Study Guide

Franz Kafka Childhood & Early Career

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Childhood & Early Career

Franz Kafka was born 3 July 1883 in Prague, which was then capital of Bohemia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (today it's the capital of the Czech Republic, but you knew that already). He was the first of six children born to Hermann and Julie Lowy Kafka. None of the Kafka children survived to old age. Franz's two younger brothers died in infancy, and his three sisters were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

The Kafkas were a middle-class Jewish family who spoke German. They were not a particularly observant Jewish family. Franz was bar mitzvahed, but attended temple only rarely. Franz perceived his father, a successful retailer, as a brutish and domineering man. His father's personality was a powerful influence on Kafka. In 1919, he wrote a letter (which he never sent) detailing his fear of his dad.

Kafka attended German-language schools in Prague as a boy. When it came time to enroll in college, he chose Charles-Ferdinand University, a German school in Prague. He started college as a chemistry major, which lasted all of two weeks. He then switched to law. In the classroom, Kafka was a decent - but not brilliant - student. But he truly flourished in the student literary club he joined his first year. His love of literature blossomed. And he met several other young men who would become lifelong friends and collaborators, including Max Brod, his eventual biographer and literary executor.

Kafka graduated from Charles-Ferdinand on 18 June 1906 and did a yearlong unpaid internship as a clerk in the criminal courts. He was then hired for his first professional job as a lawyer for Assicurazioni Generali, an Italian insurance company in Prague. It was not inspiring work. Unhappy with his job, Kafka resigned after eight months and found a job in July 1908 at the Workers Accident Insurance Institute, a government agency handling workers' compensation insurance.

Kafka had no passion for his legal career. The office job was really just a way to support himself while he pursued his real work - writing. And he was disciplined about making time for his writing even with his day job. Kafka worked until early afternoon at the Workers Accident Insurance Institute. Then he lunched, rested, exercised, and ate dinner with his family (he lived at home with his parents and sisters). He only sat down to write at 11 p.m. and kept at it for as long as he could keep his eyes open. His diligence paid off, slowly. Within a few months of starting work, his first published short stories appeared in Hyperion magazine. "God doesn't want me to write, but I - I must," he wrote to a friend.

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