Yes, Franz Kafka is definitely worth reading. He, perhaps above all other twentieth century writers, pioneered a sparse prose style which conveyed the bureaucratic nightmares of the age, giving rise to existentialist despair and feelings of intense alienation.
Although he was ashamed of his writing, his body of work has come to be viewed as the best expression of the feelings that arise as a result of being crushed by bureaucracy. So much so, that Kafkaesque is a phrase used to mean over complex, absurd, and nightmarish.
At the heart of his works lie many symbols which defy a single explanation, which gives readers and critics ample opportunity to reinterpret works according to their own beliefs. This is partly why Kafka remains relevant.
Who Was Franz Kafka?
Kafka was a lawyer based in Bohemia, which is modern day Czech Republic. He spoke German and wrote stories which blend the ultra dull and real (bureaucratic) with the fantastical (being turned into a bug!).
He was super shy, apparently speaking infrequently. When he did speak however, his friends noticed he was saying profound things. He is thought to have burned almost all of the pieces he ever wrote, and instructed his friend to burn his most important works after he died. Max Brod didn’t burn his works however, he published them.
Sadly, Kafka died without receiving the recognition he would garner after his death, at the age of 40 due to tuberculosis – a disease which took the lives of so many writers before the invention of antibiotics.
What Did Franz Kafka Write?
Kafka wrote short stories and novels. The most famous novels are The Trial, and The Castle. Both deal with a futile struggle against overwhelming bureaucratic forces which rob life of its richness, authenticity, and meaning. Alienation is a common theme, according to which individuals feel disconnected from their society and surroundings; arising from, inter alia, a lack of shared values.
His short stories, such as The Metamorphosis, are considered to be amongst the greatest achievements in the short form. They are startlingly original; and captured the spirit of the times in a way that has fascinated readers ever since. The terse, or spare, prose style, and the themes of confusion, and alienation captured the zeitgeist of the time.
Was Kafka Significant?
Yes, Kafka was very significant. In Kafka’s work, individuals are often punished even though they have not committed a crime, highlighting the inability of the individual to escape the crushing demands of society. His works feature absurdist elements, are influenced by expressionist ideas, and of course existentialism permeates his worlds in which meaning is sparse and doubtful.
Authors have hailed Kafka as one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century for a number of reasons, including his experimental and influential prose style: Gabriel García Márquez commented that Kafka showed him it was possible to write in a different way.
Kafka’s training and work as a lawyer no doubt influenced his depiction of worlds in which individuals are victims of endless bureaucratic demands, delivered by shady and unaccountable forces.
Kafka should be read because his prose is distinct and unique, and forms arguably the best expression of feelings of alienation arising from despair and isolation. It is satisfying to see bureaucrats satirized, and heartening to know we are not alone in our moments of such dread.