illustrated portrait of Bohemian author Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka

Start Free Trial

What are the characteristics of kafkaesque?

The word Kafkaesque is characterized by nightmarish qualities, absurd bureaucracy, and unnecessary and illogical circular reasoning. It originates from the writings of author Franz Kafka. These qualities come up frequently in Kafka's works, likely because of his upbringing and previous careers.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Franks Kafka is the well-known author of books such as The Metamorphosis and The Trial. He was born in 1883 in what is now the Czech Republic. He worked for several years in insurance, which may have inspired some of his understandings and criticisms of bureaucracy.

The word Kafkaesque has been used to describe his style of writing and to refer to other things which capture some of the same elements.

One of the common elements in Kafka's writing is circular reasoning. Often his characters find themselves stuck in a loop, unable to escape from the oppression which they have allowed to happen. It isn't just that the character is stuck in a loop, but often there is the possibility of escape, but the character chooses not to take it, or doesn't see it, or doesn't realize that escape is actually a possibility.

Another characteristic of Kafkaesque is an element of bureaucracy. In many of Kafka's stories, the characters are caught up in paperwork, or long lines, or a series of absurd commands. They are powerless against the bureaucracy in which they find themselves.

Circular reason and endless red tape are certainly elements of Kafkaesque, but the term isn't complete without a certain nightmarish quality.

Kafka's stories aren't just frustrating; they're infuriating. Characters are facing these scenarios with added obstacles, such as being a cockroach, as in The Metamorphosis. The scenarios are disorienting, unexplained, and altogether horrific.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team