Give up

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Gibs auf is a parable-like little prose text by Franz Kafka that was written at the end of 1922 and published in 1936 . The title comes from Max Brod . The headline in Kafka's manuscripts is “A Commentary” .

Original text

“It was very early in the morning, the streets clean and empty, I went to the train station. When I compared a tower clock with my clock, I saw that it was much later than I had thought, I had to hurry up, the horror of this discovery made me unsure of the way, I didn't know my way around this city very well Fortunately there was a policeman nearby, I ran to him and breathlessly asked him for directions. He smiled and said: 'You want to find out the way from me?' 'Yes' I said 'because I can't find it myself' 'Give up, give up' he said and turned away with a big swing, like people who want to be alone with their laughter. "

Content analysis

Starting with the reference to the clean streets in the morning, the text merges into the temporal and spatial uncertainty of the protagonist, whose gender remains open. When he asks the policeman for directions, a strange turn occurs. The policeman does not give the requested sober information, but replies smiling in personal form, but at the same time disparagingly with a "you".

His advice "give up" can be understood in two ways. It can be pointless for the questioner to expect help from the policeman. But it can also mean that the questioner's whole project is doomed to failure. At the end, the policeman, who appears to have been specially positioned for the traveler on the way, turns away with a grand gesture. If the traveler thinks of a hidden laugh, it speaks of his uncertainty. He feels it as a dismissive, sneering laugh, as if his question were that of a hopelessly incomprehensible child.

The policeman is a typical bizarre Kafka figure, actually able to help, but negating, comparable to the doorkeeper from Before the Law . This too is only posted for the country man in front of the law door. Even he does not help the man with his concern to get into the law, and he also announces his departure at the end. In both parables, the questioner's concern is not addressed, rather a hidden mockery is revealed. The questioner is thrown back on himself. He should help himself or give it up.


The parable-like story is one of the typical unadorned, but ambiguous texts of Kafka. The text design develops according to the content as follows: At the beginning, simple sentence structure according to everyday events; Irritation of the narrator, expressed by syntactically more complicated narration; headless, short of breath hectic rush through staccato-like sequences.

The policeman's reactions are the strong, evocative moments of the narrative. The smile represents a typical coincidence for Kafka of a pseudo-security before the final disillusionment. The double “give up” is an apodictic rejection. In the last sentence of the text, a gesture of grandeur is described for the first time in these otherwise sober and pale events. The policeman seems at home in completely different regions of the mind than the pathfinder and the reader.

Interpretative approaches

Biographical interpretation

In a diary entry on February 13, 1914, Kafka described a dream with similar, but much more optimistic elements. The setting is Berlin, probably in connection with a visit to Felice Bauer . In the parable of 1922, the demarcation from the fiancé at the time could be expressed by the intended departure by train. There is also a passage in the fragment Wedding Preparations in the Country , which points to the constellation of the present parable with a questioner about the time on the way to the train station and an answering person who laughs and strives away.

Gibs auf could also refer to a draft letter from December 1922 to Franz Werfel . In it Kafka expresses his total inability to say anything definite about Werfel's drama Schweiger .

During this time, up to the considerable deterioration in his health in 1923, Kafka dealt quite specifically with the idea of emigrating to Palestine . The appeal “give up” could also contain the premonition that this country is out of reach for him.

Heinz Politzer says of this type of parabola that they are Rorschach tests of literature and that their interpretation says more about the character of their interpreters than about the nature of their creator.

Existentialist interpretation

However, the text also allows an interpretation with existentialist approaches. When comparing their own clock with the tower clock, the person who later asked for advice becomes aware of the fact that a lot of time has already passed, that they are lagging behind the true, i.e. objective time (tower clock), and become increasingly aware that time and thus life and all the positives and negatives associated with it are transitory. Therefore, she loses orientation on the previously apparently clear and straight path (i.e. life) and seeks remedy from a security guard. It makes sense to identify this with various instances of meaning, such as religion, philosophy or esotericism. However, the person seeking advice is disappointed by the security guard. (“You want to find out the way from me?” - “Give up, give up”) The questioner hopes for groundbreaking answers from the security guard, a precise description of how his destination, the train station, is to be reached. However, he overlooks the fact that the security guard is trapped in the same system, the city, as he is himself and therefore cannot answer the question adequately. In order to be able to answer the questioner adequately, the security guard would have to know the city, or at least the way to the train station or be in possession of a city map. However, this is impossible with the proposed existential or life-philosophical interpretation, since the city has to be identified with life and the question of the way to the train station with quasi-metaphysical questions.


  • Schlingmann (p. 145): “A look from the open end of the parable back to the initial situation makes it clear that it too was already burdened with uncertainty ... Internal and external - personal and public - time are terrifyingly apart. Even if the traveler can still find the train station on his own, his train will have already left. He is only advised - to stay in the picture of the parable - to reconsider his travel plans. "
  • Sudau (p. 116): “The mysterious expression of the last narrative is based on the epiphany of a metaphysical in the triviality of everyday life. The reactions and, above all, the final shock and awe-inspiring gesture of the policeman transform him suddenly from a simple service provider into an over-real appearance. "
  • The sociologist Ulrich Bröckling contrasts the parable with the famous invocation parable (in ideology and ideological state apparatus ) by Louis Althusser . Where Althusser's individual has always been subjectified by social invocations, Kafka points to the ego's active search for an identity, which, however, is denied by a higher authority.


  • Franz Kafka: All the stories. Published by Paul Raabe , Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main and Hamburg 1970, ISBN 3-596-21078-X .
  • Franz Kafka: Legacy writings and fragments 2. Edited by Jost Schillemeit. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1992, p. 530, ISBN 3-10-038147-5 .

Secondary literature

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b Peter-André Alt: Franz Kafka: The Eternal Son. A biography . Verlag CH Beck, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-406-53441-4 . P. 638
  2. ^ Literature Knowledge Franz Kafka by Carsten Schlingmann Reclam p. 141
  3. a b Literary Knowledge Franz Kafka Carsten Schlingmann Reclam p. 144
  4. ^ Ralf Sudau Franz Kafka: Short prose / short stories 2007 Klett Verlag ISBN 978-3-12-922637-7 , p. 113
  5. ^ Literature Knowledge Franz Kafka Carsten Schlingmann Reclam p. 145
  6. ^ Ralf Sudau Franz Kafka: Short prose / stories 2007 Klett Verlag ISBN 978-3-12-922637-7 , p. 115ff.
  7. ^ Franz Kafka diary entry February 13, 1914
  8. a b Literary Knowledge Franz Kafka Carsten Schlingmann Reclam p. 143
  9. ^ Literature Knowledge Franz Kafka Carsten Schlingmann Reclam p. 142
  10. ^ Literature knowledge Franz Kafka. Carsten Schlingmann, Reclam p. 145, Heinz Politzer: Franz Kafka, the artist. P. 42
  11. ^ Ulrich Bröckling: The entrepreneurial self. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt a. M. 2007, p. 29ff.