The Judgment as a Psychological Story
Kafka’s The Judgment is a story that explores the psychological and spiritual elements of a relationship between a father and a son. It illuminates the problems that arise when one person deceives the other so completely and so horribly that the ending is sure to be tragic. Georg Bendemann is a young man who is engaged in the family business along with his elderly father. He also lives in the same family house. George loves and respects his father and does not want to burden him with his own personal problems. He also has a good friend who has moved to Russia in hopes of starting his own business and of whom his father is aware of the correspondence between them.
George is engaged to be married and he has just informed his friend of his impending marriage, hoping the news will cheer him up a bit, for business in St. Petersburg is not going as well as expected. With letter in hand, Georg eagerly enters his father’s room across the lobby which he has not visited in months. His daily business lunch with his father keeps him informed of his father’s health, the affairs of the business and any other important issues of the day.
As Georg enters the room, he notices immediately how dark the room seems. Offering to pull up the shades and let the sunshine in for his father, immediately draws a sharp rebuke. Since the death of his mother, his father seemed to age almost overnight and Georg was concerned about him. He has, of late, even considered bringing his father to live with him and his new wife in their home so that he can take care of him. As Georg begins speaking to his father about the letter, a strange twist of the conversation takes place. His father begins by making Georg aware that he believes business practices are being conducted without his knowledge or consent. He then escalates tension for Georg by announcing that he feels Georg is lying to him; that he really does not have a friend in Russia at all and that it is all a grand deception. At first Georg is taken aback by these accusations; however, he tries to calm his father by helping him to bed and making him feel comfortable.
As he covers his father up with a warm blanket, his father springs out of bed. He accuses Georg of wanting to “cover him up”, using the term to allude to Georg’s unsubstantiated desire to wish his father in the grave. In yet another verbal attack, Georg’s father declares that he does, indeed, remember his friend in Russia. He accuses Georg of betraying his friend, disgracing his mother’s memory and trying to get rid of him by becoming engaged to a woman that he describes as a wanton female. Georg, in response to his father’s attack, shrinks into a corner of the room. It seems to him as if a demon has taken the place of his own father and is now in control. Does he really know this person? And how long has he hated George so? Further, Georg’s father reveals that he considers Georg’s friend to be more of a son than he is, that he has been corresponding with him for the last three years, keeping him abreast of the business and that he has been waiting to relay all of this to Georg in hopes that this news would destroy him. In one last final shock, he pronounces a curse upon Georg, he sentences him to death by drowning.
Caught up in some supernatural power that Georg is powerless to control, he rushes from the office, crosses the road and jumps off the bridge with the words: “Dear parents, I have always loved you, all the same”, upon his lips. Kafka must have surely been aware of the Biblical proverb, Life and death are in the power of the tongue, for he has applied this concept, in a very clever yet sad way, within the context of this story. This concept is indeed important for we must all become aware of the power of our words and the effect they have, both positive and negative, upon others.