The Judgement by Kafka: Summary & Analysis

Franz Kafka's "The Judgment": A Tale of Creative Revelation

Franz Kafka penned the haunting and enigmatic short story "The Judgment" at the age of 29, marking a significant point in his life as a writer. This literary masterpiece emerged from the depths of Kafka's being on September 22, 1912, in a single uninterrupted burst of creativity. Interestingly, this auspicious date coincided with the eve of Yom Kippur, the Jewish holiday known as the Day of Atonement or the Day of Judgment. It was a moment of profound revelation and catharsis for the author.

Kafka's creative process during the genesis of "The Judgment" was nothing short of a spiritual and emotional awakening. He described it as a "total opening of body and soul," akin to a true birth, marked by its rawness and vulnerability. The story flowed forth from Kafka's subconscious, seemingly in a semi-unconscious state of mind. The author was jubilant about this literary creation and eagerly shared his work with his close friend, Max Brod, who would later become instrumental in editing and publishing much of Kafka's oeuvre.

Originally published in 1913 in the literary yearbook "Arkadia," "The Judgment" was dedicated to "Miss Felice Bauer," Kafka's girlfriend at the time. The story, in later editions, was simply dedicated "for F." It portrays the power wielded by an exiled friend in Russia over the lives of Georg Bendemann, his father, and his fiancée, Frieda. The narrative draws inspiration from events that transpired during Kafka's own life, reflecting his struggles to balance his creative pursuits with his professional obligations, as well as his turbulent relationship with Felice Bauer.

The Challenge of Ambiguity in Translation

Kafka's deliberate use of ambiguous terms and words with multiple meanings poses a significant challenge for translators. One notable example is the German noun "Verkehr" in the story's final sentence. The phrase could be translated as "At this moment, an unending stream of traffic was just going over the bridge." However, the word "Verkehr" holds a double entendre, and Kafka himself confessed to Max Brod that he had a provocative and violent connotation in mind while writing that line.

The Labyrinth of Isolation

Franz Kafka, as a master of the short story form, skillfully captured the essence of man's profound isolation in his works. His characters often find themselves entangled in a bewildering labyrinth, forever grappling with the incomprehensible nature of their existence. "The Judgment" exemplifies this theme, as Georg Bendemann and the other characters navigate through a complex and perplexing maze of emotions and relationships.

In Kafka's literary universe, the labyrinth becomes a symbolic representation of the human condition, a realm where individuals are eternally lost in the depths of their own consciousness, seeking understanding but never truly finding it. The maze, mirrored in the intricate plotlines and intricate psychological landscapes of Kafka's stories, serves as a haunting reminder of the inherent complexities of human nature and the struggle for connection and meaning in a seemingly inexplicable world.

The Judgment by Franz Kafka: A Summary


"The Judgment" by Franz Kafka is a gripping tale that delves into the complexities of human relationships and the consequences of deception. The story revolves around Georg Bendemann, a young businessman, who faces a moment of intense decision-making as he contemplates writing a letter to his friend in Russia. This letter will reveal significant details about Georg's life, including his recent engagement and remarkable success in business. However, Georg's friend has not been doing well in Russia, and Georg fears that his friend might react negatively to his achievements.

A Life-Altering Decision

After careful consideration, Georg decides to disclose his engagement to Fraulein Frieda Brandenfeld in the letter, despite initially keeping it a secret. He believes that hiding such vital information from his friend might have hurt Frieda's feelings. Once he completes the letter, Georg seeks counsel from his father, whom he has not visited in months due to his busy life and fiancée.

Unsettling Reunion

Upon entering his father's room, Georg is taken aback by the darkness and the closed windows. He notices that his father's breakfast remains uneaten on the table. Surprisingly, his father seems to have no recollection of Georg's friend in St. Petersburg. Detecting his father's weakness and feeling guilty for neglecting him, Georg resolves to take better care of him and improve his current miserable condition.

A Shocking Accusation

As Georg tenderly lays his father in bed and covers him with a blanket, his father asks if he is well-covered. Reassuringly, Georg responds that his father is indeed all covered up. Unexpectedly, his father erupts in anger and begins accusing Georg of being deceitful. He claims to know everything about Georg's life, including his friend in Russia. The father condemns Georg as an evil man who knows nothing beyond himself, sentencing him to death by drowning.

The Ultimate Consequence

Overwhelmed by the shocking accusation and the weight of his father's words, Georg rushes to a nearby bridge and impulsively throws himself into the river, accepting the sentence of death by drowning.


"The Judgment" explores the intricate dynamics between family members and the impact of secrets and deception on their relationships. Kafka skillfully weaves a narrative that delves into the human psyche and the depths of one's subconscious desires and fears. The story leaves readers contemplating the implications of truth, trust, and the unforeseen consequences of our actions.

The Judgment by Franz Kafka: An Analysis

A Critique of Patriarchal Authority

Some commentators, including Gerhard Neumann, have interpreted Kafka's "The Judgment" as a critique of patriarchal authority and the oppressive nature of familial relationships. The story presents a protagonist, Georg Bendemann, caught in a conflict between the demands of a traditional patriarchal family and the universalist values of a culture outside the family that emphasizes friendship and individual freedom.

Affirmation of Patriarchal Authority

Contrary to some interpretations, the powerful effect of "The Judgment" actually originates from its affirmation of patriarchal authority, which drives the plot. The story aims to reclaim and reinforce traditional structures of authority, which have been challenged by modern notions of individualism and elective connections, in favor of the family's hierarchy and influence.

A Struggle Between Tradition and Modernity

Georg Bendemann's internal struggle reflects the tension between traditional familial expectations and the more progressive and individualistic values of the outside world. The conflict is embodied in the contrasting influence of his father's authority and his friend's perspectives based on a universalist culture.

The Son's Self-Sacrifice

The resolution of the story, where the father's authority prevails, leads to the tragic death of Georg Bendemann. This outcome is not an arbitrary act of repression but rather a portrayal of self-sacrifice on the part of the son. Georg relinquishes his modern and individualistic desires in favor of upholding and reinforcing the patriarchal authority of his father.

A Judgment Without Trial

The story unfolds with a sense of inevitability, as if Georg Bendemann's fate had been determined from the outset. The lack of any formal trial or examination further emphasizes the unilateral nature of the judgment imposed on him. The story serves as a cautionary tale about the unyielding grip of patriarchal authority and its consequences on individual agency and freedom.

An Endless Process of Analysis

Kafka's narrative style in "The Judgment" reflects his character's obsession with analysis. Georg Bendemann's internal deliberations reveal a meticulous exploration of various alternatives and their counterarguments. This unending process of contemplation leaves the reader with a sense of bewilderment as each conclusion gives rise to new questions and uncertainties, ultimately leading to a condensed version of an ongoing mental struggle.


"The Judgment" by Franz Kafka delves into the complexities of familial relationships and the clash between traditional authority and modern individualism. Through Georg Bendemann's internal conflict, the story highlights the powerful influence of patriarchal structures and their impact on individual choices and destinies. Kafka's masterful storytelling leaves readers contemplating the interplay of authority and freedom in a world governed by judgment and consequence.

Character Study: George Bendemann and Senior Bendemann

George Bendemann

George Bendemann, the protagonist of "The Judgment," is the sole son in the Bendemann family and a partner in his father's business. He shares a seemingly harmonious relationship with his elderly father, and together, they run the family enterprise. George is portrayed as a thoughtful and responsible young man, evident when he carefully deliberates before writing a letter to his Russian friend, announcing his engagement to Miss Fraulien. This decision becomes a pivotal moment of judgment for George, as it not only reveals his personal choices but also places him in a position of scrutiny before his father.

Respectful and forthright in his interactions, George approaches his father with a request to exchange rooms, demonstrating his maturity and desire for independence. However, the response he receives from his father is bewildering and shocking. When Senior Bendemann orders George to take his own life, the son's immediate and unquestioning compliance leaves the audience astonished at the depth of their relationship and George's sense of obedience.

Senior Bendemann

Senior Bendemann, the father of George, is a central figure in the story. Despite his advanced age, he actively participates in the family business alongside his son. After the passing of his wife, George is the sole pillar of support for Senior Bendemann. On the surface, their relationship appears amicable, with no apparent conflicts between them.

However, beneath the facade of harmony lies a disturbing psychological state in Senior Bendemann. He perceives George's actions and decisions through a lens of skepticism and believes that his son is not maturing as he should. This sense of unease culminates in a sudden and distressing outburst, as he sentences George to death by drowning.

The enigmatic nature of Senior Bendemann's actions and emotions leaves readers pondering his mental state and the complexities of the father-son dynamic portrayed in the story.


"The Judgment" revolves around the psychological turmoil and conflict between George Bendemann and Senior Bendemann. As the story unfolds, it explores the complexities of their relationship and the devastating consequences of a father's harsh judgment on his son. Kafka's masterful portrayal of these characters delves deep into the human psyche, leaving readers questioning the depths of human emotions and the intricate dynamics that govern familial bonds.

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