Short story: “The Judgment”

by look i have opinions

“The Judgment” or “The Judgement” (“Das Urteil”), by Franz Kafka

4,491 English words in Ian Johnston’s version; 4,559 in the Muirs’

Written in 1912; first appeared in Arkadia in 1913; the original is on Project Gutenberg; translated here by the Muirs, with revisions by Arthur S. Wensinger; translated by Ian Johnston here and here; an unattributed English translation recorded for Miette’s Bedtime Story Podcast here

I don’t feel as strongly about this story as about Kafka’s later work, but I can well understand why he stayed up all night to write it and found it a revelation.

Definitely feels like a box story, not a keyhole one (though from the way Kafka analyzes it in his diary, I’m not sure he agrees). It’s like a bad dream. At times it seems like the distant friend is a projection of Georg himself; at times it seems like the father is. Both the friend and the father give Georg reasons to feel anxious and guilty about his engagement, and I think that’s one way in which this is a wish-fulfillment story. Kafka (and perhaps his character too) must have found it a relief to justify his anxiety and guilt in this way.

I’ve heard it said that in German, “zugedeckt” (“covered up”) has the second meaning “defeated” or “smothered.” I’m surprised I’ve never seen it rendered in English as “tucked in.” To me at least, the word “tuck” suggests, however vaguely, the image of male genitals being pushed back and hidden, perhaps emasculated, and “tucking in” is something one does to a child. But the term doesn’t carry the suggestion that Georg’s father has been half buried and is rising out of the grave.