The Judgment

For other uses, see Judgment (disambiguation).
"Das Urteil" redirects here. For the single by Kool Savas, see Das Urteil (song).
"The Judgment"

Cover of the first individual print in 1913
Author Franz Kafka
Original title "Das Urteil"
Language German
Published in Arkadia
Publisher Max Brod
Publication date 1913
Arkadia of 1913, first print

"The Judgment" ("Das Urteil") is a short story written by Franz Kafka in 1912, concerning the relationship between a man and his father.

Plot summary

The story begins with a young merchant, George Bendemann, sitting in his room, writing a letter to his dear friend in Russia, who had left their hometown some years prior to set up a business that, though initially successful, was now failing. George is writing to tell his friend, amongst other happenings, that he is engaged to and will soon marry Frieda Brandenfeld

George breaks out of his reverie and decides to check on his father. He informs his father that he has just written a letter to his friend, updating him on his upcoming marriage. His father questions the existence of his son’s friend in Russia, at which point George changes the subject. George’s father accuses him of deceiving him of the happenings of the business. He claims the death of his wife (George’s mother) hit him harder than it did George.

George insists on having his father lie down in bed for a while. Because of this, George’s father claims his son wants him dead. Moreover, he admits to knowing his son’s friend. He makes George feel terrible, suggesting that George has ignored his friend ever since he moved away to Russia. The father does not appreciate George’s love and care, maintaining he can take care of himself. George shrinks back into a corner, scared of his father and his harsh words.

George’s father accuses him of being selfish and finally sentences him to "death by drowning". George feels himself pushed from the room. He runs from his home to a bridge over a stretch of water. He swings himself over the railing and plunges, apparently to his death.


Franz Kafka wrote "The Judgment" ("Das Urteil") at age 29. At this point in his life, Kafka had finished his studies of law at the Karl-Ferdinands-Universität of Prague five years earlier and had worked various jobs, including working for an insurance company and starting an asbestos factory with his brother-in-law, Karl Hermann.

Kafka wrote "The Judgment" in a single sitting on September 22, 1912. In later writings, he described the creative outburst of "The Judgment" as “the total opening of body and soul,” as well as saying that “the story evolved as a true birth, covered with filth and slime.” Kafka viewed the work as “one of his most successful and perfect literary creations” which he was able to write in a “semi-unconscious state of mind.” Kafka was incredibly enthusiastic after the work, and talked to his good friend, Max Brod, who edited and published much of his work. "The Judgment" was published in 1913 in the literary yearbook Arkadia.[1] The story was dedicated "to Miss Felice Bauer" whom he met just before writing it, and in subsequent editions simply "for F.".[2] Brod noted in his biography that the name of the main character, Georg Bendemann, alludes to Kafka (Franz has as many letters as Georg, Bende sounds similar to Kafka), and the name of the fiancée mentioned to Felice: Frieda Brandenfeld has the same initials, Frieda as many letters as Felice, "Branden" may refer to Brandenburg around Berlin where Felice lived, "feld" (field) is related to "Bauer" (farmer).[3]

The work has several key inspirations that can be traced to events around the time it was created. While Kafka was running his business, he was troubled because the time required for this job limited his literary creativity. This conflict inspired the character Georg Bendemann, the protagonist of "The Judgment".[4]


Interpretations of Kafka’s short story range from simple parallelism between the lives of Georg and Kafka to more complex views concerning the notion of judgement itself. Heinz Politzer, for example, views the story as a means through which Kafka explored his thoughts about his romance with Felice Bauer, citing as evidence the impending marriages Georg and Kafka held in common. He argues that the severed relationship between Georg and his friend represented the bachelorhood Georg, and therefore Kafka, would soon have to give up.[5]

Herbert Tauber, on the other hand, viewed the story as a commentary on the conflict between two separate worlds, shown through the conflict between father and son. The world of the son is a world of “vital existence in which probability and reservation rule” and that of the father is a world, “in which every step has an incalculable importance because it is taken under the horizon of an absolute summons to the road”.[6]

Meanwhile, Russel Berman sees the story as a discourse on the nature of judgment in general, recognizing its depiction in the story as weak and illogical, yet simultaneously necessary. He also bemoans such a state of society as was suggested in the story that would foster degraded forms of writing and, more hauntingly, nurture extreme willingness to conform to orders without concern for consequences.[7]

Berman additionally points out that Georg’s need to rationalize why he does not want to invite his estranged friend to his wedding is a result of concerns he has pushed out of sight, but nevertheless still holds. He points out that Kafka shares the methodology of exploring the human psyche by analyzing the motivations behind actions and thoughts with the famed thinkers Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud.

In the story, the exiled friend in Russia exerts considerable power over the other charactersGeorg, his father, and his fiancée, Frieda. In his diaries, Kafka wrote that the friend is the strongest connection between Georg and his father, for it is through this link that his father is able to reassert himself as paterfamilias and his son's enemy and that Georg is able to submissively accept him as such. Kafka goes on to relate that the fiancée exists, in a tangential sense, only because of the father-son bond that the absent exile creates.

In still another interpretation, Georg is actually the narrator with 1st person being his self-rationalized view of himself (as if a continent away and tied to family and hopeless for the future). The father, or 2nd self, is society-rationalized view. The father shows what is acceptable versus what is wanted by 1st self. It is the proverbial angel on the shoulder arguing with the devil on the other shoulder. The host is stuck in Russia, visits less frequently and leaves the inner monologues 'back at home.'


A virtually insurmountable problem facing the translator is how to deal with the author's intentional use of ambiguous terms or of words that have several meanings. An example is the Kafka's use of the German noun Verkehr in the final sentence of the story. 'Verkehr' can mean either traffic or intercourse in both the social or sexual sense. The sentence can be translated as: "At this moment an unending stream of traffic was just going over the bridge."[8] What gives added weight to the obvious double meaning of Verkehr is Kafka's confession to his friend and biographer Max Brod that when he wrote that final line, he was thinking of "a violent ejaculation."[9]


German Wikisource has original text related to this article:


  1. Gray, Richard T.; Gross, Ruth V.; Goebel, Rolf J. A Franz Kafka Encyclopedia. Greenwood Pub Group, 2005.
  2. Kafka, p. 468
  3. Brod, ps. 114, 115
  4. Swanson, Roy Arthur. Franz Kafka. Cyclopedia of World Authors, 2004. Salem Press Inc.
  5. Politzer, Heinz: “Franz Kafka, Parable and paradox”, 1962. Cornell University Press.
  6. Tauber, Herbert. Franz Kafka: An interpretation of his works”, 1948. Yale University Press.
  7. Berman, Russel: "Tradition and betrayal in 'Das Urteil'". A Companion to the Works of Franz, Kafka 2002. Camden House.
  8. Kafka, p. 88
  9. Brod. Max: "Franz Kafka, a Biography". (trans. Humphreys Roberts) New York: Schocken Books,1960. pg 129.

See also

External sources

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