The Theme of Suicide in Franz Kafka's Story "The Judgment"
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Suicide as the act of killing oneself is the main action in many works of literature. Authors use is to portray despair or even honor. Whether it is seen as a crucial act of devotion or the consequence of despair, suicide was and is still a widespread action within the context of literature. The subject of suicide is controversial and thrilling. This essay will discuss the theme of suicide in Kafka's short story “The Judgment.” After all, with the themes of alienation from society and anxiety over merely being alive, Kafka impressed European intellectuals and became the well-known representative of existential literature.
To understand this account, it should be mentioned that Kafka and his own father had a stressed relationship. Being a young boy, Kafka called out for a glass of water late in the evening. His own father came in the room, pulled the boy from the bed, and locked him on the courtyard balcony for the whole night. Many years later, Kafka recollected, “For years after, I was haunted by nightmares of this giant man, my father, the final judge, coming to grab me" (Franz Kafka. It Happened in History!). Not unexpectedly, many fathers are portrayed in Kafka's works. And in “The Judgment”, a father tells a young man, his son, to commit a suicide, which he performs by throwing himself off a bridge.
Personal inner discussion over the pros and cons of the suicide is depicted in “The Judgment” in a quite complicated manner. The author depicts the intellectual process a human being goes through: from the tense living to the suicide and the way it affects the world. Every character in “The Judgment” provides a ‘face and voice’ to every level of person’s thoughts about committing the suicide.
Kafka starts this discourse by presenting the character of Georg, who is facing his utmost desire and the most powerful motivation: a fresh start and sudden change. The initial lines of the story describe the scenery as, “a Sunday morning at the peak of spring” (Kafka, 1912). This line allows readers to realize that Georg hopes for a fresh start. The man sits in his house, one of the untidily made homes alongside the river. He is looking at the river that represents the boundary of essential personal change, while he is being imprisoned behind the walls of his house. The sketch of his building, therefore, indicates the man’s status in life: he is not special; he does not actually possess any special charm, and at the same time he is outside of any progress - a position which he cannot change.
The unfriendliness is a usual feature of depression. And it is demonstrated with the help of the “friend” who lives in Russia. Georg spends the huge part of the story thinking on an alienated friend in Russia. This friend is depicted as a man in trouble, an “incurable bachelor” (Kafka, 1912), and this is who Georg actually is. He is an incurable bachelor in spite of the fact that he has a fiancée.
Anyone considering committing a suicide will have an inner voice that asks to hold back, saying that there may be something good left in life. Kafka uses Georg’s fiancée to add this “voice” to the story. This girl is sweet and nice, and she is the most wanted companionship. Georg writes his “friend” in Russia that through her he “will obtain a sincere friend” (Kafka, 1912). Georg’s fiancée is the voice which reverses the suicidal man’s resolution.
After some comfort and strength received from the thoughts about his fiancée, Georg faces the darker part of the psyche - the depression, depicted by the author with the help of Georg’s father. This is a totally different voice. This voice is fragile and weak but hot-tempered. This person is shown as unhealthy and unable to take care of himself.
These are certain conditions of melancholy: wish to take care of oneself, lack of appetite, and total debilitation. The room that Georg’s father lives in is depicted as dark and lifeless, fitting the total spirit of depression. This personification of depression, as the “disease” itself, may alter from lethargic to violent, what can be seen when his father jumps on the bed and starts shouting the “truths” about his son. It is this voice that pushes him or even cruelly “sentences” him to commit a suicide after denouncing the fiancée, the person’s motivation to live.
We can say that the fact that Georg wrote a letter to his friend, symbolizing the wish to contact with someone and the last cry for help, means that he will never carry out the actual act of the suicide. Kafka copes with this difficulty by writing that the suicidal person expects for the truck to pass by so that no one would hear him falling.
A normal person’s thoughts about suicide are riddled with inner arguments. One moment, an individual becomes melancholy with memories of better periods of time and own achievements. The next moment he/she is consumed with all the failures he/she has made. Kafka’s story reminds us of a man having dialogues with different inner personalities. Kafka creatively provides a form to these characteristics and shows us the consequence of the suicide: the victim affects nothing, and the “unending stream of traffic goes on”.
There is one more important detail in this story. Georg has been managing his father’s business, and he is quite successful. He has to take care of his father, and finally Georg assumes a parental role. A man treats his father as a son. However, the father reacts against his own son, accuses him of betraying a friend, humiliating the memory of mother and judges him. And the punishment is death. The father’s character in the description may represent the super ego of Georg. Furthermore, it was his ego that sentenced him to the severe punishment. Georg decides to kill himself due to the order of his own ego that typically orders illogical, unexplainable actions. As Georg projects his father’s character to his own, he obeys to kill himself.
Alternatively, we may believe that Georg’s death symbolizes “the passing away of the author of the whole account”. Till the finale, Georg is supposed to be a powerful figure. He has a replicate in the other country that represents a negative side of his personality. Also, he is a strong and wealthy man, especially in comparison with his father. Georg tells his friend’s story to the father who behaves like “self-forgetful reader”. Though, his remembering causes Georg’s death. This is when Georg’s father becomes the “creative reader” by prevailing, taking part in all events. Georg’s father gets rid of Georg – the author – and fulfils the account. The author, who assumes himself as the most commanding individual, passes away; as the reader - who is supposed to be only an observer of the text – takes place of the most important figure in the literary text. Thus, Kafka’s narrative represents “the death of the author” and at the same time “the birth of the reader”.
This account is actually very thought provoking. I have realized the frightening automatic obedience of the suicide, and have shared with Georg the malice, guilt, determination, acceptance, hopelessness, frustration and disgrace he must have been feeling at the finale. Maybe the identification I had with Georg occurred due to the inner perception and belief that people have to be nice and caring and not to be selfish betrayers. One way or another, this instinct might tell us that the penalty for the sin has to be death, since a person’s life has been a waste of time if he or she has lived like this. Therefore, there is a useful moral for the readers, whether Kafka meant it that way or not. The emotional fact is that Georg’s father is the one who shows this to him, as he showed to his friend already that, "all that’s secret will be made known".
Thus, it becomes obvious that the theme of suicide in Kafka's work “The Judgment” Is quite ambigious and to some extent it is based on the father-son conflict model. A father is the ground for a son’s living, the most powerful shaper of his fate, and his main defender. Only father’s authority could control Georg, and yet his father is the worse source of command to commit a suicide. Not incidentally, a father in this story is considered as something like an accepted analogue for a Supreme Being, who is the concluding arbiter of human being’s destiny, in which he may be harsh even in justice.