"The Judgment" ("Das Urteil") is a short story written by Franz Kafka in 1912. It is about the relationship between a man and his father, in which the elderly father ultimately condemns his son to death by drowning.
Georg breaks out of his reverie and decides to check on his father. He informs his father that he has just written a letter to his friend—updating him on his upcoming marriage. His father questions the existence of his son’s friend in Russia, at which point Georg changes the subject. Georg’s father accuses him of deceiving him of the happenings of the business. He claims the death of his wife (Georg’s mother) hit him harder than it did Georg. Furthermore, Georg insists on having his father lie down in bed for a while. Because of this, Georg’s father claims his son wants him dead. Moreover, he admits to knowing his son’s friend. He makes Georg feel terrible, articulating such feelings as supposing Georg has ignored his buddy ever since he ran off. Also, the father does not appreciate Georg’s love and care, maintaining he can take care of himself. Georg shrinks back into a corner, scared of his father and his harsh words.
Georg’s father accuses him of being selfish and sentences him "to death by drowning". Georg feels himself pushed from the room. He runs from his home to a bridge over water. He swings himself over the railing, and plunges to his death.
Kafka wrote "The Judgment" in a single sitting on September 22, 1912. In later writings, he described the creative outburst of "The Judgment" as “the total opening of body and soul,” as well as saying that “the story evolved as a true birth, covered with filth and slime.” Kafka viewed the work as “one of his most successful and perfect literary creations” which he was able to write in a “semi-unconscious state of mind.” Kafka was incredibly enthusiastic after the work, and talked to his good friend, Max Brod, who edited and published a lot of his work. "The Judgment" was published in 1913 in a literary yearbook called Arkadia. The story was dedicated "to Miss Felice Bauer," and in subsequent editions simply "for F." .
The work has several key inspirations that can be traced to events around the time it was created. While Kafka was running his business, he was troubled because the time required for this job limited his literary creativity. This conflict inspired the character Georg Bendemann, the protagonist of The Judgment. Additionally, Kafka’s poor relationship with his girlfriend of five years, Felice Bauer, hindered his progress as a creative writer. The character Frieda Brandenfeld in "The Judgment" is representative of Felice (as well as the character Fräulein Burstner in The Trial).
Herbert Tauber, on the other hand, viewed the story as a commentary on the conflict between two separate worlds, shown through the conflict between father and son. The world of the son is a world of “vital existence in which probability and reservation rule” and that of the father is a world, “in which every step has an incalculable importance because it is taken under the horizon of an absolute summons to the road”
Meanwhile, Russel Berman sees the story as a discourse on the nature of judgment in general, recognizing its depiction in the story as weak and illogical, yet simultaneously necessary. He also bemoans such a state of society as was suggested in the story that would foster degraded forms of writing and, more hauntingly, nurture extreme willingness to conform to orders without concern for consequences.
Berman additionally points out that Georg’s need to rationalize why he does not want to invite his estranged friend to his wedding is a result of concerns he has pushed out of sight, but nevertheless still holds. He points out that Kafka shares the methodology of exploring the human psyche by analyzing the motivations behind actions and thoughts with the famed German thinkers Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud.
In the story, the exiled friend in Russia exerts considerable power over the other characters—Georg, his father, and his fiancée, Frieda. In his diaries, Kafka wrote that the friend is the strongest connection between Georg and his father, for it is through this link that his father is able to reassert himself as paterfamilias and his son's enemy and that Georg is able to submissively accept him as such. Kafka goes on to relate that the fiancée exists, in a tangential sense, only because of the father-son bond that the absent exile creates.
Others think that the story can be taken in the Freudian sense, that Georg views his father as God. He enters the room and sees his father, is judged, condemned as an inadequate son and is condemned to Death by drowning, which Georg then fulfills as if he has no choice. The rushed ending makes it seem as if he has no control over his body. It's as though he has been condemned to hell and has no choice but to suffer the consequences.
A virtually insurmountable problem facing the translator is how to deal with the author's intentional use of ambiguous terms or of words that have several meanings. An example is the Kafka's use of the German noun Verkehr in the final sentence of the story. The sentence can be translated as: "At this moment an unending stream of traffic was just going over the bridge. What gives added weight to the obvious double meaning of Verkehr is Kafka's confession to his friend and biographer Max Brod that when he wrote that final line, he was thinking of "a violent ejaculation."