"Roaring with Laughter, yet Desperately Unhappy": Kafka's Cruel and Unusual Comedy

Open Access
Brown, Kevin Robert
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Humanities
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Lisa Ruth Sternlieb, Thesis Supervisor
  • Dr. Marcy Lynne North, Honors Advisor
  • Kafka
  • Humor
  • The Castle
  • Comedy
  • Laughter
  • The Metamorphosis
  • The Trial
The writing of Franz Kafka has often been characterized as desperate and hopeless. Thus, the humorous and comic aspects of Kafka’s writing, while acknowledged, have been deemphasized, or sometimes even disregarded entirely by generations of critics and readers of his texts. This thesis will attempt to demonstrate that Kafka’s humor is central to his writing and claims that we cannot even begin to fathom the deeper meaning of Kafka’s writings until we start to explicate and clarify his comic sensibilities. In particular, this thesis examines the relationship between humor and power in Kafka’s texts. Kafka’s laughter is frequently aimed at authority—it mocks the ridiculousness of authority and disempowers the powerful. Kafka’s laughter, then, is profoundly rebellious and anti-authoritarian: it deconstructs and dethrones power by revealing the absurdity of authority’s sway over all of us. Kafka’s comedy lends us a lens through which we may finally become aware of the absurdity that is present in daily reality. It raises the veil and reveals authority for what it really is: an elaborate and ridiculous ruse.