Franz Kafka is widely considered one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. His works, including “The Metamorphosis” and “The Trial,” continue to captivate readers with their haunting themes and innovative storytelling techniques. But what was Kafka’s connection to existentialism, the philosophical movement that emerged in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries?
To answer that question, it’s important to first understand what existentialism is. At its core, existentialism is a philosophical approach that emphasizes individual freedom and choice. Existentialists believe that humans exist in a world without inherent meaning or purpose, and that it is up to each individual to create their own meaning through their actions and choices.
Kafka’s writing is often characterized by a sense of alienation and absurdity – themes that are central to existentialism. In many of his stories, characters are trapped in situations beyond their control, struggling to make sense of a world that seems indifferent to their suffering.
For example, in “The Metamorphosis,” the protagonist Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning transformed into a giant insect. Despite his desperate attempts to communicate with his family, they ultimately reject him and he dies alone. The story can be read as an allegory for the human condition – we are all born into a world over which we have little control, struggling to find our place and connect with others.
Similarly, in “The Trial,” the protagonist Joseph K. finds himself caught up in a nightmarish legal system he cannot understand or escape from. Like Gregor Samsa, he is ultimately doomed by forces beyond his control.
It’s worth noting that Kafka himself did not identify as an existentialist – in fact, he was largely apolitical and avoided aligning himself with any particular philosophical or literary movement. However, his work has been widely interpreted through an existentialist lens by critics and scholars.
In conclusion, Kafka’s writing embodies many of the themes and ideas central to existentialism. His stories explore the human experience of isolation, alienation, and meaninglessness in a world that seems indifferent to our struggles. While Kafka may not have identified as an existentialist himself, his legacy as one of the most important writers of the 20th century is inextricably linked to this philosophical movement.