Franz Kafka, 1883 – 1924

The writings of the Czech-born German writer Franz Kafka are dominated by portrayals of man’s alienation from modern society. Although Kafka himself was comfortable in his chosen society-the distinguished circles of intellectuals and literati of early twentieth-century Prague-he chafed under the demands of bourgeois society, represented by his domineering father. Was one, Kafka asked rhetorically “to earn one’s living, or to live one’s life?” As if foreseeing his early death, he felt that the hours he spent as a lawyer for an insurance firm were stolen from his “life”-that is, his writing. His father, a merchant, who considered Kafka’s visionary prose “unprofitable,” became the model-in several guises-for the central antagonists in many of Kafka’s works. These stories often portray a protagonist, “K.,” struggling against an overwhelming, oppressive power, or trying ineffectively to gain its approval. While many of Kafka’s short stories and short novels, such as the now famous The Metamorphosis (1915), were published in his lifetime, his three novels The Trial (1925), The Castle (1926), and Amerika (1927), all considered masterpieces of German expressionism, were published after his early death from tuberculosis in 1924.