The Great Wall of China
"The Great Wall of China" ("Beim Bau der Chinesischen Mauer") is a short story written by Franz Kafka in 1917. It was not published until 1931, seven years after his death. Max Brod selected stories and published them in the collection "Beim Bau der Chinesischen Mauer". Contained within the story is a parable that was separately published as "A Message from the Emperor" ("Eine kaiserliche Botschaft") in 1919 in the collection "Ein Landarzt" ("A Country Doctor"). Some sub-themes of the story include why the wall was built piecemeal (in small sections in many different places), the relationship of the Chinese with the past and the present and the emperor's imperceptible presence. The story is told in first person by an older man from a southern province. The first English translation by Willa and Edwin Muir was published by Martin Secker in London in 1933. It appeared in "The Great Wall of China. Stories and Reflections" (New York: Schocken Books, 1946). Franz Kafka (3 July 1883 - 3 June 1924) was a German-language writer of novels and short stories, regarded by critics as one of the most influential authors of the 20th century. Kafka strongly influenced genres such as existentialism. Most of his works, such as "Die Verwandlung" ("The Metamorphosis"), "Der Prozess" ("The Trial"), and "Das Schloss" ("The Castle"), are filled with the themes and archetypes of alienation, physical and psychological brutality, parent-child conflict, characters on a terrifying quest, labyrinths of bureaucracy, and mystical transformations. Kafka was born into a middle-class, German-speaking Jewish family in Prague, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In his lifetime, most of the population of Prague spoke Czech, and the division between Czech- and German-speaking people was a tangible reality, as both groups were strengthening their national identity. The Jewish community often found itself in between the two sentiments, naturally raising questions about a place to which one belongs. Kafka himself was fluent in both languages, considering German his mother tongue. Kafka trained as a lawyer and, after completing his legal education, obtained employment with an insurance company. He began to write short stories in his spare time. For the rest of his life, he complained about the little time he had to devote to what he came to regard as his calling. He regretted having to devote so much attention to his "Brotberuf" ("day job", literally "bread job"). Kafka preferred to communicate by letter; he wrote hundreds of letters to family and close female friends, including his father, his fiancée Felice Bauer, and his youngest sister Ottla. He had a complicated and troubled relationship with his father that had a major effect on his writing. He also suffered conflict over being Jewish, feeling that it had little to do with him, although critics argue that it influenced his writing.
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