A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.
"Anyone who cannot come to terms with his life while he is alive needs one hand to ward off a little his despair over his fate... but with his other hand he can note down what he sees among the ruins."
Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was one of the major German-language fiction writers of the 20th century. His unique body of writing—much of which is incomplete and was mainly published posthumously—is among the most influential in Western literature. His stories, such as The Metamorphosis
(1915), and novels, including The Trial
(1925) and The Castle
(1926), concern troubled individuals in a nightmarishly impersonal, modern, and bureaucratic world.
Not to be confused with Frank Capra
, Frank Zappa
, or Kefka
. And most certainly not Kafuka Fuura
This author's work includes examples of:
- Ambiguously Jewish: Kafka's work doesn't directly ever reference his Jewish background, but the Jewish angst somehow seems to seep through anyway.
- Alternate Character Interpretation: In-work in The Trial when the prison chaplain tells Josef the story "Before the Law." Is the gatekeeper an Obstructive Bureaucrat who misled the man into keeping him out until he was too old to enter, or is he a tragic hero beholden to the Law while the man is free to enter, but chooses not to?
- Author Avatar: A lot of his characters at least share some traits with him, such as a domineering father and a creative desire stifled by the doldrums of everyday life.
- Author Existence Failure - None of his major works were finished. What's more, Kafka never intended to publish any of it and only wrote as a sort of personal therapy. He asked his good friend Max Brod to burn his works after his death, but when Brod refused to do this to his face Kafka never bothered to find another person to care for the copies instead. Apparently he wasn't THAT bothered by the prospect of being outlived by his work.
- Bewildering Punishment: The central point of The Trial
- Body Horror - Some of his characters are physically marred by the traumas they undergo.
- Calling the Old Man Out - Almost. Letter to His Father, which was never given to his dad.
- Chew Toy - The protagonists of his books hardly ever seem able to catch a break.
- Karl Rossman, protagonist of Amerika, unwillingly gets the family maid pregnant, gets sent off to America by his father without any practical skills he could make a decent living with, finds a long-lost uncle, only to be thrown out after he vistits an acquaintence against his uncle's will, gets a alright job as a lift boy, is dismissed due to the Head Porter who has it in for Karl because he does't greet the Porter politely and regularly, falls in with rogues (not the lovable kind), etc.
- Crapsack World
- Dead Artists Are Better - the titular character from "The Hunger Artist." Not to mention Kafka himself.
- Subverted in "Josephine the Singer", though: after she, representing culture in general, dies, nobody will remember her.
- Determinator - K in The Castle. Deconstructed: All his efforts are in vain. He would be happier if he just gave up.
- Disproportionate Retribution - "The Judgement" among others.
- Downer Ending - The only books that do not have one are the books Kafka never finished.
- Ice-Cream Koan - Deliberately.
- Fish out of Water: Karl Rossman in America.
- Kafka Komedy - Franz Kafka is the Trope Namer. When read the right way by a person with a very dark sense of humour, his books can be genuinely funny. According to his friends, Kafka himself would sometimes laugh out loud while reading his own work.
- Similarly, Orson Welles always considered his film adaptation of The Trial to be a black comedy, and considered it wildly funny himself.
- Kangaroo Court
- Koan - "Before the Law, there stands a guard..."
- Magic Realism
- Mind Screw
- Mundane Fantastic
- No Ending
- Obstructive Bureaucrat - In "Before the Law" or "Vor dem Gesetz", the doorkeeper acts as the literal and symbolic obstructive bureaucrat, blocking the man from the country from getting admittance to the Law.
- One-Letter Name - K. in The Castle and Joseph K. in The Trial.
- Ontological Mystery - The Trial is a cynical, bureaucratic example.
- Our Monsters Are Weird - Several of his vignettes feature rather bizarre and fantastic creatures, the oddest perhaps being the titular being in "Odradek".
- Out of Order: The Trial contains a lot of self-contained chapters, and it is unclear in what order Kafka intended them to be read.
- Recut: In adapting The Trial, Orson Welles rearranged the order of Kafka’s chapters. In this version, the chapter line-up read 1, 4, 2, 5, 6, 3, 8, 7, 9, 10. However, the order of Kafka's chapters was arranged by his literary executor, Max Brod, after the writer's death, and this order is not definitive.Source
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog - Almost everything by Kafka falls into this category.
- Shaggy Dog Story
- Slice of Life - His collected writings contain one-page stories that don't really have a point to them, apart from describing an interesting scene and observing things about it.
- Surreal Horror - His protagonists are often utterly (and sometimes fatally) bewildered by circumstances that would be funny if the consequences were less hideous.
- Torture Technician - the Officer from "In the Penal Colony" who uses an execution device with needles to mark the crime the person is being executed for (the person dies eventually after several hours of pain of either shock or blood loss)
- Unreliable Narrator - For example in the short story The Judgement where at first the narrator seems to be pretty much identical with protagonist Georg Bendemann, bragging what a considerate person he is because he doesn't tell his unfortunate friend abroad what a happy successful life he has. How nice and understandable, thinks the reader - until Bendemann's father calls him out and accuses him of being a liar so that we have to start questioning Bendemann's motives and if the friend abroad actually exists.
- Weirdness Censor - Apart from the protagonists, very few people in his stories notice or care when something clearly out of the ordinary has happened.
- White Collar Worker - Kafka himself and his characters provide an early example of this trope.
- Wrong Genre Savvy - Josef K in The Trial thinks he's a plucky everyman fighting against injustice. He's very, very wrong.
- Yank the Dog's Chain
Appearences in popular culture: