The Labyrinths of the Judiciary in Franz Kafka’s the Trial

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

“The Trial” by Franz Kafka is a novel of total meaningless living, wandering through court labyrinths and meaningless death. It was written in 1912 and published posthumously in 1925 by his friend Max Brod. Its manuscript was left unfinished and the author left his covenant to his friend to destroy it after his death, therefore, the novel was not intended for printing. However, despite the author’s last wish, his friend decided not to obey him and not fulfill it. His friend’s excuse was that Kafka wanted to destroy earlier manuscripts also, but under his strong influence and with much conviction, they were printed. In this novel, Franz Kafka describes the fate of an accused man in the world of institutions and his agony while he is wandering through a maze called bureaucracy.

An outstanding allegory of the absurd struggle of the individual to preserve his integrity in the machinery of insinuations and speculations that try to disrupt the personality. Imposition of fault for a case based on a series of circumstances that together create a dimension of planned, coordinated chaos. Through various psychological methods, with accusations and intimidations, an image of a hopeless state is created in which one must take responsibility. The influence of targeted public opinion becomes fatal in the calculation of that responsibility. Through this allegorical novel, Kafka criticizes the bureaucracy of the Austro-Hungarian government, which was immune to everything that is human and which identified a person with a form. He considered that the courts at that time were too politicized to allow the individual to defend, and similarly, such institutions did not make the right decisions. Some of the literary experts link the message of “The Trial” to the Jewish question: the question of guilt is determined according to the individual’s belonging to a particular group, nation or class. Through the character of Joseph K. it is seen that people, against their dignity, are courting the authorities in order to win in their favour.

Life is a process – a long trial in which we are all sentenced to death. Kafka, through an allegorical picture of the trial, presents to us with the meaninglessness of life, the absurdity of everyday life and the loss of the man in modern society. If Meursault in ‘The Stranger’ himself is to blame for not finding sense, if Vladimir and Estragon are judged for eternal waiting for Godo, here, Joseph K. can influence nothing with anything – everything is ultimately and finally: death comes.

The fact that the novel was left unfinished does not stop it being what it is: a reading that leads us through the labyrinths of the judiciary, much like Alice travels through the Wonderland, or perhaps it leads us through the labyrinth of one senseless life right before its more senseless end, like Dante through the nine circles of hell with Lucifer in the end. The characters in the novel are strange with unrealistic appearances. They are almost like spirits, placed in rooms that are nowhere to be found: with low ceilings, strange doors that lead to other more perishable rooms; with lattices or wooden partitions, overlapped with papers or someone’s clothes. These rooms are for temporary living which are offices on certain days, with countless corridors and with stairs that lead to the next maze where people wait indefinitely and endlessly until aging. The endless maze of the novel is precisely what the judiciary is nowadays: endless postponement, deceits, hiding, forgetting about the human and his ordinary life and the common problems he faces. These problems can neither be revealed nor defined and resolved.

Society is where man can not find himself; where there is no one to help; where man stops being human,but it becomes only one figure, one of the many unresolved cases in the process called ‘life’ where the end is inevitable such as stray dogs that if are not saved by somebody, they know what is awaiting them: death. ‘ Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., he knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he was arrested.’ (Kafka, The Trial)This is the first sentence of the novel where we find out that Josef K. did nothing wrong as well as nothing good; however, he was sent a trial invitation for a trial against him, without any explanation. We do not find out what K is convicted of, neither at the beginning nor in the end.It happens on his thirtieth birthday, and the process lasts for a year without anything to change or illuminate. Finally, on his thirty-first birthday, the Court comes, ending the agony and executing him.

Kafka undoubtedly possessed extraordinary creative creativity, as a blend of literature, philosophy and law. His ingenuity, as his contemporaries and biographers write, was often overshadowed by his psychological fatigue, anxiety, and insomnia, which they claim to have the root for the conflicts related with his father and family misunderstandings. However, in such circumstances, his creative talent came to the fore in the most sincere way. Personal sadness, the knowledge of human life from the aspect of law practice, freedom as a legal-axiological component of life and the reflexive expression to translate it through a genius writer’s word, have contributed to Kafka’s work to leave a great stamp in world literature, but at the same time it represents a timely ‘barrister’s symbol’ of the individual’s struggle against bureaucracy and unfair justice.Here, Kafka writes about the corruption of bureaucracy, the alienation of man from society and the inability of the individual to change something in the context of current social developments.German professor Thomas Anz for Kafka says he is a remarkable poet of the absurd. But Kafka also gives a legalistic discourse to the absurd, through the struggle of the individual to keep his integrity and dignity vis-à-vis the arrogance and intrigue of the institutional centers of power. In this direction, Kafka speaks of deferring the values in the law and its practical application through the judiciary, for making judgments based not on evidence, but on the basis of the ‘need for a verdict’

According to Foucault, the first discourse present in The Trial is a literal representation of the modern, reformist movement. Discipline is at odds with pre-reformist practices and the interesting, simultaneous occurrence is the actual source of confusion and tension in Kafka’s novel. While the attic courts at once function according to the model of sovereignty and its rules of secrecy judicial arithmetic, and intercession, the narrative also incorporates strategies from a much more modern system, based on individualization, observation, and surveillance. In the case of The Trial, the reader witnesses the very moment of transition in of the formation momentarily function simultaneously. The second discourse present in The Trial emerge of prison as the form of punishment for every crime grew out of the development discipline in the 18th and 19th centuries. He looks at the development of highly refined forms of discipline, concerned with the smallest and precise aspects of person’s body. He suggests that discipline developed a new economy and politics for bodies. Modern institutions required that bodies must be individuated according to their tasks, as well as for training, observing, and control. Kafka’s work has a deeply felt, sensitively rendered analysis of institutions, not only showing how they oppress the bodies and minds of their inmates, but also exploring possibilities of resistance and escape. An enigmatic sentence from The Trial “Everything belongs to the Court” (Kafka, The Trial) suggests that Kafka’s court is a total institution. One must treat staff with deference signaled not only in words but in one’s bodily posture, and undergo gratuitous humiliations. In a mental institution or a monastery, or wherever one has to be “re-educated,” one must submit to having the history of one’s life, especially shameful episodes, generally known. One has little or no recourse against maltreatment by those with power over one. Much of this happens to Josef K. when he gets arrested. ( Yari, Afrougheh and Jangizah)

Certain contemporary theoreticians of criminal law, narrating the novel ‘The Trial’, point out and argue that the only concern in the criminal procedure is not the innocent being convicted at the end of the proceedings, but also not being drawn at all, without sufficient evidence and bases, in one criminal procedure, because the very conduct of the criminal procedure means a significant restriction on the freedom, the rights and interests of the citizens, even when the person is not in custody.Namely, Kafka points precisely to these deficiencies which are crucial in the conduct of the procedure, in which, as he says, often lawyers are ‘unrecognized’. Hence, to the procedure and the role of the defense in it, Kafka, as described in this novel, leaves the impression that the law only ‘suffers’ and that the court ‘does not recognize’ the lawyers, leading them to the level of ‘superintendents ‘. In that sense, the powerlessness of the individual and the powerlessness of the legal state before the power of bureaucratic and judicial voluntarism, Kafka directs to the courtrooms, in which the absurd struggle of the individual and his unrecognized defenders takes place.

I think that the absence of knowledge of the sentence by the convict is a motive that is common to Kafka’s works, including in the story ‘In the penal colony’.It is enough to recall only Josef K. who seeks his mistake starting from the morning of the detention until the end of the novel. Unlike the short story ‘In the penal colony’ where the cover-up of a mistake is necessary in order to maintain the apparatus of the law, in ‘The Trial’ this phenomenon is colored by a metaphysical dimension. All Kafka’s texts contain the moment of aporia, but the puzzle in this novel does not require dismissal because it would reduce the crime of a banal crime story where the culprit is seeking the punishment, or the innocent sustains a punishment for an unbecoming crime. This is more about an existential anxiety, which through the attitude towards the appliance of justice should speak about the general way in which the individual learns to deal with reality.

The idea of this work is the powerlessness of man as an individual to understand the principles and mechanisms of power, as well as the inability to resist it. Kafka raised his voice against the small people who sought the mercy of the great. Kafka somehow secretly threads absurdity of existence in this novel, which will later inspire Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre to lay the foundations of existentialism. Regarding the theme, it is the hell of human intellectual awareness in the fight against bureaucracy and the evil imposed by power.”We have to recognize the futility of trying to work with the world of the Court that simply will not relate to self’s faculties. Life is only a nightmare because there are such inscrutable forces beyond our control that no way of solution can protect the self from them. Annihilation is not a choice but a fact of alienation which has been left to us, whether we accept it or continue to struggle against it. The Trial represents a simultaneity in which disparate historical, disciplinary discourses collide a moment of rupture, exchange, and confrontation, only possible in that precise historical envelope from which the author spoke. It represents a singular, historical moment at the threshold of legal and disciplinary transformation, a moment that fluctuated between the archaic modalities of linguistic-based discipline and modern surveillance. Kafka challenges the idea that power is wielded by people or groups by way of episodic or sovereign acts of domination or coercion, seeing it instead as dispersed and pervasive.”

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