Franz Kafka (3 July 1883 – 3 June 1924) was one of the major fiction writers of the 20th century. He was born to a middle-class German-speaking Jewish family in Prague, Austria-Hungary, presently the Czech Republic. His unique body of writing—much of which is incomplete and which was mainly published posthumously—is considered to be among the most influential in Western literature. His stories include The Metamorphosis (1915), while some of his most well-known novels include The Trial (1925) and The Castle (1926).
Critics have interpreted Kafka's works in the context of a variety of literary schools, such as modernism, magical realism, and so on. The apparent hopelessness and absurdity that seem to permeate his works are considered emblematic of existentialism. Others have tried to locate a Marxist influence in his satirization of bureaucracy in pieces such as In the Penal Colony, The Trial, and The Castle, whereas others point to anarchism as an inspiration for Kafka's anti-bureaucratic viewpoint. Still others have interpreted his works through the lens of Judaism (Borges made a few perceptive remarks in this regard), through Freudianism (because of his familial struggles), or as allegories of a metaphysical quest for God (Thomas Mann was a proponent of this theory).
Themes of alienation and persecution are repeatedly emphasized, and the emphasis on this quality, notably in the work of Marthe Robert, partly inspired the counter-criticism of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, who argued that there was much more to Kafka than the stereotype of a lonely figure writing out of anguish, and that his work was more deliberate, subversive, and more "joyful" than it appears to be.
Furthermore, an isolated reading of Kafka's work — focusing on the futility of his characters' struggling without the influence of any studies on Kafka's life — reveals the humor of Kafka. Kafka's work, in this sense, is not a written reflection of any of his own struggles, but a reflection of how people invent struggles.
Kafka in Infinite Jest
Near the end of Infinite Jest, Orin wakes up in a tumbler to a distinctly Kafkaesque scene, in which Orin's attempts to escape the horror of his situation are not only futile, but essentially "absurd" (972). Orin tries to "kick his way out" (972) of an "inverted glass... the size of a cage or small jail cell" (971), and ends up hurting his foot, the same foot he makes his living with; his situation is so incredibly futile because he cannot even do what he does best. There is also an element of metamorphosis at play in this scene, as Orin has now become trapped just like the insects he traps with tumblers in his shower. Orin is so horrified by "roach-innards" that "now he keeps big glass tumblers in the bathroom and when he turns on the light and sees a roach he puts a glass down over it, trapping it. After a couple days the glass is all steamed up and the roach has asphyxiated messlessly" (45). Similarly, in Orin's tumbler-trap, "no air was coming out. In. The air inside the huge glass was pretty clearly limited, as well, because there was already CO2 steam on the sides" (971), indicating possible asphyxiation for Orin himself. When Luria P----- sends sewer roaches into the glass, which Orin obviously fears tremendously, Orin is stripped of all power, especially his masculinity; whereas he used to refer to women as Subjects, he is now "the Subject," in a vulnerable position "splayed.. against the tumbler's glass and press[ing] its face so flat against the absurd glass's side that the face changed from green to stark white" (971). In this absurd situation, the phrase "its face," as opposed to "his face" indicates that Orin is being deprived of his masculinity and fundamental identity. This final image of Orin--trapped, dehumanized, and "splayed" in a position of futility and submission, literally depriving himself of his own breath--is nothing if not classic Kafka.