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  • 8/8/2019 Ruhleder - Franz Kafka's 'Das Urteil'~ an Interpretation


    Franz Kafka's "Das Urteil": An InterpretationAuthor(s): Karl H. RuhlederSource: Monatshefte, Vol. 55, No. 1, Franz Kafka Number (Jan., 1963), pp. 13-22Published by: University of Wisconsin PressStable URL: .

    Accessed: 05/01/2011 16:22

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  • 8/8/2019 Ruhleder - Franz Kafka's 'Das Urteil'~ an Interpretation



    Queens College1.

    If Max Brod had not published Franz Kafka's statement explainingthe true meaning of the last sentence of his Novelle Das Urteil, every-body would indeed reject such an interpretation as far-fetched. ForKafka said to Brod: "Do you know what the last sentence means? WhenI wrote it, I had in mind a violent ejaculation."1 With these wordsKafka explained the true meaning hidden under the reality of the imagein the last sentence: "In diesem Augenblick ging iiber die Briicke eingeradezu unendlicher Verkehr."2 The bridge is already mentioned inthe sentences preceding the last, but the word "bridge" cannot containthe meaning "ejaculation," either alone or in the context of the sentence;the first half of the sentence merely points to the simultaneousness of an-other event, the fall from the bridge; thus the remaining elements, thewords unendlicher Verkehr must contain the meaning "violent ejacu-lation."

    The meaning "ejaculation" per se is obviously represented in theGerman word Verkehr, denoting both vehicular traffic and sexual inter-course. The essential point is that the literal meaning in the context ofan action which takes place in the business world of this century con-tains a meaning which leads into a completely different sphere of humanlife. And we must, therefore, recognize that the word Verkehr possessesthe basic quality of a symbol, namely two different meanings whichare of equal importance to the reader. We know about its real andliteral meaning: it pictures a concrete problem of modern cities. Butwhat is the universal meaning this word stands for? Ejaculation. Kafkasays no more, and it is up to us to discover the universal meaning ofthe symbol and of the Novelle by connecting the meaning of otherwords which conceal their symbolic power. "

    The universal meaning cannot be inferred from the last sentencealone. But the word stands in a sentence which follows the carryingout of a sentence of death, so that the simultaneousness of the ejacula-tion and the fall to death call to mind Hanns Heinz Ewers' novelAlraune,4 where the condemned person suffers an ejaculation in themoment immediately preceding his death. The semen then procreatesAlraune in the womb of the prostitute. Both representations have incommon the motif of ejaculation immediately before the condemnedone meets his death. But did Kafka intend to indicate in our Novellethat the water is about to be impregnated, the water which Bendemanntouches split seconds later? The literary prototype of this scene pro-vides more information: Hesiod reports that the semen of Uranus, whohad been emasculated, engendered Venus, the Goddess of Love, with

  • 8/8/2019 Ruhleder - Franz Kafka's 'Das Urteil'~ an Interpretation


    14 Monatshcftethe water. Hesiod, too, reports a sentence of death, for the reign ofUranus was thereby ended at the hands of his son Cronus.5What these three representations have in common is the elementof involuntary procreation in a moment when punishment is beingcarried out. Ewers creates by means of artificial insemination a femalewho personifies love. The scars on the inside of the upper parts of herthighs point to a kind of pre-existence as a mermaid. In Hesiod's andKafka's passages, the sperm is conceived by the water, and this factlends the word Verkehr (intercourse / traffic) a more definite meaningin its connection with the simultaneousness of the infliction of punish-ment through the fall into the water: the universal meaning of the sym-bol seems to be the imminent procreation with the water, the imminentprocreation of a love about whose qualities we cannot say anything atthis moment.

    Our definition of the symbolic meaning of the word Verkehr restspredominantly on Hesiod's report of the birth of Aphrodite, for thisreport is indeed the prototype of the central problem of our Novelle:the rebellion of the son (Cronus) against the father (Uranus). The cen-tral scene of the Novelle, the conversation between father and son, givesa description of the father in which the prototype Uranus is easily recog-nized, for it is modeled after Hesiod's report as well as representationsin the pictorial arts. Kafka writes: " 'Nein!' rief der Vater, . . . warfdie Decke zuriick mit einer Kraft, daB sie einen Augenblick im Flugesich ganz entfaltete, und stand aufrecht im Bett. Nur eine Hand hielter leicht an den Plafond." (S. 62) Although there are only a few tracesof Uranus in the pictorial arts, some of the representations show himholding his garment in an are over his head, the way the father holdsthe blanket in our Novelle, completely expanded and floating in the air.6But Hesiod's report of the emasculation, too, is mentioned in the Novellewhen the father says: "' . . . weil sie die Rocke so gehoben hat, diewiderliche Gans,' und er hob, um das darzustellen, sein Hemd so hoch,daB man auf seinem Oberschenkel die Narbe aus seinen Kriegsjahrensah" (S. 63). Although the passage does not describe the act of emascu-lation, the scar unequivocally alludes to it. The wound itself was ob-viously inflicted before this time; now it is cicatrized. But the remarkabout the Kriegsjahre alludes to the old war of the generations, thestruggle between Uranus and Cronus.The image of Uranus in the center of our Novelle makes us recog-nize that the symbol at its end - Verkehr-Ejakulation - is closely con-nected with its center and Hesiod's report as well. Its meaning is indeedthe impregnation of the water, and we must assume that a new loveis to be created, a new love possessing the quality of Aphrodite.

    2.Consequently the central theme of our Novelle is that of the revoltof the son (Cronus) against the father (Uranus). In our interpretationof the central scene, we can therefore agree neither with Claude-Edmonde

  • 8/8/2019 Ruhleder - Franz Kafka's 'Das Urteil'~ an Interpretation


    "Das Urteil" 15Magny nor Kate Flores. Mme. Magny's analysis proceeds from the as-sumption that the father is insane and that his verdict fully confirmsthis assumption.7 Mme. Flores, on the other hand, bases her interpre-tation predominantly on the Letter to My Father,.and she writes: "Kafkadeified his father, his supreme authority and goal."8 The first of theseinterpretations asserts the progressive senilization, the second the deifi-cation of father Kafka. The power of Kafka's symbolism remainedconcealed from both interpreters. - But what happens in the centralscene?

    The first scene in the central section reports Georg's attempt topersuade the father to change rooms with him. In the beginning we learnthat relations between the father and Georg were for months limitedalmost exclusively to matters concerning the joint management of thebusiness. In the office, however, nothing whatsoever hinted at the senilecondition of the father as it is reported in the course of the meeting.Georg talks to him in a business-like tone and casually says: "Ich wolltedir eigentlich nur sagen, daB ich nun doch nach Petersburg meine Ver-lobung angezeigt habe" (S. 58). In the beginning of the scene, the fatherstill is the giant of a man he always was (S. 58); he is standing in thedarkness and coolness of the room; then he solidly sits with his armscrossed, assuming an attitude of superiority (S. 58). The father's de-crepitude is not seen and reported by Georg until the father asks: "Hastdu wirklich diesen Freund in Petersburg?" (S. 59) This question isobviously unpleasant for Georg. To be sure, no doubt is thrown onthe existence of the friend in Petersburg, for later in the story we learnthat the father also corresponds with the friend, but doubt

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