Framing an Accusation in Dialogue: Kafka’s Letter to His Father and Sarraute’s Childhood

Lorna Martens


Kafka in the Letter to His Father mimics a courtroom trial with pleadings and rejoinders; Sarraute in Childhood tells her story in the form of a dialogue between herself and an initially confrontational, later complicit interlocutor. Curiously, both autobiographical texts have accusatory agendas. Kafka levels an accusation against his father, Sarraute against her mother. Following Rousseau, autobiographies that accuse others and/or vindicate the self are not rare, but the art of accusation is delicate: in order to stick and not boomerang on the writer, the accusation must be persuasively delivered. This paper examines how Kafka and Sarraute, both lawyers by profession, balance the dialogue form and the accusation. It is argued that each writer uses his or her version of the dialogue tactically, to accuse the parent while camouflaging the accusatory agenda, but in the end to win the case.


This article was submitted on August 29th 2016, and published on November 28th, 2016.


Franz Kafka, Letter to His Father; Franz Kafka, Brief an den Vater; Nathalie Sarraute, Childhood; Nathalie Sarraute, Enfance; autobiography; dialogue

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Copyright (c) 2016 Lorna Martens

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European Journal of Life Writing - ISSN 1876-8156 - is an open access initiative supported by the VU University Library.