‘The Judgment’ is a story by the Prague-born author Franz Kafka, creator of a theme critical to the literature of our time, the author of the absurd. The ‘Kafkaesque’ world is represented by K (protagonist in the novels), a solicitous employee that takes everything lightly and remains empty handed. Yes, Kafka’s world is the world of foreign ministries and old, musky, dark-roomed offices where the most insignificant man of the town must carry the imperial message to the castle with no hope of arrival because he will have to pass through doors, stairways, endless corridors and so forth — then more corridors, doors and stairways. This is Kafka.
Anyone who knows a little about his life will know about his relationship with his father, who had a special influence on his life and work. Franz, a weak and sickly child, grew up and was educated by a strong and tyrannical father whose demands regarding his son were impossible to fulfill. As a result of his father’s anti-pedagogical methods, Franz developed feelings of guilt and defeat.
It is worth asking why I have chosen to focus on this story, ‘The Judgment,’and not another. Well, simply because it is in ‘The Judgment’ that Kafka reflects most deeply on his traumatic relationship with his father: his judge, the one who imposed sentences. Importantly, the father condemns him for an insignificant act — treason that Franz did not commit.
What is this story about?
Georg Bendemann (Franz) lives in Poland and is in charge of his father’s business. His father is old and is also depressed by the death of his wife, which occurred two years previously. He lives with his son, locks himself in his dark room and takes little care of his health. Georg runs the business intelligently, achieves large profits and to complete his picture of happiness is engaged to a girl from a well-to-do family.
Georg has a friend who many years before went to Russia as he was not impressed by the job prospects in his homeland, Poland. He goes to Russia, and, although at first things go wonderfully well, as time progresses his economic situation becomes terribly bad. In addition he is a fussy young loner who does not aspire to marry. Georg maintains a relationship with his friend and decides to write him a letter announcing his marriage, since he will not find out by other means. He finishes the letter, crosses the hall, and enters his father’s room. The father has known the friend for many years and so Georg speaks to him about what he plans to do.
On the one hand, you betrayed your friend who needs you and he dies of hunger in Russia, and you leave me, your father, prostrate in a bed while you go out for walks with your fiancee, that filthy sow — and if I see her with you I’ll tear her from your arm. You did what you did because she lifted her skirts and, of course, you wanted to peacefully enjoy her — but first you had to get rid of all of us. It doesn’t matter, but listen well to what I’m going to say: I now order you to drown yourself.
Georg exited the room as if he had been expelled from it, his father’s condemnation reverberating in his ears, his eyes wide. He left the house, crossed the street and looked for water, in the same manner that a hungry man looks for food. He leaned heavily on the railing, waiting for a bus to pass by so that no one would hear the noise made by him falling into the water, and before so jumping he said these final words: “My dear parents, despite everything I have always loved you”. And at that moment an interminable line of vehicles passed over the bridge.