The Metamorphosis: Biography: Franz Kafka
Franz Kafka was the first-born of middle-class Jewish parents in the Eastern European city of Prague, Czechoslovakia on July 3, 1883. A province at one time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Prague is presently the capital of the Czech Republic. From an early age, Kafka suffered a difficult relationship with his callous and ruthless father, Hermann Kafka, who some critics believe provided the prototype for his brutal, unfeeling character, Mr. Samsa, in The Metamorphosis. Hermann Kafka himself grew up the son of a village Jewish ritual butcher and despite his lack of formal education utilized his highly ambitious personality to become a successful wholesale. His marriage to Kafka's mother Julie Lowy, the daughter of a brewery owner, helped him in his business endeavors. Franz Kafka had three sisters.
Kafka attended the German National and Civic Elementary School and realized from a young age that he wanted to become a professional writer. However, he also knew how difficult it would be to make a living as a writer and besides that, his father would never permit it. So Kafka entered law school at the German University in Prague where he went on to receive a doctoral degree. In this capacity he met many of Prague's writers who wrote in German. One writer named Max Brod, in particular, became a close friend. Readers of Kafka today are indebted to Brod for preserving Kafka's written work after his death.
After law school Kafka began working for the Workmen's Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia and remained working there until his health gave out in 1922, two years before his death from tuberculosis in 1924, when he was only forty-one years old. However, Kafka did see his masterpiece novella The Metamorphosis published in 1915 to high praise, but low sales. The story remains a cornerstone in the foundation of modern literature.
Kafka looked upon writing as a sacred act which freed him from his dark nightmares. Indeed he was much in need of relief from his pessimistic view of the world, which was just entering the totalitarian horrors that would come to define the twentieth century. The highly anxious Kafka viewed modern man as an alienated being living in an ever increasing cold and mechanized world, as witnessed by his hyper-responsible, alienated character Gregor Samsa in The Metamorphosis. The pertinent word here is alienation, a state-of-being highly familiar to Kafka personally. He felt alienated because he spoke German but lived in Prague, a Czech city. He was Jewish yet lived among people who looked down upon Jews. Since he doubted the existence of God, he felt alienated from his own people. He lived with his family (not an unusual occurrence at the time) but felt isolated because he despised his father. Overburdened, he found no satisfaction in his meaningless bureaucratic job in the insurance industry, wanting only a life of the mind in literature. Ever full of self-loathing, he felt like a failure in the eyes of his father who held him to enormously high standards.
Kafka never married and had difficulty maintaining successful relationships with women. In 1914, he became engaged to Felice Bauer, and then to Julie Wohryzek in 1919, but the relationships petered out because of Kafka's inability to follow through on his promises of marriage. He fell in love with translator Milena Jesensk-Polak but she was married. Finally, by the time he met nineteen-year-old Dora Diamant, a Jewish summer camp counselor, he was almost forty years old and his health was failing. However, he lived with her in poverty before his death, his father refusing permission for the couple to marry.
Kafka's dark writings prophesize the totalitarian nightmare that engulfed twentieth-century Europe. Indeed, his three sisters Gabriele, Valerie, and Ottilie were all to die in concentration camps.