The Trial Analysis: The political, juridical and philosophical interpretations.
The Trial is the most well-known novel of Franz Kafka, published in Berlin in 1926. The original manuscripts were collected and prepared fo publishing by Max Brod, Kafka’s closest friend, two years after the author’s death. Brod says that the manuscript didn’t have a title, but Kafka always referred it as ‘The Trial’. Kafka considered this book unfinished, even though the last chapter was already written. Kafka thought that he needed to add some more facets to the mysterious trial, however Brod says that if he didn’t know that Kafka wanted to continue this work, he wouldn’t be able to realise the book was not finished.
The novel tells the story of a banker, who one days gets arrested by two police for a crime that isn’t told to him or to the reader. The unusual arrest for unnamed charges leaves the ill-fortuned Joseph K confused and lost in the labyrinths of the juridical system. Desperate and overwhelmed, he imagines scenarios and tricks that eventually lead him to live the legal nightmare and the absurdity of life. Not knowing anymore whom to trust, he compiles his own ‘defense’ and in which he accepts the crime and begs for forgiveness, signing so his punishment and eventually his execution. In the last chapter, Joseph K is killed ‘like a dog’, stabbed by the two guards who first arrested him.
In the political aspect, the citizen is charged for something that he never did. In the end he is not charged according to the rules, but he only needs to present himself in the court room and ends killed ‘like a dog’ not even knowing his charge, never having seen the judge. This is a citizen of any unquestionably authoritarian country. In the context of the Habsburg Monarchy, where Kafka’s novels often take place, maybe every citizen feels guilty in front of the law, guilty for something that no one could tell. In this case, The Trial can be argued as a critique of the bureaucracy and the overall political and social situation in the Monarchy. According to this political interpretation, the Trial is a prophetic roman, that came into life with the horrors of the Second World War. Millions of people were killed tragically like Joseph K, and Joseph K is an early genius representative of that time, when the human rights were formally written, but never executed.
Kafka has always been fascinated by the complexity and paradoxes of law. In the juridical aspect, law is created for the common good of the society, and therefore it must be respected, regardless of its understanding or knowledge of it. This theory is shown in Kafka’s parable ‘Before the Law’. Before the Law tells the story of a man who wants to understand and have access to the law, but he was given a challenge by the gatekeeper to access the law. The man eventually gets old trying to access the law, and before he dies he asks the gatekeeper one more time if he can enter the door. The gatekeeper answers that that door was just made for the man and since the man is now dying, the door (and entrance to the law) would be now closed. In other words, this can be called ‘the death gate’; which is a paradox why would the door to the court be the death gate? It is the law that brings the man there and again the law that doesn’t allow him to approach it. Joseph K’s last thoughts before death are: ‘Where was the judge he’d never seen? Where was the high court he had never reached?’ Kafka suggests that the law is abstract and being inaccessible, people who are subject to it do not even know its fundamentals, therefore people are obeyed to something they don’t understand, just like Joseph K in the Trial. As a critique to the juridical system, Kafka suggests that the system does not function according to the human logic; instead the system is controlled by the strongest. Kafka clearly states: ‘The logic cannot be refuted, but someone who wants to live will not resist it.’ The system is therefore such that one is condemned to be guilty.
In the philosophical level, Kafka also presents the story of every man as an heir of the original sin. The man was cast out of paradise and accused of having sinned against the original law, the first law. In this world, man is suffering the consequences of the original sin. Joseph K does not accept this, he tried to defend himself that he is not a believer, or has forgotten the essence. At this point, Josef K. loses sense of reality; he doesn’t even know any longer if he is in prison or free. What started as a drama of suspicion, ended as a drama of human destiny. At the end of the novel, everything ends like it never happened before. The absurdity in the human life continues to exist. Everything happens in a city where the idea of innocence is murdered; ‘He must have done something; therefore, he is being arrested’. The Trial develops a range of existentialist themes, especially guilt. The main existentialist concept is that everyone’s is responsible for their own choices and honest choices are not always the best choices. It is therefore impossible for Joseph K not to feel guilty for his end, because maybe he didn’t make the right decisions and did not fulfil his life’s potentials. In this point of view, K. can be seen an anti-hero who makes ‘bad choices’; ceases to defend himself, surrenders and accepts his ill-fate. The actions of Joseph K are absurd and in the last chapter paradoxes and the absurd take over. He knows that he is going towards execution, but he doesn’t not try to save himself, and he ceases to say he is innocent. Absurdism, much adhered by existentialist, suggests that the reason for human life has no real meaning. Joseph K just accepts his fate passively, he has lost his faith and the meaning of life, and he has become as one with his captors, as they symbolically walk together as one towards the place of execution. The absurd death penalty is associated with an even more tragic death. Joseph K constantly looks out of the windows; most of them are closed in this tragic moment. Only one window is open, and a weak man can be seen; ‘Who was that? A friend? A good person? Somebody who wanted to help?’. These last thoughts show the loneliness before death, and finally the tragedy culminates as Joseph K feels that his body would survive, instead of his spirit. Symbolically, the society survives as a body without a soul.
The tragic fate of Joseph K is not only fantasy; everyday people are wrongfully convinced, and throughout all the history innocent lives are taken without any reason. The Trial is a masterpiece because it makes the readers reflect about our destiny, meaning of life, the way we live, justice and liberty. Kafka has masterfully combined these themes in a powerful story of a normal citizen like any of us living in ‘a normal state where the rule of law is strong’.
The Trial’s Account of Inevitable Failure and Death
In The Trial, Franz Kafka tells the story of Joseph K., a man under persecution of the law. The novel begins with the arrest of K., which inducts him into a seemingly bizarre legal system. The arrest proves peculiar, as K. is never told what he is accused of and is not detained to a jail. In the following months, the case continues to reveal strange aspects of the bureaucracy that controls K.’s trial. For an entire year, K. is consumed by the trial and makes efforts to fight his case and obtain information about the legal system. Ultimately, the fight is ended through his execution with most questions left unanswered. This leaves one to wonder what Kafka intended The Trial to mean in a larger sense. One interpretation may suggest that Kafka conveys a message of the meaning of life, in that one does not exist. K.’s actions and experiences during the trial illustrate that life is meaningless and to continuously fight this idea and search for a substantial purpose is futile. Despite efforts to fight this conclusion, humans are all inevitably destined to failure. Accordingly, Kafka uses K.’s character to illustrate how one should not live, given this view. A central aspect of The Trial is K.’s persistence and obsession regarding the case. From the start, K. goes through the trial with a combative attitude, as he tries to fight against the Law and obtain information. Beginning with the arrest, K. assertively questions officials about his charges, and continues to search for answers as the case progresses. By the time the first interrogation is scheduled, K. seems prepared for battle. Prior to this event K. decides that, “The case was getting under way and he must fight it” (32). Upon arrival at the interrogation, K. takes the liberty to bestow a long speech that essentially criticizes the legal system by referring to his experience as “representative of a misguided policy which is being directed against many other people” (42). Before leaving the court however, the examining magistrate in charge of the meetings tells K. he has eliminated the normal advantages that a defendant would be allowed. In this instance, K.’s efforts to fight against the system prove useless. Following the interrogation K. grows increasingly paranoid. Although he is not detained or required to attend regular hearings, K. seems obsessed with fighting the law. Even during work at the Bank, K. is distracted as “the thought of the case never [leaves] him now” (113). Evidence of his paranoia, he goes so far as to plan a statement that would account for his entire life and serve in his defense. K. suggests feeling as though his whole life is on trial, although he has received no evidence to support such an idea. It becomes apparent he feels consumed by the case and trapped within the legal system. At one point, K. describes his recent pattern of spending time by the window, looking outside. While seemingly insignificant, it may be symbolic of K.’s choice to remain on the “inside” of the system feeling oppressed, while he still has the ability to remain freely on the “outside”. Although K. obsesses over the case, there is no law in place that prevents his freedom to continue with his daily business outside the imaginary confines of the trial. However, K spends time attempting to defend himself, and despite this fixation, makes no progress. Perhaps Kafka means to convey the idea that it is pointless to continuously evaluate and revaluate troublesome aspects of life, as this is a waste of time. K. may serve as an example of how not to live in that his paranoia only led to feelings of entrapment, but ultimately no progress. In the meantime he misses out on life outside of his case. Another main aspect of The Trial is the peculiar bureaucracy with which K. interacts. For the most part, the legal forces that have power remain inaccessible. The officials, such as the warden in K.’s arrest, talk of their superiors, but whom these people are is never revealed. This faceless system makes it difficult for K. to obtain information that could be helpful. In addition, there are aspects to the legal system that make advancement seem impossible. A fellow defendant, Block, tells K. that it is difficult to see the progress of an ongoing case. In fact, the legal system is revealed to show that defendants have very little control in the outcome of their trials. Although not yet resigned to this conclusion, K. at one point entertains, “only cases predestined from the start to succeed came to a good end, which they would have reached in any event without your help, while every other one of the others was doomed to fail in spite of all your maneuvers” (122). Therefore, despite all efforts, the fate of the trial is out of his hands. Logically, if it is impossible to control the case among an unreachable bureaucracy, all efforts to do so are useless, and time could be better spent. Ultimately, Kafka develops a legal structure that renders K and other defendants powerless. This system may serve to parallel the human inability to control many aspects of life, particularly the ultimate outcome. In addition to the inaccessible bureaucracy, K.’s interaction with the priest provides further insight into The Trial’s meaning. The priest, who serves the Court as a prison chaplain, tells K. the story of a man who spends his life waiting to gain “admittance to the Law” (213). A doorkeeper stands by, but does not allow the man to enter. The man waits at the door for the rest of his life, but is ultimately never admitted. Although never allowed admittance, the man is told that, “the door was intended for you” (215). Thus, there is no reason for him to be denied entrance, which further emphasizes his lack of control in the situation. As the priest explains, it is important to understand the man is not forced to wait there at any point. The man could simply leave to live the remainder of his life in the country, as he has no control over his inevitable failure, and in turn wastes valuable time. Similarly, K. voluntarily spends his life focused on the law, but regardless his efforts have no effect on the ultimate outcome. Before leaving the cathedral, K. is confused as to why the priest seems indifferent towards his actions. The priest then explains that he too is part of the court, and the court does not want anything from him. Referring to the court, he tells K. that it “receives you when you come and it dismisses you when you go” (222). The legal system is not formed to require his efforts, and on the whole his actions are inconsequential. A possible message conveys that it does not matter what one does in an attempt to change the outcome of life. Just as the court is not built to allow for human interference, all life ends the same regardless, and there is no need to “interfere” in an attempt to change this. Suppose Kafka believes there is no meaning to life. Thus, life is not built to allow for a search to find one. There is no need to spend abundant time, as the efforts will always end in failure, since no purpose exists.For the year after his arrest, K. continues to fight and contemplate his case. Then, on the night before his birthday, he is killed. Two men enter his room and take him to a quarry where one of them stabs him in the heart, a seemingly painful death. While walking outside, K. does not fight to get away after he realizes, “[the] futilities of resistance” (225). Thus, it is not until this point, after an entire year, that K. finally relinquishes efforts to fight back. Prior to the stabbing, K. sees the figure of a person in the distance. This prompts many questions about who the figure is, if they are to help him, and where the judge has been. K. never finds the answers to any of his questions, nor does he discover what crime he is accused of. The death is significant in that it shows K. is doomed to be killed right from the start. As previously argued, his efforts in the case were ineffective, so there was no way to control the final outcome. The final execution is perhaps most essential to Kafka’s message in that it may highlight how, after a meaningless life, everyone is destined to death. K. never understands the meaning of his trial and even if he had, death was inevitable. Perhaps life has no meaning, and to spend countless hours pondering this topic is a waste of time. Exemplifying resistance in life is also useless as failure is inevitable since everyone is destined to die regardless. Overall, it is possible to view The Trial as a message to reveal the meaning of life. One may argue Kafka decides there is no meaning, and everyone is destined to failure from the start, as a greater purpose cannot be found. Although K. works on his case to the point of obsession, no progress is made. Upon his death, he has not found answers to any questions regarding the case and was unable to prove his innocence. Kafka may express the idea that failure is inevitable despite efforts of resistance. One cannot fight against the ultimate outcome to life as everyone eventually dies. While Kafka’s personal experiences may have led him to this rather depressing conclusion about life, K. perhaps serves as an example of how a person should not live, given this deduction. Never imprisoned, K. feels compelled to obsess over the case and fight back with every effort possible. It is not until right before his death he realizes the struggle is useless. While it is impossible to control ultimate doom, one may recognize it is important to choose to go about life, without being consumed by an inability to find meaning. Perhaps in The Trial, Kafka communicates his belief that life is empty of meaning, always to end in death and failure to discover a greater purpose. Therefore it is important to do something with life while that is still possible – to spend days actually living is a much better use of time then to feel trapped in the constant burden of the inevitable.
The Trial on Trial
Since its original date of publication in 1925, Franz Kafka’s The Trial has resisted interpretation. At first glance, the novel’s seemingly simple and serial sequence of events poses no problem for the reader. Though the incidents that involve Joseph K. are themselves particularly odd and almost fantastic, the reader is able to follow. However, in the second to last chapter of the novel, the reader encounters an utterly confounding story about one man’s entrance to “the Law.” The chapter, and the story contained therein, poses a problem for one who wishes to ask ‘what is The Trial about?’ Though it seems reasonable to be able to extrapolate the “bigger meaning” of the novel itself from a story contained within, both portions of the novel resist an analysis that results in a clear-cut conclusion. The story “Before the Law,” the text for the discussion between the priest and K. in the chapter “In the Cathedral,” is open to a wide-range of interpretations and when confronted with this tale, the reader and K. become frustrated at the lack of a solid, logical end. This experience, however, is not at all isolated to this particular chapter; within The Trial, there is a systematic denial of definite, unambiguous conclusions. Throughout the novel, the reader actively tries to come to a variety of conclusions concerning the “meaning” of “Before the Law” and K.’s trial while seeking an illuminating connection between the two. Ultimately, however, Kafka’s tale leaves him without anything concrete and, as a result, without a solid interpretation. “Before the Law” frustrates the reader not because it is particularly complicated, but because it seems at once to be full of contradiction and paradox but, after some examination, there seem to be no inconsistencies present. Though it comes as a rather unsatisfying conclusion, “Before the Law’ serves very well to sum up the problems readers associate with The Trial; there is no rhyme, reason, or calculable projection of the end to K.’s judicial procedures, and, in the end, the importance of his innocence or guilt is completely suspended. Many of the problems associated with interpretations of The Trial stem from the translation of the title of the work itself. The German title is Der Prozess, for the intuitive English reader, “the process.” The differentiation between the two terms “trial” and “process” speaks directly to the difficulty of understanding inherent in the novel. The trial, according to the nuanced English word, indicates both a judicial process, that is, evidence discovery, statements by parties, and moderation by a judge, and finally an absolute judgment at the end of such a process. As one can see, there appears a stark contrast between the process itself and that which one expects to come at the end of it, a judgment. It is this very disconnect between what is provided to the reader and what the reader intuitively expects that exacerbates the problems of The Trial. Though it is (to say the least) odd to find courtrooms and stages within apartment complexes and nymphomaniac women hounding defendants, the reader can handle it, and though these events are very strange, they are not deal breakers. What really bothers the reader is the lack of a decision, the conspicuous absence of any “definites” that point to K.’s acquittal (or even his innocence or guilt). K.’s acquittal seems, after speaking to Titorelli, to be nearly impossible to achieve. According to the painter, there are three ways in which one may progress through the court system; acquittal, though the most desired outcome, is a historic anomaly. The painter says that K.’s innocence, however, should ensure his acquittal and that the judges need to see nothing more than evidence thereof. K., however, says that this is a contradiction; K.’s innocence seems (at least to him) to be entirely evident and he has yet to be acquitted. Furthermore, prior to the discussion of the acquittal, the painter spoke at length as to how one may influence judges in order to achieve a favorable verdict. “These contradictions can be easily explained,” the painter replies. “We’re talking about two different things here, what the Law says, and what I’ve experienced personally; you mustn’t confuse the two.” (153) Though it seems true that there isn’t a contradiction present here per se, the reader does detect something a little unsettling; the Law, apparently, is not always followed – but who is the Law? Is it just those gigantic, lengthy, complicated tomes that contain all the court precedents of the past hundred years, or is the Law the people who effect rulings and hold court? In much the same way as K. cannot solidly grasp the ethereal nature of the court system, the reader cannot fully conclude who, or what, it is that strictly composes the Law. This lack of a resolution causes the shock associated with K.’s execution at the end of the novel, and though it is a type of “final judgment,” it does not follow from any easily discernable methods of justice. For, in The Trial, there truly is no such thing as justice; the reader does not encounter notions of traditional, or at least rational, legal justification anywhere within the text. The reader’s frustration inevitably comes to a head in the second to last chapter, “In the Cathedral.” At the point just before the introduction of the story “Before the Law,” the reader is aware that the novel is near its end. Up until this point, the reader has not been presented with anything remotely resembling a definite decision about K. and his status qua defendant; surely, the reader assures himself, there must come some sort of denouement that will make clear exactly what is occurring in this book. Unfortunately, the story that seems at once to explain the contents of The Trial serves only to perpetuate the ambiguous qualities of the novel itself. The story “Before the Law” concerns a man’s attempt at entry into “the law.” The story, however, never commits itself to any particulars concerning who is to blame for the man’s inability to enter, and furthermore, the reader is never told what “the law” is. It seems that the identity of “the law” is perfectly obvious, but keeping in line with the differing translations of “der prozess,” “the law” does not necessarily imply justice and definite decision. “The law,” then, is perhaps just a process that has no ultimate (party beneficial or otherwise) conclusion, much like the man’s experience in his attempts to gain entrance. As the discussion between the priest and K. shows, there are many ways to interpret the story. At first, K. is convinced that the man was deceived – “the doorkeeper conveyed the crucial information only when it could no longer be of use to the man.” (217) The priest, however, shows that the doorkeeper in fact did not deceive, but only served his duty by answering the questions that he could. In order for the doorkeeper to have deceived the man, the priest says, a contradiction must arise from “the two important statements” given by the doorkeeper; “’that he can’t grant him admittance now’; and the other: ‘this entrance was meant solely for you.’” (217). To the reader (and to K.), however, this does not seem satisfactory – both parties still think that the doorkeeper withheld important information which could have at once possibly provided the man with entrance into the law, or dissuaded him from wasting his life waiting for the opportunity to enter. The priest goes on to discuss other opinions of the story; that the doorkeeper is actually the one deceived and that he is subordinate to the man, or that both are in fact deceived. The priest, however, does not ever commit to one interpretation of the story; he is merely “pointing out the various opinions that exist on the matter.” (218). He is quick to warn K. however, that he “mustn’t pay too much attention to opinions,” which, as the reader must surely feel, is a particularly out of place warning. Why discuss the opinions at all if K. should not pay attention to them? Throughout the discussion, however, the priest does provide two statements which are free of bias, that is, they do not tend to support any distinct interpretation of the text as to whether it was the doorkeeper or the man who was the one deceived. First, the priest states that “the commentators tell us: the correct understanding of a matter and misunderstanding the matter are not mutually exclusive.” (219) This statement goes, unfortunately, untouched by K. throughout the rest of the conversation, and though at first glance it seems to propose a contradiction, or at least a paradox, it is actually quite helpful in unpacking the story and The Trial as a whole. The discussion between the priest and K. that follows the story is based off of the assumption that one person (most likely the man, potentially the doorkeeper) is being deceived. Though perhaps adequately explained away by the priest after K.’s initial reaction to the story, the idea of deception generates the ensuing conversation. The notion of deception implies a deceiver and one who is deceived; K. thinks it is the man who is deceived by the doorkeeper, while the priest proposes arguments in favor of the opposite. Both interpretations seem viable, but the real question is not who is deceived, but if there is at all any deception present in the story. What at first seem to be contradictions to the reader and K., such as “correct understanding and misunderstanding not being mutually exclusive,” are, in fact, not contradictions at all. Instead of the man or the doorkeeper, it is the reader who is being deceived by the proposition of statements that initially seem to be negations. At first, a contradiction is welcoming, for it brings with it a definite “one or the other” quality. Kafka, however, keeping in line with the perplexing nature of the court system that pervades the rest of the novel, systematically unveils the ambiguous nature of the ensuing discussion and the story itself. To begin discussing the first of the “contradictions,” it is best to define the words that carry the most significance, which in this case are “correct” and “misunderstanding.” “Correct” implies an objective standard in which there is some matter X, and there is a way to understand it Y that everyone (either by consensus or by mandate from, say a judicial proceeding?) treats as absolutely unalterably right. “Misunderstanding,” however, is subjective – one can misunderstand matter X in a variety of ways. Misunderstanding, however, does not directly imply incorrectness; it just means that one did not understand matter X in the usual way. Perhaps even further, one can perceive matter X completely backwards and find himself in a paradox, but this does not absolutely rule out that understanding matter X backwards or differently than the norm means one’s understanding is incorrect (re. the opposite of correct and thusly mutually exclusive). In addition there seems to be a difference between the parts of speech of “the correct understanding” and “misunderstanding;” though the first appears to be a noun (because of the word ‘the’), the second phrase could be either a noun or a verb, that is, the process of misunderstanding. K., in his discussion with the priest, is engaged in a process of understanding (or, misunderstanding) the story – however, due to the sheer number of viable interpretations available it seems as if there is no such thing as “the correct understanding.” Or perhaps, even further than that, all interpretations of the story are “the correct understanding” even if they flow from an obfuscation of the facts of the story. In this way it seems that “Before the Law” does not resist interpretation whatsoever, for it provides fertile ground for a myriad of analyses! The effect, however, is a reflection of the problem persistent throughout the rest of the novel. If every understanding is viable, then there is no ‘this is wrong, and this is right,’ and so, the “correct” understanding can result from an utter misunderstanding of the text. The second statement made by the priest is one that concerns truth and necessity. After discussing the final interpretation of the story, that it is impossible to pass judgment of any kind on the actions of the doorkeeper in his capacity as servant of “the law,” K. declares that in order to accept that particular opinion, one must consider everything that the doorkeeper said was in fact true. The priest responds “No…you don’t have to consider everything true, you just have to consider it necessary.” (223). K., clearly despondent, replies that it is “a depressing opinion… Lies are made into a universal system.” (223) The distinction made between “truth” and “necessity” is unpleasant as it leaves the reader with a third option that invades the generally accepted true/false dichotomy: not false. In the “Before the Law” story, the doorkeeper does not provide the man with all information relevant to the events that are currently taking place or could take place in the story. In fact, he seems to give only half of what would be pertinent to the man; that “you cannot enter now” could be followed up with either “but you can in five minutes or time X” or, even worse, “and you cannot enter ever in the future.” These are possible additions to the initial statement, and they could be useful to the man – but the doorkeeper does not utter them. Does that make him a liar, that is, a disseminator of falsities? Or is he telling the truth, but leaving something out – and in neglecting to say something, is that lying? Unfortunately, there is no way to arrive at either extreme of truth, and therefore, the initial doorkeeper statement must be this third thing – not false. Once again, there is no definite answer that one can construct with regards to the doorkeeper’s statements to the man waiting to enter the law – K., and the priest, cannot even agree on what should seem to be an easy question; whether or not the doorkeeper is lying. There are no concrete conclusions because, as K. says, “lies are made into a universal system;” there is no way to detect that which is definitely true or false using evidentiary support because every facet of the story generates multiple viable interpretations. The doorkeeper, as the priest explains to K., must have contradicted himself in his two important statements in order for him to have made, oddly enough, a contradiction and, therefore, deceived the man. The two statements given by the doorkeeper, “that he can’t grant him admittance now,” and “this entrance was meant solely for you [the man],” at first seem incongruous for it doesn’t seem to make sense that an entrance made for just one person would also be eternally closed to him. If in fact a contradiction did arise from these statements then it would be clear that the doorkeeper, whether intentionally or not, deceived the man. It is, however, not that clear, for the doorkeeper says that he cannot grant admittance to the man “now.” The implication that arises from this statement is that the man, though denied admittance at that time, will, at a later date, be granted admittance. The fact that he is not eventually granted admittance is troubling and seems to, once again, speak to the indefinite nature of what the doorkeeper says. The second statement uttered by the doorkeeper concerns those properties that are attributed to the entrance. The doorkeeper states at the end of the story that ‘the entrance was meant solely for [the man].’ When the reader is initially met with this declaration, he feels slight anger at the fact that this information has been withheld from the man. Even worse, the reader cannot understand why, when the entrance was meant for the man, that he was never admitted; it seems it is impossible to decipher the reasons (if there are any?) as to why the man was never granted admission. There is, however, something very clear about the conversation that takes place between the doorkeeper and the man; when the man asks the doorkeeper why no one else has ever requested admittance to “the law,” the doorkeeper does not actually answer his question. Because of his answer, we assume that the man was asking about this entrance and why no one else ever came by to ask to be let in, and the reader is met with a potentially sufficient answer in that this particular entrance was meant only for this particular man. Here, yet again, the reader is provided with a “non-false;” it is not false that the entrance was solely for the man because the readers of the novel have no evidence to the contrary, but it does not necessarily seem true either, for the man was never admitted. Perhaps the doorkeeper, in keeping in line with leaving out the potential last half of his previous sentence, forgot to finish this last statement – that, perhaps, the entrance was meant only to test the man, or that this entrance was meant solely for the man to wait by for an eternity. These possibilities are extrapolations and not supported individually by the text of the story, but their potential applicability serves only to show that “Before the Law” is a microcosm of the systematic lack of definites that pervades the rest of the novel. Even further, it is possible that the second important piece of information that the doorkeeper bestows upon the man comes only as a result of the man’s attendance to the law for so many years. It is feasible to imagine that, at the beginning of the events within the tale, the man was in fact given all the information that the doorkeeper could have told him. From there, it took the apparent commitment of the man to sit and stay by the entrance to show that he was ready to enter “the law,” and perhaps he even did. In keeping with the erratic, unreasonable themes of the rest of The Trial, in which the courts seem to be a corrupt, illogical sort of system, “the law” in the story could be simply the mirror of the frustrating process in which K. finds himself throughout the novel. The man was put on a sort of trial without him even being aware of such, and after showing that he was committed to the law, he was finally disallowed access; a very unexpected result, but once again, a result in line with the unpredictable and surprising nature of “the law,” the doorkeeper, and the court system of the novel. Another question worth asking is what would have happened if the man had simply ignored the doorkeeper and entered through his own volition. The doorkeeper gives the very last words of the story and, after he says that the entrance was meant solely for the man, he declares “I’m going to go and shut it now.” (217) Now, it seems, that the entrance was always open but the man was intimidated by the doorkeeper; perhaps this was the “trial” by which the man was to be judged worthy to achieve “the law.” Since the story ends without the man replying to the doorkeeper’s statement, the reader must assume that the man, ultimately, does not achieve his goal. The differentiation between the doorkeeper’s presence at the gate and the (apparently) physically open entrance begs more questions as to whether or not the doorkeeper was lying to the man in telling him that he could not enter. Nothing about the physicality of the opening to “the law” has seemed to have changed throughout the story and therefore, since the man seemingly could have entered at any time he wished, whatever the doorkeeper had said is utterly irrelevant. But once again, though the presence of the doorkeeper and the physical opening of the gate are not contradictions or mutually exclusive, there is nothing definite about the situation that would allow K. or the reader to arrive at a specific conclusion. Though each facet of the novel seems to resist a thorough and reasonable understanding, reading The Trial in light of the story “Before the Law” helps to unpack some of the themes present within the larger text. K.’s interaction with the court system is so confusing and exasperating because nowhere is there an iota of logic – there quite simply doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason why K. is on trial and how he may prove his innocence through the process. “Before the Law” sparks so many interpretations that it seems any understanding (even an arguable misunderstanding, as in the case of K.’s initial analysis) is feasible and as a result, there is no notion of an objective correct or incorrect way to resolve the problem. Kafka systematically plants passages within the text that at first seem to propose contradictions but, after examination, the reader discovers that there is no inconsistency; there is only myriad interpretation. There are no definites discernable within “Before the Law” and The Trial in general; no definitely wrong or correct interpretations and, as a result, no definite conclusions about K.’s innocence, the man’s entry into “the law,” and the doorkeeper’s deception. ReferencesKafka, Franz. The Trial. Schocken Books: New York, 1998.
Franz Kafka’s Influences When Writing The Trial
Nihilism is “the destruction of everything without pity” (Palmieri, 3). A completely different movement that is sometimes lumped together with Nihilism is Existentialism, which is a belief that “the world is without meaning or purpose.” It also states “existence itself – all action, suffering, and feeling – is ultimately senseless and empty” (Pratt, 11). Franz Kafka (1883 – 1924) was an Existentialist author, but his work was distinctive enough to create his own style, Kafkaesque. It is used to describe texts that are similar to his (Crew, 1). He was “a relatively unknown author during his lifetime” and “published … few of his works.” His earliest works were destroyed, and his friend Max Brod published his later ones (Crew, 1). One of Kafka’s favorite self-written books was The Trial, which clearly illustrates the main point of the Existentialist movement, that life is meaningless.The Trial consists solely of a man’s struggle to redeem himself and ends in his death. Throughout nearly the entire novel, Joseph K. is attempting to be pardoned of an unmentioned crime, that neither he nor the reader ever discovers. “The only sensible thing was to adapt oneself to existing conditions. Even if it were possible to alter a detail for the better here or there – but it was simple madness to think of it – any benefit arising from that would profit clients in the future only, while one’s own interests would be immeasurably injured by attracting the attention of the ever-vengeful officials. Anything rather than that!” (Kafka, 121) The book’s last scene is his sentence being carried out; he is stabbed to death, and all K. can think about is how disgraceful his death is. “‘Like a dog!’ he said; it was as if the shame of it must outlive him” (Kafka, 229). This goes along with Existentialism’s message that everything just results in death anyway, as K. being indignant solely because of the way he dies is preposterous, and Kafka even hints at suicide being an answer. Kafka shows us this by telling us of K.’s thoughts: “K. now perceived clearly that he was supposed to seize the knife himself, as it traveled from hand to hand above him, and plunge it into his own breast” (Kafka, 228). Since Existentialism’s claim is that life is meaningless, Kafka illustrates this perfectly by The Trial’s pointless struggle and final conviction.The German-speaking Jew was born in Prague on July 3, 1883 and various things in his life presumably brought him to follow Existentialist beliefs. When he was young he read works by the poster boy for Nihilism (which is somewhat related to Existentialism) Friedrich Nietzsche, Darwin, founder of the theory of evolution (which some take to be antitheist, leading to hopelessness) and others. Simultaneously, he wrote what are referred to as his “early works,” that were destroyed (Leni, 1). His education occurred at German schools, instead of the common Czech ones, as “the language of the elites was German.” This “demonstrates his father’s desire for social advancement” (Leni, 1). His father was abusive and their “relationship … dominates all discussions of both his life and his work” (Crew, 1). His father considered Kafka to be “too eccentric, with his vegetarianism and quiet nature.” In The Trial, numerous people take Kafka’s father’s role for K. Anna, his landlady’s cook, could perhaps be an incarnation of Kafka’s father, as she just watches K. be arrested (i.e., Kafka’s real-life decline in health) and does not help, and then perhaps his boss also represents his father, as he is overbearing and apathetic about K.’s welfare. Finally, K.’s uncle plays the ultimate Kafka-father role by being obnoxiously pseudohelpful and forcing him to hire a lawyer against his will. His uncle says things like, “You’re quite changed, you always used to have such a clear brain, and is it going to fail you now?” as a means of attempting to encourage K. (Kafka, 97). Kafka was very interested in Yiddish theater. He would travel around with Brod to Paris, Italy, and Switzerland, and on these trips, “he had numerous affairs and one-night stands with barmaids, waitresses, and shopgirls, not to mention his visits to the whorehouses” (Leni, 5). The character K. also attempts to have such affairs. Leni, K.’s lawyer’s maid, flirts frequently with him, saying such things as, “I don’t need any thanks, except that I want you to be fond of me” (Kafka, 180). Although he obviously had an active sex life, he also found sex “absolutely repulsive and disgusting,” but at the same time he used girls that “didn’t mean anything to him beyond immediate sexual gratification” (Leni, 6). In The Trial, women K. hardly knows throw themselves at him. “I’ll go with you wherever you like, you can do with me what you please, I’ll be glad if I can only get out of here for a long time, and I wish it could be forever,” says a woman he meets in the Court (Kafka, 56). He would avoid marriage at all costs, because for some reason, he thought sex being required on a regular basis would be intolerable. K., just as Kafka did in life, goes after women when they present themselves: “The woman really attracted him, and after mature reflection he could find no valid reason why he should not yield to that attraction” (Kafka, 56). When Franz broke off his engagement with Felice, in July of 1914, he began writing The Trial (Leni, 5-7). His illness, tuberculosis, would possibly have driven him to Existentialism as it took meaning from his life, and the way he never could commit himself to a girl also shows a lack of purpose.The Trial could be taken to be anti-government, but more than likely it deals only with life’s futility. Although Nihilism advocates destroying everything – government and faith in god(s) especially – Existentialism is more apathetic about everything. While this strange and unofficial court system abusing K. could be taken as anti-government, it is probably more accurate to assume that it is an allegory for life. The court system that puts an end to K.’s life is above the government in that it’s undetectable and everywhere. The Court is apparently omnipotent as well, as when someone tries to “alter the disposition of things around him, he ran the risk of losing his footing and falling to destruction, while the organization would simply right itself” (Kafka, 121). The government played no apparent role in Kafka’s writing of The Trial, and Existentialism’s apathy could run under most any government system.Existentialism’s main philosophical point emphasizes life’s futility. If life has no meaning, what better to do than devote one’s life to a meaningless movement? Franz Kafka was influenced by constantly changing lovers (Felice Bauer, possibly Grete Bloch, Julie Whoryzek, Milena Jesenska, and Dora Diamant, just to name the ones who played the most important roles in his life), war going on around him, an abusive father, and his terminal illness, tuberculosis (Leni, 5-8). His illness killed him, but as pessimism and depression still exist, so does Existentialism and Kafka’s works continue to preach the message. As Franz Kafka was influential enough a writer for philosophers to create a word based on his name – Kafkaesque – he is obviously well respected and a widely appreciated author. Supporters of life as we know it today can be thankful that Kafka wasn’t a Nihilist, as with this kind of influence, he could have done worse crimes than to encourage people’s apathy. If it was not for Max Brod disobeying his dying friend’s instructions to burn Kafka’s texts, the world would have never witnessed his brilliant works. Perhaps if Kafka had not been terminally ill, he would have believed his life had meaning, or perhaps if he had a lifelong female (or perhaps male) companion, that could have lead him to believe that his life mattered. Still, one must wonder where Brod’s motivation came from. When one realizes that one’s life is meaningless, perhaps one is driven to want others to share in one’s meaningless-inspired misery.Works Cited”Biography of Franz Kafka.” http://www.pitt.edu/~kafka/kafkabio.html ConstructingKafka. By Crew. 1997.”Biography.” http://victorian.fortunecity.com/vermeer/287/biography.htm Leni’s Franz Kafka Page. By Leni. NA.”CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Nihilism.”http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11074.htm Catholic Encyclopedia. By A. Palmieri. 1999.”Kafka Timeline.” http://family.knick.net/thecastle/timeln.html The Castle. By C.M. Wisniewski. 1999.”Nihilism.” http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/n/nihilism.htm The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. By Alan Pratt, Ph. D. 2001. Hosted by: Humanities Department, Embry-Riddle University.”The Great War Interactive Timeline.”http://www.pbs.org/greatwar/timeline/index.html PBS. By PBS.
Intimacy and Human Desire in The Trial
In order to address the paradoxes of eroticism and human desire for intimacy in The Trial, it is important to recognize the ongoing theme of bondage (in the classic master/slave sense). Without this undercurrent of power and servitude, it is impossible to pin down Joseph K.’s apparent need or desire to become involved (whether intimately or socially) with women such as Fraulein Burstner, Fraulein Grubach, Leni, and the washwoman at the Court. It should be noted also that the dream-like state in which Kafka portrays the story is important to allowing these somewhat “fetish-ized” situations to occur. A central issue in K’s dealings with these women is that he often seeks out women that will help him in some way. It could be to alleviate boredom and supply information (Leni), to pass the time (Elsa), to give him information and/or help regarding his case (the washerwoman), or to lend him sexual gratification (all of the above?). In fact, K. even seems to reflect on this on page 107 when he first encounters Leni after she has broken the dish to get his attention: “‘I recruit women helpers’, he thought, almost amazed: ‘first Fraulein Burstner, then the court usher’s wife, and now this little nurse who seems to have an inexplicable desire for me.'” This realization does not seem to bother him, only cause him to wonder at the coincidence. To the reader however, especially after a second reading, this fact stands out as one of the greater questions of the book: how are these women related to K.’s struggle against the court? How are they implicated in the proceedings and to what degree? What is their significance to K., whether emotionally or through the gleaning of some physical or material item or act?In an attempt to explore some of these questions, it is best to go in chronological order from the time K. meets each of these women characters, beginning first with K.’s relationship to Frl. Grubach, his landlady. Although they do not appear to have ever been intimately involved, they seem to have a close relationship and the reader gets the idea that K. has lived in the boarding house for quite some time. Frl. Grubach is reliable and industrious and is obviously quite fond of K. as we find out during a conversation when K. comes to see her regarding Frl. Burstner’s room. She says, “he could visit her anytime, he was her best and dearest boarder, as he well knew”. It is not until later, however, when K. is in Frl. Burstner’s room, that K. says, “she’s [Frl. Grubach] beholden to me since she’s borrowed a large sum from me.” That adds a complexity to their relationship that was not seen when they had their initial conversation and she had seemed like his kindly landlady who wished for “his happiness”. K.’s relationship with Frl. Grubach is evidence to the master/slave relationship theme, as Frl. Grubach is at K.’s service throughout the book due to the money she owes him. K. is also seen as “the punisher” in this relationship as he does not seem concerned with her feelings when he lashes out at her over her remarks about Frl. Burstner. This punisher role that K. takes on is stated on page 26 when K. “thought for a moment of punishing Frau Grubach by talking Fraulein Burstner into joining him in giving notice”. Although this is not a physical punishment, he uses mental games as punishment with characters he feels superior to. This issue of K’s assumed superiority is a large element in his personality. Thus when he views himself to be above someone, he acts accordingly, unheeding of their feelings and seeming not to care about the outcome of his actions. K.’s games with Frl. Grubach are evidence of this. It should be noted also that Frl. Grubach does not play much of a role in the heart of the story, but as time wears on she appears less likable, not only to the reader, but possibly to K.. She takes on the role of “watcher” and is always at the boarding house. Actually, she becomes quite pitiable after her great relief is expressed when K. begins talking to her again on page 236 when she brings him his breakfast: “…you don’t know how I’ve suffered the last few days! That I would slander my boarders! And you thought, Herr K.!” She is in tears by this time and K. pleads with her not to cry while thinking of something else entirely. By this point it is easy to view her as being slightly obsessive, and perhaps also a little shady. After all, she does know all the comings and goings of the boarding house and can’t be trusted entirely. In this sense it can be said the Frl. Grubach embodies the Court. Omnipresent, something to live with that judges and oversees. She is almost motherly, but not protective, rather, she is secretive. Kafka gives no real evidence for this, but it is rather implied based on character judgements the reader can make throughout the book. Everyone seems to know of K.’s accused status (Frl. Grubach especially). Frl. Burstner seems to be the only woman that K. gives serious thought to, and since he only seems interested in gaining things from women, the reader is left wondering exactly what it is that he wants from Frl. Burstner. Could it be purely physical? Could it be separate from the trial’s proceedings? He treats her quite differently than he does Leni. For example Kafka uses descriptive language to describe her appearance and physical actions to a greater degree than he does when Leni is introduced. And, even though it may seem trivial, when Frl. Burstner is first introduced she appears seductive in small ways: “Fraulein Burstner softly invited him again into her room.” The word “softly” is uncharacteristicly used, and has not appeared in the description of any other character or action yet. Also, “she crossed her legs lightly”, thus giving the impression of Frl. Burstner being sexy and inviting, yet pushing away K.’s advances. This is the first and only woman that has power over K. (besides perhaps the elusive Elsa) and he seems to find her compelling. He later takes her in a somewhat forceful and impulsive, almost feral way. “‘I’m coming’ said K., rushed out, seized her, kissed her on the mouth, then all over her face, like a thirsty animal lapping at a spring it has found at last.” To the reader, this seems to be an almost violent outburst of passion and makes K. appear seem vulnerable and susceptible to acting purely on physical needs (shades of Mersault come to mind). Thus it initially appears that K. wishes to gain only sexual gratification from Frl. Burstner, as no other sort of attraction is mentioned. Frl. Burstner does, however, tell him that she will be working at a law office and wants to help him. This immediately raises the question of whether he is becoming involved with Frl. Burstner to receive her help. Her importance to K. is also difficult to ascertain, since when she appears at the end, one is left wondering about her involvement in the trial. The character of Frl. Burstner represents the Court in its elusiveness, it’s lack of making sense, being understood, or captured and held to look at.It is important to also include Elsa, as she is an important character to help shed light on K.’s dealings with women. Although she is mentioned only a few times and does not seem to play a large role in K.’s life, she does represent a truth about K.. Joseph K. does not ever seem to have an actual “girlfriend”, only women that come his way and are attracted to him for some unknown reason. With Elsa the reader is given the impression that this rule is broken: that he came to Elsa. She implies that she is a bartender by night and a prostitute by day, as she “only receives visitors in bed”. This is just someone else that K. uses to fulfill a particular need, namely for sex. Later in the story, after K. has the conflict with the bandy-legged student, K. “pictured how funny it would be, for example, to see this miserable student, this puffed-up child, this bandy-legged, bearded fellow, kneeling at Elsa’s bedside, clutching his hands and begging for mercy.” The implication is once again of a slave/master relationship. It seems that K. takes a special liking to women who are “above him” somehow. Women who do not throw themselves at his feet, like Leni and the washerwoman/court usher’s wife. He feels himself superior to most people and could have a mental/physical need for being submissive (sexually speaking) without emotional attachment. This would explain his urges and thoughts about going to see Elsa: he only mentions going to see her when he is feeling “above” people or his situation. This would also explain his obsession about Frl. Burstner as she is coy and toys with his desire by being elusive yet discreetly seductive (in her apartment) all the while “stroking her hip” while she is sitting on the divan (pg. 30). He treats women who already at his service with something to offer him without a care, as if he could easily do without them (Leni, Frl. Grubach, the court usher’s wife, and even Frl. Montag, although K. is repulsed by her physical appearance and demeanor). This dominance versus submissiveness is a part of K.’s life not only with women, but with the court. There are times when he is on top and powerful and times when he is lost, beaten down and can think of nothing but the Court.Leni is quite an odd and impenetrable character. She “just happens to be” the lawyer’s nurse and is conveniently there to meet K.. She is childlike not only in her looks (“she had a round doll-like face, her pale cheeks and chin forming a circle completed by her temples and forehead”) but in her actions also. For instance, she gets K.’s attention by smashing a plate against the wall hoping he would come out. In this sense she has a complete disregard for K’s trail, yet seems at other times wants to try to help him by giving him advice and information about the judges. Her need and desire for K. is selfish as it is revealed that she finds all defendants attractive. K.’s desire and need for her are also selfish, motivated by both lust and the information she can provide him. K. seems to be able to do with or without her, but it does seem that she provides respite from the lawyer’s long speeches on the nonsensical judicial system. For example, “the only welcome interruption during these visits was Leni, who always knew how to arrange things so that she served the lawyer’s tea in K.’s presence. Then she would stand behind K., apparently watching the lawyer as he bowed deeply over his cup…secretly allowed K. to grasp her hand… Leni sometimes dared to stroke K.’s hair softly.” (pg. 123). It seems that that was Leni’s purpose…to serve K. physically and to provide him with some information. Thus again the theme of master/slave continues: Leni, in service to her older master, K., who is in turn in service to his master, the Court, and the lawyer serving as the rope by which they are both bound. In discussing the role of bondage and servitude, the scene with Block and the lawyer beginning on page 190 is an excellent example. (Although this is not directly related to the females which K. encounters, it does put these situations into context). In this scene all roles are either reversed or heightened. Block is forced by the lawyer (and his own needs) to act much like a trained animal for the lawyer. There is something very fetish-like about this scene. The lawyer is Punisher and Giver of needs, Leni is the go-between, the master’s higher-order slave, telling the Master how the subject behaves and “if he’s been good”. K. is the bystander, the one in which the master seeks to give pleasure or pain to by making him watch the whole disgusting scene. This scene, which represents a “hierarchy” of bondage and servitude is a theme that runs throughout this entire book, particularly in dealings with the Law. It may appear to have nothing to do with K.’s relation to some of the women in the story, but it is actually a concentrated version of the story with each of the women and the Court in general.It can be argued that all of these women were secretly against K., even to the point of plotting behind his back. When asked the question…”How did K. put each of these women on trial in a sense”, it would be more prudent to ask “How did these women put K. on trial? Is the reader the unseen and omnipresent jury on the life of K.? Are we glad he’s been executed? Was it the face of the reader in the window that K. saw before his death? Who were we…”friend? A good person? Someone who cared?…Was it everyone?” (pg.231)
The Loss of K.’s Sovereignty in The Trial
The Sixth Amendment in the Bill of Rights ensures that any American citizen accused of a crime has the right to a fair trial; in other words, those who have been accused must be informed of the crimes that they are accused of, and are given the opportunity to prove their innocence. Contrarily, in The Trial by Franz Kafka, the main character Josef K. wakes up one morning arrested under unnamed charges. He spends the entire novel not only attempting to identify the crime he is accused of, but proving that he is guiltless. The fictional society in The Trial is filled with corruption and is similar to a totalitarian government. This fraudulent regime inculcates K. to believe he is guilty, which leads to the loss of his sovereignty and transforms him into another defenseless subject of the system.
In Kafka’s haunting depiction, the fictional society that K. lives in has a government whose foundation is built upon rumors rather than proof. The system is described as one that “doesn’t seek out guilt among the general population, but … is attracted by guilt” (Kafka 8-9). Instead of seeking out true criminals, officials arrest those who have been accused of being guilty by other people, without any real evidence. This illogical process of finding culprits in the society is even more flawed after the government detains suspects. After K. is arrested and speaks to the inspector of his case, he still has “learn[ed] nothing about why he had been arrested and on whose orders” (Kafka 14-15) and is told not to spend his time attempting to prove his innocence. Throughout the story, K. is never informed of why he has been arrested. By the end of the novel he even questions “Where was the judge he’d never seen? Where was the high court he’d never reached?” (Kafka 231). He was never given the chance to fight for himself or change the course of action in which he was taking place. Left in the dark, K. has no say or power in the result of his case, showing how corrupt the standards of the government are. The government has no limit to its authority, controlling every aspect of his case, and restricting K.’s right to a fair trial. By not informing K. of any information regarding his situation, the government’s regulations and system strongly resembles one of a totalitarian government.
As K.’s cluelessness and lack of knowledge about his conviction slowly persuade him that he is guilty, he loses his identity and becomes dominated by the society. Even though he initially believes he is “not guilty. It’s a mistake. How can any person in general be guilty? We’re all human after all, each and every one of us,” (Kafka 213) he is met with a rebuttal of “that’s how guilty people always talk” (Kafka 213). Despite no concrete evidence, K. is repeatedly told that he is guilty, and he eventually begins to accept it. He tells himself “if I’d behaved sensibly, nothing more would have happened, everything else would have been nipped in the bud” (Kafka 23). The corruption of the government, as well as the other subjects who have already been manipulated by the authorities, convince K. that he is guilty. He eventually becomes one in a crowd of people who are under the government’s control. In the first sentence of the novel, Kafka refers to the main character as Josef K. Yet, as Josef’s situation is revealed, Kafka refrains from giving him a full surname, referring to him as K. throughout the rest of the novel. This inhumanely reduces K. to an object, showing how the government’s standards and systematic processes strip him of his individuality. The main character is slowly brainwashed by the government and begins to doubt not only who he is, but his innocence as well.
The fictional society that Kafka presents in The Trial is one filled with corruption and bureaucratic standards, strikingly mirroring a totalitarian justice system. Here, the main character’s confusion, along with the Court’s nefarious and unprincipled restriction of his rights, manifests the immorality of the society and its system. The standards which build the foundation of the fictional society affect the main character throughout the novel as he undergoes his unfair trial. Josef K. becomes another subject of the society as “K.,” and forfeits his autonomy, just as many others have, as he surrenders his fight for innocence. The rights presented to citizens in America by the Constitution, the same rights K. was refused, are there to prevent the government from being like the the fictional society presented in Kafka’s novel.