Modernism and Franz Kafka's Before the Law - Essay Example

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A brief critical evaluation of Kafka’s “Before the Law” to examine the presence or absence of the essential qualities of modernism is the focus of this paper. Modernists tried to depict abstractions and fantasies, instead of reproducing what is real. …
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Modernism and Franz Kafkas Before the Law
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Before the Law” A brief critical evaluation ofKafka’s “Before the Law” to examine the presence or absence of the essential qualities of modernism is the focus of this paper. The Modernist Movement is characterized by the deliberate and radical shift from the Victorian tradition in art and literature. Modernists tried to depict abstractions and fantasies, instead of reproducing what is real. The main impact of the First World War was that it left behind a society in which the hope for a peaceful and happy life was completely shattered. Man became cynical and pessimistic. This sense of frustration got reflected in the literature of the day. Anything which is old is rejected and whatever is modern is welcome in modernism. In Kafka’s writings too such frustration captures the central place. It is in this light “Before the Law” should be viewed.
The most striking quality of modernism is in its stress on form, rather than on content. Many novelists belonging to this movement carried out experiments with the art of writing, particularly with the narrative techniques. Joyce and Virginia Wolf are fine examples of this. However, Kafka does not reject the conventional style altogether. Plot is a strong element in “Before”, as it is a parable, an allegory. Some of the modernist writers upset the depiction of chronological events, and they play with the movement of time too. In the story under scrutiny here, “the man from the country” ages, as weeks, months, and years move, though he is still waiting for the gate to be opened. At the end he asks, “so how is that in these many years no one except me has requested entry” (Kafka). At the same time, he is not a hero in the conventional sense. He is the personification of a permanent desire. The desire and the denial of it make the plot. Modernists normally do not look for moral points or meaning, which are integral to the content. In Kafka’s case, the peripheral story is simple, and for meaning the reader has to go beyond the plot, using his own level of knowledge. The meaning is important.
The strongest element in modernism, however, is the theme of frustration. Eliot’s Waste Land is a great example. In “Before the Law” too, the central idea is to highlight man’s utter frustration. The gatekeeper puts “indifferent questions” to the man, and “at the end he always tells him once more that he cannot let him inside yet” (Kafka).  One is doomed to wait like the countryman in the story, waiting for some Godot. The countryman is everyman. The whole life is wasted in waiting for something which never comes, be it love, justice, or God. Aborted expectations and futile attempts mark the entire life, though an innocent and sinless life is lived here. The man “even asks the fleas to help him persuade the gatekeeper”. Modernism represents an era, a lost period in human history. Life has become a struggle against a cruel fate, mostly man-made fate. Life is a wasteland. Kafka’s suffering man does not receive sympathy because he is not the only sufferer. The readers are co sufferers. It is in fact universal suffering. The general horrors and instability are projected through him. K seems to have choices but he is powerless to use them.
Kafka does not give names to his characters. Becket, on the other hand, shifts the names of his characters in the course of the story. Crisis of identity, isolation, and alienation are the qualities of Kafka’s characters. The story mostly takes place in an enclosed place, reflecting the enclosed mind of his characters. Skepticism and uncertainty are the two factors dominating man’s mind. Not only the stories, or the characters, but the very name of the writer, Kafka, has become a metaphor for this frustrated era, known as the modernist period.
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