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Written by Mason Tabor
In the morning and in the evening and at night in his dreams, this street was filled with constantly bustling traffic, which seen from above seemed like a continually self-replenshing mixture of distorted human figures and of the roofs of all sorts of vehicles, constantly scattered by new arrivals, out of which there arose a new, strong, wilder mixture of noise, dust, and smells, and, catching and penetrating it all, a powerful light that was continually dispersed, carried away, and avidly refracted by the mass of objects that made such a physical impression on one's dazzled eye that it seemed as if a glass pane, hanging over the street and converging everything, were being smashed again and again with the utmost force.
This quote juxtaposes the convergence of humans with the solitude of Brußmann, who although he is above the seen looking down, does not envy the participants, but instead understands them to be the victims of some brutal, shattering force. New York is not shown here to be a cultural melting pot, as it appears in other works from Kafka's era, but it is instead a fractured, splintered machine that is replenished as quickly as it destroys.
He looked sadly down at the street, as though it were his own bottomless sadness.
This is a poignant expression of the paradoxical loneliness that Brußmann endures. In a large city with a plethora of people, he feels isolated, foreign, absurd. Kafka's honesty on this point is important as well. By eshewing irony for this sad detail, Kafka connects the truth about Brußmann's sentiments with the whole of his readership, who despite not being foreign and alone often endure feelings of frustration and isolation.
Though the problem is internal, one cannot help but sense a subtle finger of blame pointed at some ghostly failure in American society which leads to this social disparity.
"So then you're free?"
"Yes, I'm free," said Karl, and nothing seemed more worthless than his freedom.
This ironic understanding of freedom might seem contrary to some, but it is representative of a powerful philosophy. Thinkers from Nietzsche to Sartre point to freedom in their work as a negative force. Duty infringes on freedom, but meaning comes from fulfilled obligations or meaningful deposits in culture. Thus, Brußmann feels bound and punished by his freedom. Throughout the narrative, he is portrayed as being a wanderer, aimless and unattached. But these things are exactly the forces that also make him feel lonely and purposeless. This is an essential component of Amerika. In the work, freedom is a frustrating and futile benefit.
Throughout the novel, this theme is explored further through Karl's consistent job failures. When one is fired from their job, the technical advantage is freedom. No longer does he have to stand in a lift and press buttons for rich people, for instance. But his time doesn't lead to creative breakthroughs until he binds himself to a theatre company, limiting his freedom, but increasing the value of his work.
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Amerika is the story of Karl Rossman who at 16, thoughtlessly indulges an embarrassing sexual misadventure with a servant girl. He is banished to America by his parents, and then expected to redeem himself in the magical land of opportunity....