Breakfast with Kafka
Breakfast with Kafka

by Judith Beerman O'Hanlon, Upper School English Teacher

Each year over the past thirty years, the parents, step-parents, or a significant person in the lives of my AP English students have come together with the students early in the morning for "Breakfast with Kafka." Everyone reads in advance the same short story, "The Judgment," written in one night in 1912, and we gather for a delicious potluck breakfast during which we discuss this thought-provoking and memorable tale of a tortured relationship between a father and son. We consider many elements, among them the connections between Franz Kafka's life and the story, the major symbols and themes, how Kafka's portrayal of the tenuous balance of power between the father and the son is often related to the presence of a female, and the dreamlike, nightmarish quality of the story Kafka called his favorite.

This year we had two events with a total of 76 participants. Afterwards, my students remarked how much they enjoyed seeing the parents engaged in dialogue and how articulate and insightful the parents were. A number of the parents commented on how much they wish they were back in an English class. Grandparent Judith Farber Weissman (Wyatt S.) wrote, "It was a stunning morning in so many ways—the students with parents, all seeming so comfortable with themselves and with you...I also liked the gentle reading of the story with thoughts, reactions, some questions. What a great conversation!" Parent of Sofia and Middle School psychologist and teacher Lee Herzog stated that he was "in awe of the growth of the minds of the students who spoke so eloquently about the material we were presented and discussed." In the end, I am certain everyone agreed, as Kafka himself put it, that "We ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn't shake us awake like a blow on the skull, why bother reading it in the first place?"


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