The Judgment by Kafka
Table of Contents
Franz Kafka wrote “The Judgment” (“Das Urteil“) at age of 29. At this point in his life, Kafka was five years removed from law school and had worked various jobs, including working for an insurance company and starting an asbestos factory with his brother-in-law, Karl Hermann. Kafka wrote “The Judgment” in a single sitting on September 22, 1912. . This coincides with the eve of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), also known as Yom ha-Din, the Day of Judgment. The story was written at a time when Kafka wrote some of his best-known works (such as The Metamorphosis).
In later writings, he described the creative outburst of “The Judgment” as “the total opening of body and soul,” as well as saying that “the story evolved as a true birth, covered with filth and slime.” Kafka viewed the work as “one of his most successful and perfect literary creations” which he was able to write in a “semi-unconscious state of mind.” Kafka was incredibly enthusiastic after the work, and talked to his good friend, Max Brod, who edited and published a lot of his work.
“The Judgment” was published in 1913 in a literary yearbook called Arkadia. The story was dedicated “to Miss Felice Bauer,” and in subsequent editions simply “for F.”. In the story, the exiled friend in Russia exerts considerable power over the other characters Georg, his father, and his fiance, Frieda. The work has several key inspirations that can be traced to events around the time it was created. While Kafka was running his business, he was troubled because the time required for this job limited his literary creativity. This conflict inspired the character Georg Bendemann, the protagonist of The Judgment. Additionally, Kafka’s poor relationship with his girlfriend of five years, Felice Bauer, hindered his progress as a creative writer. The character Frieda Brandenfeld in “The Judgment” is representative of Felice (as well as the character Fräulein Burstner in The Trial).
A virtually insurmountable problem facing the translator is how to deal with the author’s intentional use of ambiguous terms or of words that have several meanings. An example is the Kafka’s use of the German noun Verkehr in the final sentence of the story. The sentence can be translated as: “At this moment an unending stream of traffic was just going over the bridge.” What gives added weight to the obvious double meaning of Verkehr is Kafka’s confession to his friend and biographer Max Brod that when he wrote that final line, he was thinking of “a violent ejaculation”.
The short story writer Franz Kafka presented the experience of man’s utter isolation. In his works man finds himself in a labyrinth which he will never understand. The same labyrinth is in which his own characters are caught.
The Judgment Characters
There are only two important characters: the father and the son and the conflict between them are the gist of the story.
George Bendemann is the only son of his parents. He is also a partner of his father’s business and they run the business together. They got along quite well. He also has a Russian friend who has experienced Russian Revolution and runs his business in St. Petersburg in Russia. He writes a letter to his friend about his engagement to a girl, Miss Fraulien after a great thought. The writing of letter and informing his friend about his engagement becomes a type of judgment on part of the George Bendemann. On the other hand, his father feels that George is still immature and cannot run the business well although he is doing fine with his business. George goes to his father’s room to tell him to exchange his room. George is well manner and respectfully frank when he says that but his father orders him to drown himself and kill himself. To prove that he is the obedient son of his father, George Bendemann commits that leaving the audience wonder-struck at his prompt obedience.
The father of George Bendemann is another important character in the story. He is called Senior Bendemann and not by his own good name. He is very old and takes full interest in the business along with his son. His wife is dead and the son is the only issue to fall back on for the old man. They sit together for their meals and apparently, there seems to be nothing disturbing between the two. The father feels that his son is not matured with the passage of time as he should and he cries, ‘I sentence you now to death drowning’ which the son commits so obediently. This refers to the unstable psychological state of the father.
The Judgment by Kafka Summary
The story begins when a young businessman by the name of Georg Bendemann tries to write a letter to a friend living in Russia. Georg has not seen his friend in three years and deeply contemplates whether he should discuss the details of his life with his friend. Georg recently has become engaged to a woman from a well-to-do family, and his business has grown quite dramatically in the last two years. But Georg’s friend has not been faring well in Russia and, in Georg’s words, “had resigned himself to becoming an incurable bachelor” with little to no commercial success. As a result Georg has kept most details of his life secret from his friend, including his engagement and commercial success. Georg rationalizes this by saying he’s afraid his friend would get hurt, or that he might envy him.
But after considering the issue for a while” and after Temembering how his fiance had been offended by Georg for keeping their engagement a secret from his friend ” he ends his letter with the news of his engagement to Fraulein Frieda Brandenfeld. He finishes the letter and goes to another room to consult his father about the situation. Georg has not set foot in his father’s room for months (being busy with his business and fiance). The room appears shockingly dark and the windows are closed, and the remains of his father’s breakfast, not much of which has been eaten, stands on the table. To Georg’s surprise, his father does not recall his friend in St. Petersburg. Detecting a certain weakness in his father, Georg reproaches himself for neglecting his father. He resolves to take care of him from now on and remove him from the miserable condition he’s in right now.
Georg carries his father to his room and lays him on his bed. Georg then draws the blanket especially high over his shoulders and the father asks if he’s well-covered. After Georg remarks “Don’t worry, you’re all covered up,” his father suddenly jumps out of the bed and starts yelling at him. In a dramatic show, the father explains that not only does he remember who Georg’s friend is, but that he has been communicating with him secretly and “he knows everything”. The father talks in an accusatory way and ends his speech by saying: “So now you know what else existed in the world outside of you, before you knew only about yourself! Yes, you were a truly innocent child, but you were even more truly an evil man! And for that reason, I hereby sentence you to death by drowning!” Georg immediately runs to a nearby bridge, from which he throws himself into the river.
The Judgment Analysis
Though commentators such as Gerhard Neumann have read Kafka’s “Judgment” as a critique of patriarchal authority and the tyranny of familial relations, the story’s powerful effect originates from the affirmation of patriarchal authority which motivates its plot. The story situates the protagonist in a conflict between the demands of a patriarchal family and a universalist culture outside the family based on friendship.
The victory of the father and the resulting death of the son function as part of an attempt to recover traditional structures of authority which have been eroded by a modern notion of culture based on individual freedom and ‘elective’ affinities rather than binding ones. The death of the son is not an example of senseless repression but of a self-sacrifice of modern and individualist desires in favor of the patriarchal authority of the father.
It is a judgment without trial. At the beginning of The Judgment, we find Georg Bendemann, who has just finished a letter to his friend in Russia, reliving once more the agonizing decision to write the letter in the first place. The decision had not been easy. Like many of Kafka’s characters, Georg Bendemann is obsessed with the idea of analysis, with the painstaking exploration of all sides of a given issue. “What could one write to such a man without hurting him?” had been the question. “On the other hand, by writing only casual gossip or not at all one would doubtless increase the friends isolation” had been the counter-argument.
What follows now is an exercise in looking at alternatives that spawn new alternatives that leaves the reader dazzled. Each conclusion is in turn explored to its possible opposite implications, which are in turn qualified, which leads to more questions followed by more partial conclusions plus qualifications thereof. The process could continue ad infinitum, in fact, has gone on for years–we are merely presented with a condensed version of it.