Franz Kafka: His Influence on Western Literature

Published: 06th July 2008
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Born to middle class, Jewish parents in Prague, Czech Republic on July 3rd, 1883, Kafka was the eldest of six children. Kafka attended the German Charles-Ferdinand University of Prague in 1901 to study chemistry. However, after just two weeks, he switched courses and began studying law. With a longer course of study than chemistry, the law degree gave Kafka the chance to take classes in art history and German studies. He also joined a student club known as "Lese und Redehalle der Deutschen Studenten", a group that organised literary events, readings and other activities which helped Kafka hone his love of reading. Upon completing his law degree in 1906 he began work at an Italian insurance company which, due to unsociable working hours and no time to write, Kafka grew to dislike.

Kafka persevered with his writing for the next few years while still maintaining a full time job. In 1917 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, a condition he never fully recovered from, dying in 1924. During his lifetime, Kafka wrote and published only a few short stories, with all novels he'd begun to write remaining unfinished. Prior to his death, he asked his closest confidante's to destroy all his manuscripts, a wish only partially carried out, with many works being published posthumously.

With the work that was published after his death, Kafka became a literary mainstay for reading enthusiasts throughout Europe. With much of Kafka's writing concerning troubled individuals in a nightmarishly impersonal and bureaucratic world, critics and fans alike have interpreted the works of Kafka in the context of a variety of literary schools, from modernism to existentialism. Other critics have pointed out a possible Marxist influence in his work, particularly "The Trial" and "In the Penal Colony", due to the bureaucratic satirisation evident in the novel. This anti-bureaucratic stance also led some to cite anarchism as a defining influence in Kafka's work. The surrealist humour that can be found in almost of all of Kafka's writing has also been said to be a major influence on later artists such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Salmon Rushdie.

Much of Kafka's work is now regarded as "classic" reading, with much of his writing, even incomplete works available at any high street or online bookstore. Despite this popularity many still don't understand the appeal of Kafka's surreal, often sad, yet humorous writing but, as many reading fans and writing critics have previously said, the problems and insecurities that Kafka illustrated with his writing and faced in his time are the same as many people face now, giving Kafka's work the ability to transcend generations and appeal to thousands of new readers as years go by.

Disclaimer: Matthew Pressman writes for a wide variety of commercial clients. This article is intended for information purposes only and readers should seek additional information before taking any actions based on its content.

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