Franz Kafka is known to be one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Kafka’s grim writing style is known and recognized by many. Many of his works leave the reader questioning life and often taking away a pessimistic message. The dark nature of his short stories such as “The Judgement”, “A Hunger Artist” and “In The Penal Colony”, poses the questions, why such a dark view on life and it’s situations and what factors affected his writing? As with many artists, characteristics such as, life experiences, mental health, and time period can affect their art and the message they convey. Throughout his works there are themes of perception versus reality, alienation, and isolation. Kafka use of his perception of reality in his works creates another world for the reader, and helps them understand the meaning of the piece differently.
Franz Kafka was born in Prague in the late 19th century to an upper-middle-class family. From a very young age Kafka’s family had a toxic impact on him. When Kafka was six years old, two of his brothers died in infancy leaving Kafka with three sisters. From the beginning of his childhood, he had dark and depressing memories that he associated with his childhood, which contributed to his mental health issues in his adult life. During this time period, the normal family dynamic is different than it is today. Kafka did not get along with his parents. Unlike today’s society, in Kafka’s time many parents had a tyrant parenting style. This affected Kafka all the way through life. Many of Kafka’s personal struggles depicted in his literature are results of his father’s dominance and controlling nature. In some of his works, like “The Judgement”, Kafka expresses through the main character Georg, just how a toxic relationship with parents can be detrimental to the mental health of the child. Throughout the short story Georg is shown as overcoming a controlling power, his father, and that could break down someone’s self-confidence, which Kafka lacked. Growing up, Kafka also had a difficult relationship with his mother. She had a hard time understanding why he wanted to be a writer and discouraged him from pursuing his dreams, mainly because choosing careers in his time period was based on how much money someone could make instead of what they want to do.
As a result of his family life, Kafka was no stranger to mental health issues. He suffered from self-destructive habits and depression most of his life. As with many people with mental health issues, his mental illnesses were exacerbated throughout his life, especially later in life when his physical health declined. Throughout many of Kafka’s works his mental health was demonstrated. In fact in his short story “A Hunger Artist” , the hungry artist demonstrates the same destructive mental state as someone with depression or self-destructive habits. Kafka’s mental health made the atmosphere of his writing somewhat nightmarish. Kafka not only uses the main character to demonstrate his mental health but also uses the other characters to demonstrate the effect of other people on one’s mental state. In “The Judgement”, when Georg originally mentions his friend from Russia to his father, Georg’s father pretends like he does not know Georg’s friend. However, later in their discussion Georg’s father reveals that he knew who Georg’s friend was all along, and that he himself is more involved with his life than Georg himself. He then tells Georg that he has ignored his friend since he moved to Russia, making Georg feel guilty. The reason for George’s father deceiving Georg in the first place is almost clear, and it is even possible that Georg’s father was lying about knowing his friend and was rather just trying to implant further feelings of guilt and self-worthlessness in Georg’s mind in retaliation for being “emasculated” by his own son. This situation is another way that Kafka brought the relationship with his father into his works. When reader reads his work they feel the same darkness many people with mental illnesses feel a lot of the time. Kafka was so successful at creating this atmosphere that the term “Kafkaesque” means dark atmosphere resulting from feelings of guilt, fear, and loss of identity. s
Along with Kafka’s family life and mental illnesses, different movements and events around the time he was alive also affected his writing. Kafka was born around the time the nihilist movement started. Nihilism is an extremely pessimistic view that life has no purpose or meaning. Kafka demonstrates this in many of his works, like “A Hunger Artist”. Kafka also incorporated a into his works. Kafka does this by making his stories have abrupt endings and unrealistic scenarios. Along with the surrealism Kafka had some dadaism in his later works, which ties in with his nihilistic style, which became popular during World War I. Kafka however, did not always follow society. In Prague, which is the largest city and capital of the Czech Republic, the Czech’s lifestyles are also heavily influenced by their relationships with friends and family as well as their names and identity.Kafka’s writings usually have very strange relationships as seen in “The Judgement.” Although he differs from society in this way many of his works, like “In The Penal Colony”, Kafka establishes importance to the judgment society is known for giving. In this story Kafka also shows the reader that he has a sense of justice. When the officer gets into The Machine, the condemned man eagerly ties him in because of the unfair accusation and judgment that had caused him to nearly be executed. Rather than Kafka having this character face the long and painful death he wanted from the Apparatus, the machine falls onto him, killing him almost instantaneously. Rather than facing the death the characters wanted, Kafka gave him the death he deserved. Perception is a product of experience. Therefore since everyone has had different life experiences, which causes everyone’s perception of reality and life to be different. Kafka took his view on life that was molded by life experiences and mental health and projected it into every piece of work he created, which is what has come to make him a very influential writer even today. Kafka’s life from his family dynamic to his personal views on society has become very well known. By Kafka protecting his life experiences into his work readers are able to obtain insight not only into the minds of the characters but also the minds of Franz Kafka himself. Franz Kafka had so much of himself in his work he did not want some of his work published after he died. He did not want the world to judge him because of his views on life.