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Posted on May 31st, 2012, by

Kafka’s works contributed consistently in the development of existentialism. Basically, he focuses on the internal world of the main characters in various works, including Metamorphoses, Josephine the Singer, A Hunger Artist, and many others. In his works, characters live their own live which seems to have nothing in common with the life of other people to the extent that their death or disappearance, as well as their sufferings problems, remain unnoticed to other people. This is why it is possible to estimate that Kafka’s characters are self-sufficient people living in the world created by themselves and which lose the contact with their social environment and even surrounding reality.

Franz Kafka is considered to be one of the most outstanding writers of his time. At the same time, his works often evoked numerous discussions and quite controversial emotions. On the one hand, there are a lot of readers and critics who simply admire his works, while, on the other hand, there is a large army of the opponents who reject Kafka’s ideas and can hardly perceive his woks because of their gloomy mood and quite depressing characters.

Nevertheless, whatever the attitude of readers and critics to Franz Kafka is his contribution in the development of modern literature can hardly be underestimated. In fact, Franz Kafka has managed to create very original works which draw the attention of both specialists and ordinary readers. His style is unique in a way and his work are really quite noteworthy. At the same time, it is necessary to underline that Kafka traditionally focused on the internal world of his characters, who were often marginalized, living on their own. This is why it is possible to speak about the contribution of Kafka in the development of existentialism but this statement is quite arguable since many critics argue that Kafka can hardly be defined as purely existentialist writer, while other (Bewes) underline strong existentialist trends in his creative work.

In fact, speaking about the contribution of Franz Kafka in the development of existentialism, it is necessary to underline that it is really difficult to speak about this writer as a typical representative of existentialism, but, on the other hand, it would be a great mistake to ignore his contribution to the development of this movement since many of his works contains elements of existentialism which, probably, were too advanced for his epoch and provoked substantial criticism of his works simply because of the inability of some critics to adequately assess the style and ideas of this writer.

In such a way, it is obvious that Franz Kafka’s existentialism is as arguable as practically all his woks which has never been assessed absolutely positively or negatively, instead, there always existed two often opposing views on his works and, hence probably, the contradictive view on his existentialist trends. In spite of all arguments and discussions, it is still necessary to underline that existentialist trends may be traced in the works created by Franz Kafka and, in this regard, he may be viewed as one of the contributors to the development of existentialism (Flores).

In fact, existentialist trends may be traced in various works by Franz Kafka. For instance, it is possible to refer to his Panopticon (1791), in which the main character Jeremy Bentham creates an ideal prison system (Corbella). This creation is the product of his own ideas and thoughts which he successfully realized but it should be said that this prison system has nothing in common with conventional one and is really unique. In such a way, it is possible to speak about certain elements of existentialism in this work as long as the author depicts a system which is rather a product of mind of the main character by means of which Jeremy Bentham attempts to realize himself, to express his individuality and uniqueness (Corbella). In this regard, it should be said that the author actually shows the character whose main purpose of life and its sense is incorporated into the prison system he created. Consequently, the main character sees the essence of his life in this prison system while the external world practically does not exist for him.

In other words, it is possible to say that he lives in his own world which makes the sense of his life and this is a typical characteristic of existentialism.

Another work by Kafka, The Trial is to a significant extent similar to the previously discussed one, one of the main characters of this work, a prison officer demonstrates an intricate torture apparatus, which became a terrible machine of punishment of criminals. This work is viewed by many specialists as a characteristic of physical and psychological brutality (Franz Kafka). It should be said that basically the prison officer that demonstrates the machine is really admired with this creation which he perceives almost as a part of himself. He cannot understand why the visitor is so appalled when the principle of its functioning is explained. In fact, the actions of the prison officer, who is the operator of the machine, contains existentialist trends, since he is absolutely sure in the reliability of his machine and believes that it functions properly and without any problems. His tragic death in the moment when he proves the reliability and safety of the machine to the visitor may be viewed as an indicator to the great responsibility the prison officer takes himself because it was his own decision to demonstrate himself how the machine functions and it was he who was responsible for the outcome of the experiment. Consequently, it may be viewed as existentialist characteristic since for existentialism it is typical when people are free to take decision on their own and they can take decisions concerning their life without any regard to other people and external world.

At the same time, existentialism trends are probably the most obvious in his most famous work The Metamorphosis.

In fact, this work may be viewed as a very significant contribution to the development of existentialism. The main character of the book Gregor Samsa is a typical existentialist character who lives his own life, being a kind of a stranger in the world he actually lives in. At first glance, he is a very good person leading a normal life since he works hard, and he is the only breadwinner in the family. Moreover, the well-being of his family entirely depends on Gregor. He seems to be happy as well as his relatives but the great change that occurs to him changes dramatically his entire life, but, paradoxically, it does not really change the life of his family and the external world. It seems as if the metamorphosis affected only Gregor and does not influenced any other person in the entire world.

In fact, the indifference of the members of Gregor’s family to his fate may be explained by the changed role of the main character since as the transformation occurs members of his family learn how to live without his support. Consequently, they can afford themselves and they do not need his assistance anymore. This is why his family is not disturbed by the metamorphosis. On the other hand, it is possible to refer to the moral obligations of the members of Gregor’s family. It would be quite logical that his family supported him but, in contrast, as soon as the family can live without the support of Gregor, it does not need him anymore and pay no attention to the main character. In such a way, the author perfectly illustrates that the life, the world of the main character is quite unique and extremely limited. In other words, Gregor lives in the world of his own and nobody really takes care whether he is alive or not, whether he feels good or probably he needs help. On the other hand, Gregor chooses his lifestyle and makes all decisions on his own revealing strong existentialist trends Kafka amply used in The Metamorphosis.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that in spite of numerous arguments concerning the contribution of Franz Kafka to the development of existentialism, the arguments of skeptics, who do not believe that Kafka’ works may be characterized as existentialist, are absolutely inconsistent. The works discussed above perfectly illustrate the extent to which existentialist trends were strong in the creative works of Kafka, making him one of the major contributors to the development of existentialism.

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