Essay: Kafka & The Consequences of Set Truth

Franz Kafka in the story, “A Comment”, speaks of the importance of finding one’s own path in life, discovering one’s own truth (p. 161). However, when one constructs an understanding around their own truth to the point where this truth is set in the individual’s mind, it can lead to biased thinking and sometimes even harmful consequences.

In the “Penal Colony”, the officer’s belief in the truth of his predecessor leads him to develop a dogmatic approach which not only causes him harm but also blurs his understanding of right and wrong. This is demonstrated by the character of the condemned man who is sentenced without having an opportunity to defend himself for the officer believes that the condemned man’s words would be lies while his own judgment is correct (p. 40). The officer’s dogmatic thinking is a result of the past traditions and how things used to be and as a consequence, the officer associates himself with the institution. While the character of the researcher helps contrast the officer’s truth with his own views as the researcher believes the punishment and sentencing to be inhumane and the procedure to lack justice (p. 46). The officer cannot relate to this point of view because it would interfere with his set truth. This idea is taken to the extreme in the story by Kafka for the officer rather condemn himself in the name of justice rather than realizing his own wrong actions and perhaps confronting what he had acknowledged to be true and by doing so, create some new understanding (p. 54).

The theme of judgment and truth is visited in “The Judgement” as well. Kafka displays the consequences of adopting someone else’s truth as your own. Such truth is harder to escape when it comes from an authority figure. In the “Penal Colony”, the officer takes upon his truth because it is related to his predecessor, to the past tradition, hence giving it authority and in “The Judgement”, the truth is that of the narrator’s father, who has always been an authoritative figure in the narrator’s life (p. 6). By taking on this truth, it results in the narrator’s death (p. 12) and similarly, the officer’s death.

Viewing life through one’s own truth is observed in “Josephine, the Singer or The Mouse People” story. Kafka demonstrates a contrasting point of view as the narrator of the text has a different opinion of Josephine and her abilities compared to what Josephine regards to be the truth (pp. 99-100). Josephine has her own truth and in which she believes her art to be important, so much so, that she believes that others need her and her singing (p. 103). The narrator disagrees and even believes if Josephine were to disappear, she would not be missed (p. 108). Furthermore, her truth can be harmful. Due to the fact that she is a popular artist, this allows for large gatherings and the narrator informs the reader that on more than one occasion such large gatherings have resulted in tragedy for it made it easier for predators to find and hunt them (p. 103). However, Josephine believes that she is needed when tragic episodes occur in the community, she believes that her squealing helps people. Here, Kafka shows how ones own truth can bring about contradictory results for her gatherings can cause tragedies as well.

In “Researches of a Dog”, although the narrator attempts a research project, his approach is muddled with his existing biases. In a way, the narrator takes his premise as a conclusion and in doing so, his truth is set and this causes him misunderstanding or at least stops him from viewing things beyond his premise (pp. 132-133). A clear example of this is the fact that the narrator does not perceive human beings (133). He is focused on this belief that food either comes from the dogs wetting the ground or else, it falls from the skies. It is in this narrow view that causes the narrator not to consider an alternative. Kafka is able to demonstrate the constraints truth can have on the individual if they believe it to be the only truth. Furthermore, set truths without flexibility can even cause the individual harm. This is shown in the narrators choice of self-deprivation in order to prove his point. In doing so, the narrator adopts a fasting lifestyle which is contradictory to the communities way of living and this leads to the point where he loses consciousness (pp. 155-157). Additionally, In an attempt to seek his truth, the narrator slowly becomes distant from his community. The narrow thinking brought on by his believed truth results not only in self-harm but also in ostracization (p. 150). 

However, by exploring what he thought to be the truth, it results in the narrator opening himself to what he did not know. In the text, “A Page from an Old Document”, Kafka explores the notion of how by facing the outside, the unknown, it can have an effect on what you had considered to be the truth and so, it can change your truth (pp. 66-67). Similarly, the research dog adds to his research with the inclusion of music in his next project (p. 160).

In “The Burrow”, the narrator gives himself a simple narrative, something that grounds his reality, this being the importance of his abode (p. 170). For the narrator does not feel danger when he is with his passages, chambers and above all, his castle court (p. 177). Here, Kafka visits similar themes explored in the “Researches of a Dog”, for his truth, the simple narrative, has caused him to be isolated from others (p. 173). However, unlike the research dog where the alienation was taken on in order to search for the truth, in “The Burrow”, the alienation is a result of his truth. Furthermore, unlike the “Penal Colony” where the officer never challenged his set truth, in “The Burrow”, the narrator is forced to come to terms that the narrative he has given himself may be false. Kafka showcases this through the foreign sound the narrator begins to hear (p. 178). Due to the fact that the burrow is supposed to be protective, this intruding sound causes the narrator to panic especially when he gives in to the notion that the sound is perhaps coming from something that can cause him harm (p. 181). Furthermore, Kafka also put forth the notion of how when one invests a lot of time in something, the importance of that thing becomes greater and hence, that individual is more likely to affirm their truth because they don’t want to realize that their effort and time was spent on something useless (p. 187). The fact that the narrator has spent so much time working on his burrow, to the point that it has caused him self-harm and deprived him of sleep when he is forced to change his narrative, the narrator finds himself in a disorganized state of mind.

The text is unfinished but perhaps, “A Report to the Academy” can give hints to how having his truth shatter would have affected the narrator. For in, “A Report to the Academy”, the notion that one can transform due to the necessity to survive is explored (p. 80). The narrator of the text learns human mannerism and this allows him to escape captivity. Similarly, in “The Burrow”, the narrator may have had to develop a new thought pattern or a new truth in order to deal with the loss of his simple narrative.

Kafka’s texts act as a cautionary tales towards the notion of accepting ones own truth as the only truth. For this narrow point of view can result in misunderstanding and in some cases cause the individual harm or worse, harm others.

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