Kafka’s Unhappiness is narrated from the first person. In class, we discussed the idea that the ghost child may actually be Kafka’s concept of happiness. By presenting his happiness as a ghost, however, Kafka suggests that his joy is long gone.
In Unhappiness, Kafka examines the global issue of identity through the treatment of the ghost child and the adults. More specifically, through dialogue, it can be seen that Kafka’s fascist upbringing has him question the identities of children and adults in contrast to the western identity of adults and children.
Firstly, let’s examine the persona’s character. The persona, like Kafka, seems to enjoy the comfort of being alone as he was “startled by the sight of the illuminated street” (4). This is in direct contrast to the ghost child’s reaction to being indoors, where he was “instantly blinded by the twilight in the room” (19). Similar to “Children on the Highway”, Kafka uses the physical state of being indoors and outdoors to show isolation from society. The persona’s fear of the outside, as well as his childlike imagination- which is demonstrated when he pictures his “room as if it were a racetrack” (3) – while waiting for the ghost child to come, shows the potential reversal of roles in society. Indeed, another interpretation that I considered is that the adult seemed to be waiting for something or someone to come- the ghost child, his happiness.
Next, looking at the ghost child’s character, it can be observed that he acts in a way that adults acts, which is also in direct contrast to the adult’s childlike nature. The child talks in a commanding yet composed manner, but the persona aggressively berates the child and calls him a “stranger” (99). By referring to the child as a “stranger”, and also Kafka’s depiction of him as a ghost, the child is transformed into an unknown entity. One interpretation could be how Kafka grew up in a society where there were, in fact, child workers, and adults were enjoying themselves, where the treatment of the ghost child, or the treatment of perhaps Kafka himself, was wrong. Kafka perhaps recognised that this was an issue in his time.
The treatment of the ghost child can further be explored by the conversation between the persona and another adult, where the adult tells the persona, “you sound dissatisfied as if you had found a hair in your soup” (130). By comparing children to hair, especially hair in the soup, the child is presented as an annoyance. Kafka does this, perhaps, due to his father’s treatment of him, which is reflected through the adult’s treatment of the ghost child.
Another interpretation could be how Kafka’s upbringing resulted in his loss of confidence and lack of desire to socialise with others. This is seen when the persona tells the other adult, “if you take my ghost up/ there, then I’ll never speak to you again” (163-164). The persona’s tone is that of a child- he wishes to be with the ghost, and he is practically begging the adult to not take it away from him. With reference to Kafka’s life, this could mean that Kafka, at some point, really desired to be happy, but perhaps was unable to do so due to Herman.
Lastly, Kafka’s introversion can be observed as he chooses to stop the small talk with the other adult and return to his room. The persona ” preferred going back up and getting to bed” (169) in his room, which is where the ghost child was. This suggests that Kafka prefers to be in the safety of his own room, disconnected from the rest of society, as that is where the ghost child is, and that is where he is truly happy.