The Trialby Franz Kafka
Published on April 9, 2001 by Vintage Classics
Genres: Adult, Classic, Fiction
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Written in 1914 but not published until 1925, a year after Kafka’s death, The Trial is the terrifying tale of Josef K., a respectable bank officer who is suddenly and inexplicably arrested and must defend himself against a charge about which he can get no information. Whether read as an existential tale, a parable, or a prophecy of the excesses of modern bureaucracy wedded to the madness of totalitarianism, The Trial has resonated with chilling truth for generations of readers.
**This is the review I wrote for my English project**
The Trial by Franz Kafka is a novel unlike any other. He leaves both the main character and the reader scrambling to figure out what is going on. It takes place in an unidentified, modern city and follows banker and main character, Josef K., through an unsettling and unexpected trial. The details of the trial are hidden from everyone up to the very end, and even then, the reason K. was put on trial remains unclear.
In the beginning, K. did not pay attention to the proceedings and showed a complete disregard for his situation. During many occasions K. has shown that he is very temperamental and overreacts when no one has given him reason to. K. is not a character that is easy to be sympathetic to. He is rude to many of the individuals he interacts with; for example his landlady Mrs. Grubach, who makes him breakfast and does many things for him, is treated with very little respect. He also tries to take advantage of many of the women he interacts with. These traits, however horrible they may be, do not point to the reason he is being tried though. Kafka gives no indication of the reasoning behind the courts decisions.
Society and play a big part in the execution of this novel. Every influential person K. talks to – the lawyer, the businessman, the painter, etc – all tell him the same thing, if you make friends with those who are high up in the court, you have a better chance of winning your case. This creates a wide gap between the court officials and the accused. Isolation is also a very evident theme. When K. speaks with the painter, who works for the court officials and judges, the painter tells him that he is better off working on his case alone, which is originally how K. handled it. The painter tells K. that in order to get absolute acquittal, which later becomes and impossible dream, K. must work towards it on his own and that there would be nothing anyone could say to the judges. This would force K. to be completely isolated from everyone during the entire trial, and he would have to focus solely on getting himself acquitted. The two themes, society and class and isolation, tend to contradict each other. It is expected of K. to become friends with the higher officials and to make them like him, but he is also told that influencing the judges won’t really help him in the end. Kafka seems to be creating this contradiction on purpose in order to cause both K. and the reader to be confused about what measures should be taken in order to save K.
Sex and power come into play a lot in this novel. Each time K. comes across a new woman, he plots to use sex to get them to do his bidding. At one point he thinks that, in order to get close to the high officials, he should seduce the court ushers wife for information. When she seems willing he changes his mind, coming to the conclusion that she is not important enough to help. Then later, he sets his sights on Leni, his lawyer’s maid. Kafka makes it seem like K. is the one who has all the power in the situation, but Leni is later revealed to be the one manipulating him. In many situations, K. is led to believe that he is the powerful one, that he alone has the power to change the results of his conviction. First, K. believes that the power of his words will change the mind of the court officials. However, once he enlists the help of his lawyer, K. hands the power over to him. This causes K. to nearly forget about the proceedings until he is forced to write up documents. This process causes him to seize back what little control he can.
In reality, as we see in the ending of the novel, K. had no power at all. He was at the mercy of the court. The reason behind why K. was convicted of a crime is still not clear, but we see that, once it is realised that there is nothing anyone can do to save him, K. practically hands himself over to the men who come for him. It is not clear, however, if the two men are actually members of the court. The reader assumes they are, but it is never actually stated. Ultimately, all of K.’s efforts to save himself were all in vain, and in the end were the main things that sealed his fate.
“Everything belongs to the court.” This mentality is held throughout the entire novel, even if it is not clear in the very beginning. Kafka creates a world that is unjust, one that only those in the highest classes can survive in.