"The Judgment" - A Story About Abuse - by Franz Kafka
The Judgment is a short story written by Kafka in 1912. In it he explores an aspect of the human psyche, as well as of family relationships, that exemplifies a type of parental manipulation. At least, that is how I interpret the story. Let me know in the comments if you take something else away from it!
The story is attached below.
An Outline of the Story
The Judgment begins by introducing a small family who owns their own business, living in a middle class tenement house. The mother has passed away, the father is aging and ailing, and his son, Georg, has been taking over the business with its growth. An old "friend" is also talked about. This friend left to go abroad to Russia to start a business there, but has been failing at it. He doesn't want to return home, and he doesn't interact with the social life in Russia. Georg feels bad for him, and not wanting to brag about his own success ends up writing letters to him talking about random gossip. Finally, he decides that he must tell his friend about his recent engagement with a wonderful woman. If he doesn't tell him, in order to spare his feelings since the man is a perpetual bachelor, the friend may yet still find out anyway. So he decides with his fiancee to craft a letter. Before he sends it, Georg stops by his father's room to ask his advice and let him know that he is sending the letter to his friend.
His father appears to be frail and slightly mentally out of it. His father asks him if this friend of his is even real, or if Georg is deceiving him. Georg can tell that his father's health is failing and decides to help take care of him and clean him up. He father still claims that Georg is "pulling his leg" with regard to this friend of his, but Georg responds with a story about how the father knew the friend just as he did. "If you think back you're bound to remember. He used to tell us the most incredible stories of the Russian Revolution. For instance, when he was on a business trip to Kiev and ran into a riot, and saw a priest on a balcony who cut a broad cross in blood on the palm of his hand and held the hand up and appealed to the mob. You've told that story yourself once or twice since."
Then his father claims that he has been corresponding with Georg's friend the whole time, won his loyalty, and that he has been telling him the truth of what has been going on at home to counteract Georg's lies. He accuses Georg of capitalizing on the father's hard work in the business by closing so many successful deals. But the father says that he still has those businesses under his own control, and that Georg's mother (his wife) has continued to inspire him after her death to do just that. The father claims that he will steal Georg's bride away from him, and that he truly sees everything that goes on in the house. Lastly, he accuses Georg of being an immature child, thinking only of himself, neglecting his friend and his father. Finally, the father pronounces a curse on his son, claiming that his son will die by drowning. Georg runs from the room and proceeds to kill himself by jumping off a bridge, though his last words express an attempt to still please his parents.
"His father said pityingly, in an offhand manner: “I suppose you wanted to say that sooner. But now it doesn’t matter.” And in a louder voice: “So now you know what else there was in the world besides yourself, till now you’ve known only about yourself! An innocent child, yes, that you were, truly, but still more truly have you been a devilish human being!—And therefore take note: I sentence you now to death by drowning!” Georg felt himself urged from the room, the crash with which his father fell on the bed behind him was still in his ears as he fled. On the staircase, which he rushed down as if its steps were an inclined plane, he ran into his charwoman on her way up to do the morning cleaning of the room. “Jesus!” she cried, and covered her face with her apron, but he was already gone. Out of the front door he rushed, across the roadway, driven towards the water. Already he was grasping at the railings as a starving man clutches food. He swung himself over, like the distinguished gymnast he had once been in his youth, to his parents’ pride. With weakening grip he was still holding on when he spied between the railings a motor-bus coming which would easily cover the noise of his fall, called in a low voice: “Dear parents, I have always loved you, all the same,” and let himself drop. At this moment an unending stream of traffic was just going over the bridge."
I am not sure if there is something autobiographical that is reflected here in the story by Kafka, or if I am just missing something essential to the story, but it seems to me that he describes a classic case of abusive parents. He describes parents who manipulate their children for their own desires their whole childhood and adolescent lives, and when those children grow up and try to become independent they throw the ultimate tantrum, using every emotion and guilt to prevent their children from leaving them. The last and most perverted form of manipulation being that the father would rather has his son commit suicide, than to lose him by allowing him to get married and grow up.
Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis (The Schocken Kafka Library) (pp. 62-64). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.