"Anyone who cannot come to terms with his life while he is alive needs one hand to ward off a little his despair over his fate... but with his other hand he can note down what he sees among the ruins."
Franz Kafka was one of the major German-language fiction writers of the 20th century. His unique body of writing--much of which is incomplete and was mainly published posthumously--is among the most influential in Western literature. He is often viewed as the original Emo Kid.
His stories, such as The Metamorphosis (1915), and novels, including The Trial (1925) and The Castle (1926), concern troubled individuals in a nightmarishly impersonal, modern, and bureaucratic world.
- Ambiguously Jewish: Kafka's work doesn't directly ever reference his Jewish background, but the Jewish angst somehow seems to seep through anyway.
- Asexual: Well, sort of. He tried to be, but some of his letters and subtext suggests that while he was consciously horrified by the brutish physicality of the sex act he was subconsciously obsessed with it.
- Author Avatar: A lot of his characters at least share some traits with him, such as a domineering father and a creative desire stifled by the doldrums of everyday life.
- Author Existence Failure - None of his major works were finished. What's more, Kafka never intended to publish any of it and only wrote as a sort of personal therapy. He asked his good friend Max Brod to burn his works after his death, but when Brod refused to do this to his face Kafka never bothered to find another person to care for the copies instead. Apparently he wasn't THAT bothered by the prospect of being outlived by his work.
- Body Horror - Some of his characters are physically marred by the traumas they undergo.
- Calling the Old Man Out - Almost. Letter to His Father, which was never given to his dad.
- Chew Toy - The protagonists of his books hardly ever seem able to catch a break.
- Karl Rossman, protagonist of Amerika, unwillingly gets the family maid pregnant, gets sent off to America by his father without any practical skills he could make a decent living with, finds a long-lost uncle, only to be thrown out after he vistits an acquaintence against his uncle's will, gets a alright job as a lift boy, is dismissed due to the Head Porter who has it in for Karl because he does't greet the Porter politely and regularly, falls in with rogues (not the lovable kind), etc.
- Dead Artists Are Better - the titular character from "The Hunger Artist." Not to mention Kafka himself.
- Subverted in "Josephine the Singer", though: after she, representing culture in general, dies, nobody will remember her.
- Determinator - K in The Castle. Deconstructed: All his efforts are in vain. He would be happier if he just gave up.
- Disproportionate Retribution - "The Judgement" among others.
- Downer Ending - The only books that do not have one are the books Kafka never finished.
- I suppose you could cough up a non-downer ending for "A Hunger Artist" if you read the panther as the reincarnation of the hunger artist.
- Ice Cream Koan - Deliberately.
- Kafka Komedy - Franz Kafka is the Trope Namer. When read the right way by a person with a very dark sense of humour, his books can be genuinely funny. According to his friends, Kafka himself would sometimes laugh out loud while reading his own work.
- Similarly, Orson Welles always considered his film adaptaion of The Trial to be a black comedy, and considered it wildly funny himself.
- Kangaroo Court
- Koan - "Before the Law, there stands a guard..."
- Magic Realism
- Mind Screw
- Mundane Fantastic
- No Ending
- Obstructive Bureaucrat - In "Before the Law" or "Vor dem Gesetz", the doorkeeper acts as the literal and symbolic obstructive bureaucrat, blocking the man from the country from getting admittance to the Law.
- One-Letter Name - K... Joseph K.
- Ontological Mystery - The Trial is a cynical, bureaucratic example.
- Our Monsters Are Weird - Several of his vignettes feature rather bizarre and fantastic creatures, the oddest perhaps being the titular being in "Odradek".
- Out of Order: The Trial contains a lot of self-contained chapters, and it is unclear in what order Kafka intended them to be read.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog - Almost everything by Kafka falls into this category.
- Shaggy Dog Story
- Surreal Horror - his protagonists are often utterly (and sometimes fatally) bewildered by circumstances that would be funny if the consequences were less hideous.
- Torture Technician - the Officer from "In the Penal Colony" who uses an execution device with needles to mark the crime the person is being executed for (the person dies eventually after several hours of pain of either shock or blood loss)
- Unreliable Narrator - For example in the short story The Judgement where at first the narrator seems to be pretty much identical with protagonist Georg Bendemann, bragging what a considerate person he is because he doesn't tell his unfortunate friend abroad what a happy successful life he has. How nice and understandable, thinks the reader - until Bendemann's father calls him out and accuses him of being a liar so that we have to start questioning Bendemann's motives and if the friend abroad actually exists.
- White Collar Worker - Kafka himself and his characters provide an early example of this trope.
- Yank the Dog's Chain
Appearences in popular culture:
- He appears in a historical/flashback episode of Northern Exposure, played by the series' star Rob Morrow. Yes, the show set entirely in Alaska.
- In The Producers, while looking for the worst play ever written, Max reads the first line from The Metamorphosis, and rejects it as being too good.
- Robert Crumb made an analytical comic book/book about Kafka's life.
- The young Indiana Jones meets him in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.
- Frank Zappa advises buyers of his album We're Only in It For The Money to read Kafka's "In The Penal Colony" before listening to the last track