Analysis of the parable titled homecoming-franz kafka
The parable “Homecoming” by Franz Kafka was published in 1936. The title of the text comes from Max Brod, the friend and editor of Franz Kafka’s works, who first published the text in 1936 in the book “Description of a Struggle” (expanded editions of it in 1946 and 1954). The text was written after Franz Kafka returned to Prague from a several-week stay at a health resort in Merano, South Tyrol. At first he lived there with his sister Elli, but later he returned to his parents’ apartment on Old Town Square. Franz Kafka is considered an important representative of Expressionism.
The text is about a son’s return home and the impressions and emotions he perceives. In the process, the first-person narrator experiences alienation as a result of coming home and must, finally in this context, come to terms with himself, his past and his identity.
Thus, the homecoming of the son of a farmer is first followed by a description of how the father’s farm has changed during his time away and in which aspects it has remained the same. This is followed by a description of the first-person narrator’s feelings and how strange and eerie the farm seems to him. Finally, the protagonist seems to struggle with himself and try to muster enough courage to open the kitchen door to his former home. Accordingly, he initially stops in the hallway and weighs the possible consequences of his decision. The end of the short story remains open to the reader, who does not learn whether the main character will now enter the house or move away from his family’s farm and his associated fears.
The most important and central person in the plot is the son of the “old farmer” (line 10), as he immediately acts as the first-person narrator and describes his point of view. However, the reader learns relatively little about him. Thus, the reason for the son’s stay away, as well as the duration of his stay away from his parents’ house, is concealed from the reader. The only clues are the protagonist’s perceptions, which give the reader an idea of the length of time he stayed away from his father’s farm (cf. line 2). Thus, it can be assumed that the farmer’s son returns only after a long time, since many things he notices seem unknown to him, respectively he seems to have “partly forgotten” (line 8) “partly never known[…]” (line 9). Further on, the son presents all impressions very subjectively and emotionally (cf. line 2). This is especially shown by the use of judgmental adjectives, such as “useless[…]” (line 2) or “cold” (line 7). He also strongly doubts whether he should return to his family and, in the process, asks himself whether he “feel[s] at home here” (line 6) (Z. 6). Furthermore, the first-person narrator’s question about the people who will “receive” him (line 5) makes the reader aware that he may not be welcome at home at all and will be rejected. This indicates a poor relationship with his family.
The second person in the short story is the “father[…]” (line 7) of the son. We only learn information about him from the son’s point of view. From the subjective point of view of the first-person narrator, the father seems to have a very dominant and authoritarian personality. Thus, there is always only talk about the “father’s old farm” (line 2) and never other family members are mentioned. Consequently, it can be seen through this formulation that the father brings forth such dominance that all other possible people of the household are relegated to the background. As a result of the focus on the father and the omission of the rest of the family, which is only mentioned in the course of the first-person narrator’s rhetorical questions (lines 4f.), it can also be assumed that the protagonist has a special relationship conspicuousness with his father.
The parable is written from the point of view of the son, who then becomes the first-person narrator. This has the effect that the reader is involved in the middle of the action and can more easily identify with the main character and his situation. Also, the situation initially described in the first section of the story helps the reader to more easily empathize with the events described.
In the first section (cf. lines 1ff), the initial situation is first described in a time-covering narrative. This sets out the situation that is obvious to everyone and ensures that the reader is not thrown into completely cold water. Continuing with the paratactic sentence structure (cf. lines 1f.), the external perception of the son is presented concisely and precisely.
However, since this is the subjective narrative of the first-person narrator, an expression of feelings cannot be avoided even in the introduction. Thus, we learn quite a bit about the main character and his situation through the application of many symbols and figurative language. On the one hand, we learn that the main character now has some strokes of fate behind him (cf. line 2) and has thus developed a kind of nostalgia for his childhood. This longed-for childhood is described as innocent and happy, and with the help of the “torn cloth[s]” (line 3), which was “once wound around a pole in play”(line 4). However, by the “torn[n]” (Z. 3) condition of the “cloth[it]” (line 3), it also becomes clear that that childhood is now over and that the farmer’s son must now deal with the reality of life, his strokes of fate (cf. line 2), and his uncertainty and insecurity about his imminent return home.
The reader experiences the narrator’s uncertainty mainly by means of the son’s rhetorical questions (cf. line 5), in which he tries to depict the possible scenarios about a return home. Furthermore, the use of the subjunctive (cf. line 8) makes the main character’s perplexity clear once again.
Particularly characteristic for the first section of the short story is also the built-up mood of a certain melancholy. This clearly emerges through the use of the clear description of the court. Thus, it is described very precisely that the cloth, which stands for the childhood of the protagonist, “lifts in the wind” (line 4) and also the “smoke” (line 5), which “comes out of the chimney” (line 5) shows an exact representation of the situation.
Continuing, the reader learns by means of the described aspects of the “Hof[es]” (line 2) that the first-person narrator harbors a profound longing for his former home. After all, the son would much rather sit inside the house where “the coffee for dinner” (line 6) is “cooked” (line 6).
The second section of the short story begins with this observation. This is written in a time-extending manner and deals with the inner monologue of the first-person narrator. His emotions (cf. line 7), thoughts (cf. line 9f) and points of view (cf. line 14f) are precisely expressed, which, with the help of the applied time dilation, leads to the reader being able to integrate well into the events and empathize with the main character.
The hypotactic sentence structure (cf. lines 9f) also emphasizes the slow passage of time one more time, through which Kafka manages to effectively portray the narrator’s simple way of thinking.
The protagonist longs for his home (cf. lines 5f), but also doubts the meaning of his return (cf. lines 9f) and thus his feelings and his own identity. Accordingly, he doubts his ability to be of use to his family (cf. line 9) and his importance to his respective family members (cf. line 9).
Out of these trains of thought, he does not manage to “knock on the kitchen door” (line 10) and remains in “the distance” (line 10). This distance, evident to everyone, dramatically reinforces the first-person narrator’s sense of strangeness. The main character thus stops in “the distance” (line 10), as far away as possible from his home, and “horch[t]” (Z. 11). He pays close attention to certain noises and thus seems to want to hide something and to be afraid. Just as he is afraid that he “might be surprised as a listener” (line 11) and thus be caught doing something wrong. This mental justification shows the first-person narrator’s inner feelings of guilt toward his family.
The parallelism used (cf. line 11), the built-in anaphora (cf. line 10ff) and the continuous parenthesis (cf. line 10ff) further emphasize the insecurity, the discomfort and the doubts about his right to exist in that place of his childhood. In the course of the pleonasm that follows (cf. line 12), the symbol of a “clock strike[s]” (line 13) once again the “childhood days[…]” (line 13), which are undoubtedly omnipresent for the narrator in this place. Thus, he longs for his happy childhood back here as well, while the “clock strike” (line 13), however, also immediately brings him back to the cold and melancholic reality, as well as out of his slow-motion perception.
In this reality, he has to deal with his exclusion from the life of those “sitting in the kitchen” (line 14) and his own “secret” (line 17). The reader learns about the existence of that secret, but only clearly at the end of the story. Thus, the protagonist seems to answer his last question, whether he “does not then himself like one who wants to keep his secret” (line 16f) by putting a period at the end of the sentence and thus admitting to possessing his own secrets. In doing so, the main character also comes to the sad conclusion that she must have “[ent]frem[et]” (line 15) and now probably no longer fits in with his former home.
At the end, however, the reader does not learn how the story really ends. Also, an interpretation of the continuation of the story is probably rather difficult to formulate, since on the one hand the protagonist has to realize his alienation (cf. line 15) from his home, but also that he “himself, like one” (line 16) of the “sitting in the kitchen” (line 14) “has his own secrets” (line 14) and wants to “keep them” from the world (line 17). Consequently, at the end of the parable, the main character experiences both alienation and closure on his part from the entire outside world, seeing his family as his only support as they, like him, keep their “secret” (l. 14) from the outside world.
In summary, Kafka succeeds in writing a parable that makes the reader think. One reason for this is his enigmatic writing and the use of many linguistic devices, which gives the reader a good insight into the emotional world of the main character. The message that Kafka wanted to convey through the writing of the short story is certainly that the family is the only anchor in everyone’s life and saves him from ending up as an outsider. He also warns against losing them with his homeland, as they are part of the identity of each of us and have shaped us in every way in the past.
As autobiographies report, Kafka himself had a troubled relationship with his father. By leaving the end of the parable open, it probably shows that he himself was unable to give an answer to his son’s problems and had none for his own.