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How Does Kafka Use “The Great Wall” To Question The Purpose Of Christianity And Demonstrate Nihilism’s Role In Its Destruction.

1318 words - 5 pages

During Kafka’s writing career he was likely heavily influenced by the philosophies of his day. As the Great War raged in Western Europe, many lost their belief in Christianity and God. Nihilist belief in the purposelessness of life further eroded popular belief in Christianity. Nihilists saw religion as providing a false purpose in life and ideologically condemned religion, believing it should be destroyed (Pratt). In 1917, toward the War’s end, Kafka wrote “The Great Wall.” He uses the story to allegorically question the purpose of Christianity and demonstrates Nihilism’s role in its destruction.
Kafka uses the process of building the wall as a symbol for Christianity and enforces religion’s importance to society with the amount of celebration and praise for builders of the wall. According to the speaker’s narrative, for him and the people of China, the wall is the most important task. Like how religion was stressed to young Christians in Europe the speaker had the importance of the wall enforced throughout his childhood. As he recalls, “as small children [we were] ordered to build a sort of wall out of pebbles; and then the teacher… ran full tilt into the wall, of course knocking it down” (Kafka 236). This focus on the wall is felt as “significant of the spirit of the time” (Kafka 236) according to the speaker, something that many in Europe would have said about their faith. Most people identified with Christianity and society approved of religion. For European society, Christianity was a uniting part of their identity as people. Similarly the speaker sees the building of the wall as an action of unification for China. According to him it is a project to unify, “a ring of brothers, a current of blood no longer confined… but sweetly rolling and yet ever returning throughout the endless leagues of China” (Kafka 238). Kafka is echoing the Christian idea of many parts and one body in order to further compare the building of the wall to organized Christianity. For the speaker however, there are many weaknesses in the building of the wall that become apparent throughout the narration.
To highlight the problems he sees in Christianity, Kafka uses the unidentified speaker as his tool for raising questions. Though the speaker does not yet question the process of building the wall, he starts to see some of the issues associated with its construction. The speaker is symbolic of the common man just becoming aware of the problems with religion during the time period, including those leading the way for a budding Nihilist movement. People everywhere were turning their backs on the flaws they saw in Christianity and taking up the Nihilism as a guiding philosophy. The first problem the speaker notices is the disjointed construction of the wall. The speaker talks about how vulnerable the sections are to attack and how they do not serve as protection from the attacks from nomads. This may have been Kafka’s expression of the frustration...

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