Franz Kafka Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Franz Kafka did not attempt to write drama or poetry. His métier was prose. He was a perfectionist who apparently intended only a portion of what he had written for publication. The three novels and several more volumes of short stories were prepared for publication posthumously by the executor of his literary estate, Max Brod.

Kafka also wrote voluminously in other categories of prose that bear the same distinctive style as his creative work. His diaries and letters contain many comments that aid in the understanding of his stories, and his meticulous legal reports are exemplary professional documents.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Every year, more secondary literature is published about Franz Kafka than about almost any other author except William Shakespeare. This attests the extraordinary power and alluringly enigmatic content of his works. While his inimitable prose style describes everything as if it were self-evident, he invariably introduces elements of the fantastic and surreal and portrays the demise of his characters as inevitable. His works are imbued with a sense of horror as isolated characters struggle futilely against malign forces that they do not understand.

Kafka unintentionally became the voice of the age. Coming after the philosophers Martin Heidegger and Edmund Husserl, and being contemporary with the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, he captured the existential angst of the generation. As a result of the Industrial Revolution, the father no longer worked from the home but dominated the family from a distance. The figure of authority was a stranger.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to long fiction, Franz Kafka (KAHF-kah) wrote numerous stories, the most famous of which are Die Verwandlung (1915; The Metamorphosis, 1936), Ein Hungerkünstler: Vier Geschichten (1924; A Hunger Artist, 1948), and The Penal Colony: Stories and Short Pieces (1948). He also left behind extensive diaries and letters.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

What W. H. Auden wrote of Sigmund Freud—that he had become less a person than a climate of opinion—is equally true of Franz Kafka. He is the twentieth century prophet of alienation, his name a household synonym for “angst.” His stories—visionary, hallucinatory, yet very controlled artistically—have exerted their powerful influence over modern fiction. Few would dispute the assertion that he is one of the major literary figures of the twentieth century. None of this, however, could have been anticipated of a writer who was not widely known at the time of his death.

Kafka’s genius was difficult for him to harness: The fact is that he never completed any of his three novels. Before dying, he left instructions with Max Brod, his friend and executor, to destroy his manuscripts. Reasoning that Kafka was not committed to their destruction as much as he was ambivalent over their fate—could not he have destroyed them had he really wished to do so?—Brod preserved the manuscripts, arranged to have them printed, wrote a biography of his friend, and generously championed his cause. Thus, The Trial and The Castle, books which so remarkably capture Kafka’s paradoxical vision of human existence, came to light.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Is The Trial merely motivated by Franz Kafka’s interest in the law or does it depend significantly on his legal training?

What are the obstacles to effective communication among Kafka’s characters?

How did Kafka’s difficulties with his own father affect his depiction of fathers?

Does Kafka’s fiction reflect an existentialist denial of all absolute principles?

Can any of the stories of The Country Doctor be regarded as optimistic?

Why do the reactions of fear and laughter seem to converge for Kafka’s readers?


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Alter, Robert. Canon and Creativity: Modern Writing and the Authority of Scripture. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000. A lucid argument for the complex influence that the Bible has exerted on three important and diverse authors: Franz Kafka, Hayyim Hahman Bialik, and James Joyce.

Begley, Louis. The Tremendous World I Have Inside My Head: Franz Kafka—A Biographical Essay. New York: Atlas, 2008.

Ben-Ephraim, Gavriel. “Making and Breaking Meaning: Deconstruction, Four-Level Allegory, and The Metamorphosis.” The Midwest Quarterly 35 (Summer, 1994): 450-467. Argues that Kafka’s ability to combine oppositions without resolving them enables him to simultaneously build and dismantle an allegorical ladder ascending the four levels of traditional interpretation.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Franz Kafka. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. A collection of essays, on Kafka himself and on themes that pervade his oeuvre, by distinguished scholars. Includes essays on the short stories “Up in the Gallery,” “A Country Doctor,” “Der Bau” (“The Burrow”), and “Die Verwandlung” (“The Metamorphosis”). Contains an excellent index that itemizes specific aspects of the works.

Boa, Elizabeth. Kafka: Gender, Class, and Race in the Letters and Fictions. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. An excellent study. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Calasso, Roberto. K.. New York: Knopf, 2005. This provocative, scholarly study is a welcome addition to Kafka studies.

Corngold, Stanley. Franz Kafka: The Necessity of Form. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1988. Chapter 3 (43 pages) contains what is very likely the definitive analysis of “The Metamorphosis.” Also includes excellent analysis of “The Judgment,” in chapters 2 and 7, discussions of form and critical method, and comparisons with other authors. Corngold also wrote a critical bibliography of “The Metamorphosis” in The Commentator’s Despair (1973).

Flores, Angel, ed. The Problem of “The Judgement”: Eleven Approaches to Kafka’s Story. New York: Gordian Press, 1976. An English translation, followed by a valuable collection of essays on the short story that Kafka...

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