Letter to his Father by Franz Kafka

Kafka Letter to his Father

Franz Kafka wrote this Letter to his Father in November 1919, but it was never delivered. After writing the letter by hand, he got it typed, and it is not known whether he wanted the contents of the letter to reach the public eye at the time of writing or not. When Kafka asked his friend Max Brod to destroy his writings at his death, and Max Brod's refusal to do so brought them to the world, this letter too was part of what he received, which was eventually published in its entirety in 1953. The Letter to his Father is a multi-generic exercise in that it couples autobiography with the form of the letter, and relies on the strategies of the family chronicle to present perspectives on both the speaker and the subject through an ironic, critical lens. This letter is also one of the most accessible documentary that we have on Kafka himself, whose self-scrutiny and analysis off his own situation as a son offers us insights into the way he saw his growth as an individual in circumstance that he considered difficult. As a literary example, on the other hand, the latter makes use of several conventions such as first person narratorial voice (for the impression of authenticity), anecdote (for historical contextualization), and flashback (for reference). At the same time, the letter is a long document with a focussed subject where the addressee (his father) is as much the occasion for the writing, as he is the protagonist whose and mode of functioning form part of what Kafka deals with in the letter.

The letter opens with Kafka attempting an explanation for his conduct to his father. While it is not clear why Kafka began writing the letter at that particular time, what is evident is that through the process of writing it, he is himself looking at his own 'self 'as a subject, and the analysis of his father runs parallel to the what he does to his own personality, that is, scrutinize both critically. From the very beginning Kafka magnifies his father's image, inflating him as a godlike figure whose power, authority and writ remain supreme within the household. This magnification is not without effect: What he does is to create a sense of discernible binary opposition between the father and the son, which is not only beyond overwhelming, but is governed by a set of fixed parameters. How the father is going to emege in the letter, that, however, is determined by kafka. As such the image of his father as a domineering, arrogant, all knowing, uncaring, cruel and self loving man is brought about, to some extent, by the way Kafka's organizes his narrative resources. The use of irony and the constant undercutting of the magnified image create a sense of tension between the impression for the father and that which we get of kafka as a narrator and this makes the movement of the passage from one to the other the source of constant drama. As the contents are not strictly chronological but selectively rendered, the reference to events and experiences are spread out to establish the image of the father in a particular mould. It can be said clearly that the contents of the letters are personality driven, and Fafka's father is not only the figure we get to know here, we get to form an idea, however self-deprecating the impression may appear to be, of the author as well.

Going by the contents of the letter, we get the impression that Kafka had a very difficult childhood. Of all the children in the family, it was he who suffered the most, psychologically. The impact of such pressure from the beginning of his life till the time he wrote the letter was borne out in difficult ways. The very few references to his mother, and the contrasting relation he had with her (compared to what he had with his father) suggest that the pressure of Hermann kafka (Kafka's father) was felt by the entire family. It is not possible tu discern the nature of the impact such a towering figure as kafka's father had on the family in every life, but we do get glimpses of the terrifying tension he create in the house by the rules he laid down for its functioning. In his characteristic way, kafka undercuts the authority and the seemingly righteous personality of Hermann kafka by exposing his hyporcritical nature, showing through examples how the rules that he laid down for everyone in the family were conveniently broken when it came to his own practice. The reference bathing episode involving father and son, for instance, present the physical superiority of the father, but the matter does not end in that. It is the psychological pressure the exhibition of such an enhance image presents which kafka tries to bring forth through that episode. Then there is example of the drinking water episode at night, which Kafka had to face such a difficult time at the hands of his father, something which shows how Hermann kafka was one would not have the set routine disturbed in the house. The power of his father was, however, not confined to how he was treated alone. Kafka suggests that his attempts at marriage failed because of his father's negative influence. In fact, the impression that kafka tries to give here is that of a psychological victim, whose entire mental and intellectual development is affected by his father. While this is, at a basic level, an example of a long and elaborate personal correspondence, it nevertheless bears out same of the consistent tropes that figure in writing with the father-son operate as the central protagonists. In Western culture, from Sophocles' Oedipus Rex  through to Ivan Turgeneve's Fathers and Sons to Kafka's contemporary D. H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, this is a themes that has occupied the literary space in a variety of ways. Kafka's Letter to his Father thus enhences this tradition, but also, at the same time, foregrounds some of the dominant motif of modern writing through this work.

"Letter to his Father" remains one of the great modernist enigmatic texts, presenting insights and the opportunity for interpretation every time it is read and analyzed.

Study Question:

1. Comments of the way Kafka explores the psychological dimensions of the  father-son relationship in " Letter to his Father"

2.Write a notes on Kafka's language style and use of literary devices in " Latter to his father" by Kafka.

3.Kafka's representation in " Latter to his Father " , an overviews of his father Hermann Kafka.

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