Franz Kafka was an eccentric writer during the 1880s who contributed some of the most profound pieces of modern literature. He is most known for his pieces due to his existential and uncanny writing that leaves room for interpretations. Famous for his works such as “Metamorphosis,” and “The Judgement,” Kafka also wrote another piece called “A Report to an Academy”. Kafka was infamous for his use of dreadful realities and human angst. His writing tends to leave contemplation and concern in the reader, leaving them to ponder the intricacies of the world they live in.
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Kafka quickly became famous and known for his use of existentialism, whether he knowingly did so or not. With Kafka’s stories, one would gain the insight of the ‘burden’ of realities, choice, and freedom, all ideas that take root in existentialism. 'From the outset, Kafka's work is saturated with fundamental existentialist themes like anxiety, guilt, selfhood, interpretation, fiction'. Existentialism is extremely apparent in Kafka’s work, especially in “A Report for an Academy” where the ideas of freedom, choice, angst, and individuality take place.
In “A Report for the Academy” by Franz Kafka, the main character is a former ape called Red Peter. Red Peter narrates the history of how he became human in a report to an educated academy. He states that he would have died a painful and prolonged death if he hadn't worked a way out and came to his decision. Realizing that he could not live and be free as an ape without some kind of way out of his captivity, he decided to cease being an ape. Red Peter’s transformation was a means of survival, which was appointed by his freedom of choice. He realized that the only way to stay out of the zoo was to become human enough to perform as an ape-turned-human on the vaudeville stage. That's what he did. Red Peter’s excruciating decision was to end his identity as an ape, in order to survive his brutal ordeal.
For Red Peter, “self-effacement provides the “way out; right or left, or in any direction” that he seeks, despite finding no attraction in imitating humans, and despite having no expectations of true ‘freedom’”. He announces: “I could never have achieved what I have done had I been stubbornly set on clinging to my origins, to the remembrances of my youth. In fact, to give up being stubborn was the supreme commandment I laid upon myself; free ape as I was, I submitted myself to that yoke”. When Red Peter fashions that he submitted himself to the yoke, he explains that his freedom to stay caged as an ape or submit to becoming human was all his own choice. In existentialism, one of the largest ideas follows, “We are what we are; we are condemned to be ourselves”. Existentialists would agree that Red Peter, was condemned to his own mannerisms and decisions. Although an ape, Red Peter made his decision to submit to that yoke, and it was all his own choice.
In this story the protagonist ape is confronted with the fact that he has lost his freedom; he can no longer live as an ape because there is 'no way out.' Thus, he can only gain a fraction of freedom by becoming something he wasn't. 'I repeat: there was no attraction for me in imitating human beings; I imitated them because I needed a way out, and for no other reason,' throughout the story, Red Peter emphasized that he learned his human behavior not out of any desire to be human, but only as a means to an end. He neglected his past of being an ape to provide himself with a means of escaping from his cage. For him, becoming human and living in their world was a choice, although not an easy one.
One of the largest aspects of existentialism is freedom. Freedom in existentialism is not necessarily similar to the dictionary definition the world knows of. Freedom in existentialism relies on the fact that man will always have freedom. From an existentialist point of view, choice is foundational to human existence and is absolute. Human existence is freedom. Humans don’t have freedom, they are freedom. “Man is condemned to be free. Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet, in other respects is free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does”. In the case of Red Peter, we can conclude that his “freedom” is based upon the idea that he choices that he could make in regards to his life. He had the choice to either remain an ape or become human and in some ways, gain freedom through that.
“I’m worried that people do not understand precisely what I mean by a way out. I use the word in its most common and fullest sense. I am deliberately not saying freedom. I do not mean this great feeling of freedom on all sides”. Even under the circumstances that Red Peter faced in his captivity, existentialism would still believe that he had freedom. Traped, caged, and abused, it is still believed that there is freedom...freedom of choice. Red Peter explained that his way out did not exemplify absolute freedom, but still showcased the fact that he had the ability to choose. In the existentialist point of view, this shows that he did have a choice, which proves to be freedom. Having a choice is having freedom. “The attitude of the ape in “A Report to an Academy” is exemplary here. Caught and caged, he decides to become human, for then he will be let out. The ape does not seek unconditional FREEDOM, only a way to transform his situation into something more bearable”. Inevitably, Red Peter used his freedom to chose what he thought would be the greatest choice for him. Freedom is shown in the fact that he could have chosen death, captivity, or transformation. Red Peter chose what he believed would be the most bearable circumstance to live under, which was his freedom.
In Kafka’s stories the greatest sin, as in existentialism, is a failure to be ‘authentic’ in the sense that Jean-Paul Sartre used the term. Something that does not seem authentic about Kafka’s character Red Peter is that he does not seem to have remained true to themselves. It is one thing to accept a situation, it is another to fail to assert an identity. Red Peter’s decision to become human was based on his freedom of choice, and he chose to lose his past identity of being a free ape. Red Peter constantly acknowledges that he has forgotten his past and heritage of being an ape, concluding that he has in some way, lost his authentic self as an ape that he will always be in the eyes of man. I would conclude that, although giving up his past of an ape, Red Peter is authentic in being completely aware that it was his decision to become human. Red Peter acknowledges the anxiety of knowing his decisions have led him to lose his ape-ness, but this results in the acknowledgment that he is being authentic in following the path he has chosen in life. Red Peter struggles with the feeling of inauthenticity, but he has been authentic in knowing that he made his decision and followed through with becoming a man.
Although Satre expresses the idea of remaining true to the authentic individual, one can vie for Red Peter in the idea that he inevitably did remain true to his individuality. Although forcefully caged and trapped, Red Peter individually makes his own decision to become human and forget his ape past. It can be concluded that it was a difficult choice, and had the situation not arisen, Red Peter would have never had to change his identity. Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself. Such is the first principle of existentialism. Red Peter made decisions and elected to follow the suit of humans. “The existentialist does not think that man is going to help himself by finding in the world some omen by which to orient himself. Because he thinks that man will interpret the omen to suit himself. Therefore, he thinks that man, with no support and no aid, is condemned every moment to invent man”(Sartre, 84). Red Peter invented himself in the eyes of man, and by that, he made his choices to do so.
Existentialism's first move is to make every man aware of what he is and to make the full responsibility for his existence rest on him. In Red Peter’s soliloquy, he consistently touches upon the point that he submitted himself to humanity, and was fully aware that he made the choice regarding the rest of his existence. Throughout the story, Red Peter reviewed that he had succumbed to man-kind, and was reporting the life he led because of that. Red Peter explained that he had minimal memory of when he was an ape, “ Giving up that obstinacy was, in fact, the highest command that I gave myself”. Red Peter found it in himself to make an ultimate decision, and he is aware that he made a difficult choice in succumbing to mankind. “The authority and responsibility of the individual, coupled with his helplessness, leave him in disarray...They conclude one of their major themes-that of the individual's dilemma in authority-with the portrayal of anguished man”. It is evident that Red Peter has extreme anguish in his choices and the fact that he stood at that podium reflecting on them.
The existentialists say at once that man is anguish. What that means is this: “the man who involves himself and who realizes that he is not only the person he chooses to be but also a lawmaker who is, at the same time, choosing all mankind as well as himself, can not help escape the feeling of his total and deep responsibility”. Knowing this, we can consider the anguish and anxiety Red Peter has in his decision because this story is a direct reflection of his choices. Existentialism takes root in the idea that choice and making decisions is a large part of anguish and anxiety in a man. Red Peter is obviously feeling existential in his reflection of what he chose to be because it was his own absolute choice in becoming the ‘man’ he is. Red Peter used his freedom to become who he is, and he has no one else to blame because it was all his own decision. Red Peter reflects on this and thus shows the existential idea of anguish and anxiety in the responsibility of the individual making their own choices for their lives.
“When the typical Kafka hero, confronted with a question as to his identity, cannot give a clear-cut answer, Kafka does more than indicate difficulties of verbal expression: he says that his hero stands between two worlds — between a vanished one to which he once belonged and between a present world to which he does not belong”. Since there is usually nobody else within the story to whom the protagonist can communicate his fate, he tends to reflect on his own problems over and over again. This egocentric quality Kafka shares with many an existential writer, although existentialist terminology has come to refer to it as 'self-realization.' Existential self-realization can be described as a sudden realization or revelation of a person's existence within this universe, and that their lives reflect and affect others.
If, as Sartre famously argues, people must define themselves through choices and living, then many of Kafka’s characters have chosen to be individuals apart from their communities. The responsibility in existentialism is knowing that your decisions are not simply revolved around you, but revolving around the rest of the world as well. Knowing this we can understand the anguish and anxiety each person has in making choices because it contains direct responsibility to the other men whom it involves. Red Peter’s choices in his individual sense therein resulted in a change to the life of those in mankind as well. “A small half-trained female chimpanzee is waiting for me, and I take my pleasure with her the way apes do. During the day I don’t want to see her, for she has in her gaze the madness of a bewildered trained animal. I’m the only one who recognizes that, and I cannot bear it”. Because of his decision in becoming man, it manifested a movement in other apes being captured and forced into humanity and mankind. Red Peter’s individual decision inevitably caused a ripple effect in the communities and the world around him. Red Peter understands and recognizes this, and realizes the consequences of his choices, and describes how unbearable it is to actually see.
“In simpler terms, existentialism is a philosophy concerned with finding self and the meaning of life through free will, choice, and personal responsibility”. Red Peter contemplated heavily the ideas of existentialism in Kafka’s story “A Report To An Academy.” Red Peter’s story relied on the angst and anxiety of the choices he made in his life. “This achievement would have been impossible if I had stubbornly wished to hold onto my origin, onto the memories of my youth. Giving up that obstinacy was, in fact, the highest command that I gave myself. I, a free ape, submitted myself to this yoke”. Sartre’s belief in existentialism reviews that existence comes first and our choices, create our unique essence. Kafka’s story depends on the proposition of choosing the way you want to live.
With Kafka’s stories, one would gain the insight of the ‘burden’ of realities, choice, and freedom, all ideas that take root in existentialism. Existentialism is extremely apparent in Kafka’s work, especially in “A Report for an Academy” where the ideas of freedom, choice, angst, and individuality took place for the narrator, Red Peter. Red Peter’s transformation was a means of survival, which was appointed by his freedom of choice. It is evident that Red Peter has extreme anguish in his choices because of the fact that he stood at that podium reflecting on them. Existentialism takes root in the idea that choice and making decisions is a large part of anguish and anxiety in a man. Red Peter’s story relied on the angst and anxiety of the choices he made in his life.
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