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Fiction: A Gift from the Heart6:00:00 AMCatherine Yanko
Even as a child, I have never been one to particularly enjoy fiction books (except for the Magic Tree House series of course). It was not until my senior year in high school that I rediscovered the invigorating nature of storytelling. In Franz Kafka’s classic The Metamorphosis he creates a character named Gregor Samsa, an ordinary boy who awakens to find himself transformed into a bug. At first his shocked family tries to accommodate his new state of being. But, after his father lashes out on Gregor by throwing apples at him and thus wounding him, the family rarely speaks of Gregor. They do their best to pretend he is invisible. In the end, Gregor ends up dying and the cleaning lady finds his corpse. While it may not be such a classic happy ending, it is very much classic Kafka.
After reading this novel, I became infatuated with Kafka’s style of writing. Not because it was dark but because it was real. The way he plunged into the affective sphere of his characters and showed development in this sphere called me onto explore my own affective sphere. He showed the great love Gregor had for his family but did not neglect to speak about the pain that was inflicted on him. Kafka showed a whole person.
So, a few months ago I was at a bookstore and stumbled upon Letters to my Father. This book is the letter Kafka wrote to his father explaining his resentfulness and anger towards his father. What was most striking to me in this letter was how Kafka explained to his father how some of the characters in his stories were based upon the actions of his father and the resulting pain. In The Metamorphosis one can see the un-repented anger of the father throwing the apples at Gregor is very analogous to how Franz Kafka viewed his father. Even in his other stories, the characters possess a dynamic affective sphere because Kafka modeled them after himself and his own experience. The reason Kafka’s stories had such a strong impact on me as a reader was because of that very fact: the characters were seen in light of their value as a person.
This is the power of fiction. It can open our minds to reach beyond what is immediate. It can show us characters who are formed by their past but are using the present to attain a certain future. It shows us persons who are adapting and growing in order to become their true and most fulfilled self. Fiction gives space for hope. The character can be known beyond its present sphere as the reader takes into account their past and looks forward to their unfolding. One hopes that Gregor will heal. One hopes that his father will begin to love him. The reader realizes the person is made for much more than its current mediocrity. In turn, the reader comes to realize their own correspondent hope.
One of the great things I learned while reading The Metamorphosis was how much our relations with others impacts our own self. Gregor was downtrodden by the ridicule of his family and disgust of his employer. This is an insight that would be much less impactful without this story. Only in a situation when the person is so outside of the situation that they can view its entirety can it make this strong impact on the reader of knowing the character in its entirety. Fiction allows for this unique perspective which otherwise belongs to God alone. In this realization, I continually find myself coming to a greater self-realization of the value of my environment and my relationships.
Fiction can reach into the hearts. Certainly, the reader who allows their self to be moved by the experience of the characters is affected. But even more so, it is the author who reaches into their own heart to create characters. It is in this creative act that the author can show their person as well. The author, from their own being, pours out their very person to create these stories. By doing so, the author displays their heart in an entirely vulnerable way. This is exactly what Franz Kafka illustrated. This is what makes his stories a gift.
What makes Kafka’s stories a gift is how they arise from his outpouring of self. In reading Letter to My Father, the idea of fiction as gift becomes even clearer to me. His very person was translated into his stories through the development of his characters that showed his own affective sphere. In The Privilege of Being Woman, Alice von Hildebrand says, “The heart (the tabernacle of affectivity) symbolizes the person” (73). In reading Kafka and authors like him, I cannot but help to be astonished by the gift of self their art calls for. For, it is in writing fiction that they can give of their affective sphere in a way that otherwise is very limited. Fiction gives persons the chance to be seen as they are: beings with inestimable value who deserve to be loved and to give of their self in love.