, and have pointed out Kafka's relative agnosticism.
Others have emphasized Kafka's familial struggles. He had an adverse relationship with his father, who was a pragmatic man looking upon his son's literary and intellectual interests with disdain. Kafka felt intimidated by the man's large size and confrontational manner, being thin, shy, and struggling with a number of health problems (some probably more psychosomatic in nature than actual, as he was a bit of a hypochrondriac). He also struggled with forming relationships with women, breaking off several engagements. This has led some to examine his works from a Freudian perspective.
Others have seen him from a social/political standpoint, since bodies of authority serve as sources of nightmarish suffering for his characters.
And there are those who interpret him from an existentialist view because of his depictions of sometimes absurd and angst-inspiring situation.
Yet, some have maintained that trying to limit a reading of any of Kafka's works to any of these categories unduly obscures the complexity of literary possibility. Regardless of interpretation, Kafka remains one of the most important authors of the 20th century.
Kafka suffered the last few years of his life with tuberculosis. Though in intense pain at times, he was comforted by his final and perhaps most satisfying lover, Dora Diamant. Barely able to drink, eat, or speak, he died on June 23, 1924.
- Works of Franz Kafka in German and English on Wikisource.
- Quotations by and about Franz Kafka in German and English on Wikiquote.
- Free public domain audiobooks of Franz Kafka's works from LibriVox.