The Judgement by Franz Kafka: Summary, Analysis and Review

image of a lonely man watching the sunset

The Judgement is a short story written by Franz Kafka. It was first published in 1912. The story revolves around a young merchant and his relationship with his father. Franz Kafka was running a business while writing this story, which limited his literary creativity. This conflict inspired the protagonist of ‘The Judgement.’

“So now you know what else existed in the world outside of you before you knew only about yourself!”

The Judgement by Franz Kafka is one of his most prominent works, also perceived as the closest to his autobiographical memoir – the relationship between a father and son – one that resembles closely to his own.

The story was first published way back in 1912 as Das Urteil, in Arkadia (a literary yearbook) owned by his friend and close confidante Max Brod.

The Judgement: Summary and Plot Analysis

The protagonist of this story is a young merchant, a man called Georg Bendemann. It opens with him writing a letter to an unnamed friend, who left for Russia a few years ago to start a business – one that showed a lot of promise initially but is now in a fragile state.

On the contrary, Georg has been having tremendous success in managing his own business. Although, until now, he has only been giving his friend little pieces of information – and that not that frequently either, he decides to let his friend know about his upcoming marriage to Freida Brandenfield, a girl from an affluent family.

Georg decides to check on his father and let him know of his intention and seek his approval to break this news to his friend.

Although, quite ill and heartbroken after his wife’s death – his father appears huge to him.

His father questions the existence of his friend and blames Georg for keeping him in the dark in his business dealings. He also attacks him personally saying that the death of his mother didn’t impact Georg as much as him.

Although hurt by his father’s accusations, he insists that he lay on bed, rest for a while and get his strength back. But the father claims that he’s asking him to lay on the bed because he wants him dead.

In a fit of rage, he also admits to knowing all about his friend and that he has been informing his friend about everything that has been happening in Georg’s life. He ridicules Georg about his fiance, mocks her and implies that he doesn’t value anyone but himself. He completely disregards Georg’s love and care.

Georg, deeply hurt by his father statements, recoils.

His father anger still rages on. He calls him selfish and sentences him to death by drowning. Georg feels a strange but powerful force that pushes him out of the room. He then runs out of the house and onto a bridge. Then he swings himself off the railings and jumps to his apparent death, wherein the sound of the jump is muffled by sounds of traffic.

The Judgement: Analysis and Review

This story from Kafka stands out for the parallels drawn to his real life. There are a few examples of that:

1 – Kafka’s relationship with his father

Kafka’s father, Hermann, had a very forceful personality that had a deep impact on him. I couldn’t help but notice how frequently Kafka’s protagonists are shown to cower in their father’s presence, which closely resembles to a fearful reverie.

When Georg goes to meet his father (whose health is failing), he still appears huge to him. All the care and devotion towards his father is met with scathing contempt.

a portrait for author franz kafka
A portrait for Franz Kafka – the author of ‘The Judgement’

2 – Kafka’s relationship with Felice Bauer (his fiance)

Similar to how Georg’s upcoming marriage is a significant plot point in the story introducing tumult, so does Kafka’s relationship to his real-life girlfriend and later,  fiance, Felice Bauer. In the story, Freida is the indirect cause of Georg’s death. In real life, Kafka both dreaded and loved Felice for the impact that she had on his art.

3 – Kafka’s seclusion and Georg’s bachelorhood

Georg has been shown to love his fiance, but at the same time has also been shown indifferent in some aspects – even going to the extent of considering it as a mistake or liability at some point.

Exhausted by Georg’s comments when Freida suggests that he should not have been engaged at all, Georg replied by saying -“Well, we are both to blame for that.” Same has been known to be true for Kafka’s relationship with Felice as well.

Kafka’s curse of writing in seclusion is coupled with the idea that an association with her is only going to drive him further away from his path of writing – that he considered life’s only reward.

4 – Similarity in professions

When Kafka was running his business, he was continually pressed for time to satiate his creativity cravings, hardly getting any time to write. This was an inspiration behind the protagonist character.

The poet W. H. Auden once called Franz Kafka “the Dante of the twentieth century”.

I couldn’t agree more.

 

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