Creator / Franz Kafka
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:

  • 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?invoked
  • Ambiguously Jewish: Kafka's work doesn't directly ever reference his Jewish background, but the Jewish angst somehow seems to seep through anyway.
  • 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. A couple of them are named “K“.
  • Authors of Quote: Kafka's aphorisms are often reprinted, mostly as epigrams at the start of a book.
  • Bewildering Punishment: The central point of The Trial.
  • Biography à Clef: Steven Soderbergh's film Kafka uses the author's fiction as a key to tell his life story.
  • 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.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': He was a Trope Codifier. One of the most revealing exchanges in all his work is towards the end of The Trial, when Josef K goes to the cathedral and talks to a priest:
    'But I'm not guilty,' said K. 'It's a mistake. How can a person be guilty at all? Surely we are all human beings here, one like the other.'
    'That is right,' said the priest, 'but that is the way the guilty are wont to talk.'
  • 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 visits an acquaintance against his uncle's will, gets an 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. It's averted in the end, when Karl is accepted into the rather utopian Theatre of Oklahoma.
  • Crapsack World: The late 19th-early 20th Century landscape of his stories.
  • 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.
    • Kafka himself of course died before attaining universal fame.
  • Determinator: K in The Castle. Deconstructed: all his efforts are seemingly in vain. He might have been happier if he just gave up, although the book ends in mid-sentence and we only have hints as to how it would probably have ended.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: "The Judgement" among others.
  • Downer Ending: Much of his work.
  • Fish out of Water: Karl Rossman in America.
  • Hope Spot: Josef K in The Trial has one, on the last page of the book, when he sees a window open and a person leans out and stretches out his/her arms.
  • Ice-Cream Koan: Deliberately.
  • Kafka Komedy: Franz Kafka is the Trope Namer. When read the right way by a person with a very dark sense of humor, 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: The Trial, in which the prisoner, Josef K, is never told what the charge is and cannot defend himself. Therefore, he is convicted and then sentenced to death without evidence of anything.
  • Koan: "Before the Law, there stands a guard..."
  • Magic Realism: For example, strange, unexplained transformations.
  • Metamorphosis: The Metamorphosis, of course.
  • Mind Screw: What is really his works' meaning?
    • The Trial contains a sentence in its first page which, in that it represents Kafka's uniquely elusive syntax, is a Mind Screw in itself. Josef K wakes up to find himself under arrest. He says to the man who's arresting him, "Anna is supposed to bring me my breakfast," referring to his landlady's daughter. The man says to somebody just outside the room, "He wants Anna to bring him his breakfast." The next sentence goes like this, in the original German: Ein kleines Gelächter im Nebenzimmer folgte, es war nach dem Klang nicht sicher, ob nicht mehrere Personen daran beteiligt waren. The most accurate published translation of this sentence's pileup of multiple negatives goes like this: "There was a brief burst of laughter from the next room, but it was not clear from the sound whether there might not be more than one person there." Good luck figuring that out.
  • Mundane Fantastic: The fantastic is usually seen as completely mundane by almost everyone who is not the protagonist.
  • No Ending: Two out of his three novels have no ending. The Trial does have an ending, but it's known that Kafka hadn't finished work on it when he died.
  • 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 Josef 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 Odradek in his short story "The Cares of a Family Man."
  • 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
  • Schizo Tech: The 1994 film version of The Castle is set in a Clock Punk setting, with medieval architecture, early automobiles, and phones.
  • Shaggy Dog Story: The dark kind.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Almost everything by Kafka falls into this category.
  • 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 from 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.
  • Useless Protagonist: Many of his works have protagonists who either willingly or unwillingly have no active role in how the stories progress.
  • 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. However — and this is the characteristically Kafkaesque twist — it's never clear why he's wrong.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Things may start to look bright. It never pays off.

Appearences in popular culture:

  • He appears in a historical / flashback episode of Northern Exposure, played by the series' star Rob Morrow. Yes, the show set entirely in Alaska.
  • In The Producers, while looking for the worst play ever written, Max reads the first line from The Metamorphosis, and rejects it as being too good.
  • Robert Crumb made an analytical comic book / book about Kafka's life.
  • The young Indiana Jones meets him in ''Young Indiana Jones."
  • Frank Zappa advises buyers of his album We're Only in It for the Money to read Kafka's "In the Penal Colony" before listening to the last track.
  • The "Director's Cut" episode of Home Movies features a plotline where teenage metalhead Duane attempts to persuade Brendon to film his Rock Opera of Kafka's ''Metamorphosis,'' which Brendon is unwilling to do, preferring to direct a film called Louis, Louis depicting a fictional encounter between Louis Pasteur and Louis Braille.
    "A, rock opera, based on Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis... I don't think so."
  • The Onion ran a video about how Prague's Franz Kafka International airport is the most alienating, dehumanizing airport in the world.
  • There's a Shout-Out to In the Penal Colony in The Shadow of the Torturer where the head torturer shows a prisoner an apparatus designed to carve slogans into someone's flesh and mentions that it isn't working properly. In the original story, there is such an apparatus, which malfunctions and carves a slogan into the guard's flesh.
  • He was played by Daniel Day-Lewis in Alan Bennett's 1986 BBC TV drama The Insurance Man.
  • Kafka himself is the protagonist of Steven Soderbergh's 1991 film Kafka, where he's played by Jeremy Irons.
  • In Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Johnny's cockroaches (although he believes them all to be one constantly regenerating cockroach) are named "Mr. Samsa," after the character from The Metamorphosis.
  • The works of Kafka are a major influence on Tokyo Ghoul and its sequel, Tokyo Ghoul:Re. Near the beginning of the series, Kaneki compares his transformation into a Half-Human Hybrid to The Metamorphosis. It is also mentioned that oft-mentioned novelist Sen Takatsuki titled her first work Dear Kafka, hinting that she was influenced by his work. In the sequel, Kafka's short story A Crossbreed is discussed briefly and seems to be a metaphor for the relationship between Half-Human Hybrid Sasaki and his Parental Substitute, Arima.
  • The Scottish post-punk band Josef K were named after the main character of The Trial, The Castle, and A Dream.
  • Israeli skit show The Jews Are Coming, satirizing Jewish / Israeli history and lore, featured a skit in which the moribund Kafka asks Max Brod to burn all of his writings, but keeps asking him to spare more and more works, to the point he wants to keep the empty pizza box in his room. Finally, Brod, who got so worked up about burning something, randomly burns a piece of paper he finds... Which turns out to be Kafka's medication prescription for his tuberculosis. Kafka dies that day.
  • The Samsa from Werewolf: The Apocalypse, artificially-created giant shapeshifting cockroaches, are named for the main character of "Metamorphosis".
  • Another tabletop game, Eclipse Phase, has samsas, semi-robotic insect bodies primarily used for combat. The default is cockroach-like.
  • Quite a bit of Resident Evil: Revelations 2 takes ques from Kafka. The general plot of the game is about people trapped in an oppressive world where all the mean-spirited terrors are never explained while being watched over by an uncaring watcher. The main antagonist is a noted fan of Kafka and bases her plans off his works, each level is named after one of his works, and each level is proceeded by a quote from Kafka.