The Trial By Franz Kafka And Its Relevancy To Our Current Time Period

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

Slightly over a hundred years ago, Kafka wrote The Trail chronicling the arrest and trial of Josef K under mysterious circumstances. This arrest and trial are conducted by a mysterious unidentified person in questionable circumstances since Joseph’s crimes are never revealed to him nor the reader. A hundred years later, parallels can be drawn between this case and modern cases where people in positions of power have time and again abused their power to discriminate and subvert the rule of law. The past few years have seen the rise of such cases which may be because of improved telecommunications technology that has made reporting easier or maybe because the more things change, the more they stay the same. In Kafka’s The Trial, the police and those involved in the arrest and trial of K operated in an opaque manner which violates K’s privacy and rights on so many levels which evokes parallels of modern cases such as the arrest, interrogation, and trial of Korey Wise and the rest of the Central Park Five.

When a person commits a crime, there is a system in place for our modern government to punish that person in a way that is fair. This form of government is typically run by people who believe in a democratic system, where the people make the decisions through a vote to ensure that the decisions made are fair and only to some degree. In Franz Kafka’s book, ‘The Trial,’ the main character, Josef K. is convicted of a crime and brought to court by the state. Josef K. throughout the book is unaware of the crime he committed or what charges were brought against him. The book was written outside the United States in the 19th century, and the writer has yet to complete it, to the regrettable fact that he died before the book was done. According to George Fletchers, Basic Concepts of Criminal Law, he shows that Josef K.’s trial was conducted in a substantive manner. 

Every country has adapted its own code of law in which the citizens use in order to provide the punishment to a crime committed in their area. Although the United States is a unified country, each state consists of their own version of the penal law code. Fletcher states, “ One consequence of codification is that every country goes its own way. Every country has adopted its own conception of punishable behavior, its own definitions of offenses, its own principles for determining questions of self-defense, necessity, insanity, negligence, and complicity” (Fletcher). Fletcher tells us how a consequence of codified law is that each country starts adapting to their own ideologies of punishable behavior. In The Trial, Josef K was confronted one morning in bed by two officials who claim to be there to arrest him. Josef K found it weird because he could not think of any crime that he may have committed. He starts questioning himself. After all, K. lived in a state governed by law, there was a universal peace, all statutes were in force; who dared assault him in his own lodgings?”. In the beginning of the book Josef K. acknowledges that he lived in a state where some sort of law was in place. He is angered by the fact that he was taken out of bed so abruptly as if he had no rights. Josef K. starts to interrogate the officers in his home and demands answers, which the officers refuse to provide him. He considers calling his friend who is a prosecutor since they have told him he was under arrest, but is in a way persuaded not to by the supervisor. Josef K. engages in the following conversation with the inspector, “ Hasterer, the public prosecutor, he is a good friend of mine, can I telephone him? Certainly, says the inspector, but I don’t see what sense it makes unless you have private matters to discuss with him… You ask what sense it makes, while you stage the most senseless performance imaginable? What sense is there in telephoning a lawyer when I’ve supposedly been arrested? Fine, I won’t telephone” (Kafka). Josef K. starts thinking and then talks himself into believing that calling the prosecutor will only give them a reason to believe that he is guilty and so he refuses to call the prosecutor. Josef K. is then told that he is under arrest but he is free to go to work and go about his regular day. He is confused as to why he is allowed to go to work if he is under arrest but lets it go telling himself that his case must not be that bad if he can continue his daily life.

Rules are always bound to be broken by someone who does not agree with them, especially when it comes to law. Fletcher tells us that when you are looking at law you are looking at a maze of rules that divide themselves into two categories, substantive rule and the rule of procedure. Josef K. is not dealt with a law that had to do with rule of procedure because no real procedure was seen throughout the book. Fletcher says, “The substantive rules define the crimes that are punished in the particular state or country. If Joseph K. was guilty of a crime, that crime would have been defined in the substantive rules of the local criminal law. If those rules are secret or too complicated or too vague to understand, then the legal system inhumanely drives people to anxiety about whether they are guilty of a transgression against the rules”. Fletcher tells us that in the substantive view of law if the rules are a secret then the legal system drives the person crazy thinking about what they could have possibly done. Fletcher outright tells us that in Josef K’s case, he is being treated in a substantive rule of law. The officers as well as the inspector claim not to know anything about the trial only that he is under arrest, giving the readers a hint about the type of rule of law that is being show in The Trial. The inspector tells Josef K. the following, “ You’re quite mistaken… These gentlemen and I are merely marginal figures in your affair, and in fact know nothing about it… I can’t report that you’ve been accused of anything, or more accurately, I don’t know if you have”. The inspector is admitting to Josef K. that he knows nothing of his case, which means that for some reason it is being kept secret from the public. This admittance by the inspector allows us to see that throughout the book Josef K. was being judge by a substantive rule of law. Josef K. slowly starts to crack; the weight of the trial, which has yet to happen, is making him restless. When a person commits a crime in the United States the prosecutor has to prove that the individual had the intention of committing the crime in order for them to rule out any possibility that the crime was done by mistake. A person who is accused of a crime but does not know what the crime is has no reason to feel any type of pressure or anxiety because they in fact did not do it. Jose K’s trial continues for a good five years with no progress other than stress. He ends up firing his lawyer, who believes that he will win Josef K’s case by being in good graces with those who are prosecuting him. He considers writing a written defense at one point but opts out and decides to write a petition in which the doubts start floating in. Josef K. says, “ The first petition was generally always misplaced or completely lost… K. must not overlook the fact that the proceedings are not public, they can be made public if the court considers it necessary… As a result, the court records, and above all the written of indictment, are not available to the accused and his defense lawyers”. If none of the records are available to the lawyers or the defendant, then how are they going to have a chance at possibly winning this trial? Towards the end of the book Josef K. is convinced that the only way to have a chance at winning this trial is by keeping up appearances at work and with the community. He says, “ the suspicion was never far removed that they were trying to get him out of the office for a while to check on his work… for if there was any justification at all for his fear, refusing the assignment would be taken as an admission of his anxiety… who was well aware that only success in the office could protect him”. Work and the anxiety about his upcoming trial were ripping K’s mind apart. His trial never came in a procedural manner; instead K was taken out of his home on his 31st birthday and stabbed in a dark street.

In order to convict some one of a crime a distinct process takes place depending on the type of government that you live under. A substantive rule of law is in place when the government either tries to keep the proceedings secret, is vague, or inhumanely causes the accused anxiety of whether he committed the crime or not. In The trial, Josef K. was not given a proper procedure when it came to his case. The government conducted most of the trial in a secret manner where not even Josef K. himself knew what he was being accused of. We witness just how secret the process is when not even the officials who went to supposedly arrest Josef K. knew what they were arresting him for. Throughout the book we see that the procedures of the trial were not clear to anyone. The vagueness of these procedures were not lost to K. who before he dies is consumed with questions of his supposed trial who he never really got to see. He says, “ Logic is no doubt unshakable, but it can’t withstand a person who wants to live. Where was the judge he’d never seen? Where was the high court he’d never reached? He raised his hands and spread out all fingers”. In the end Josef K. finally had no choice but to let go without any answers. While reading The Trial I had no idea that some type of procedure was present until I started looking into the book a little bit more. But now that I have re-read Fletchers, Basic Concept of Criminal Law, I see what I could not see before which is that there is some sort of procedure, is just not the more modern type of procedure we are used to today.

Over a hundred years have passed since Franz Kafka wrote his novel The Trial. The events surrounding the arrest and trial of Josef K. paint a dark picture of a dark and criminal system that goes out of its way to make K seem guilty of shady crimes that no one knows of. The arrest of K throws his life in disarray as he attempts to navigate a series of complicated traps designed to make his quest for justice a tall order. So committed are his accusers to seeing K found guilty that they employ every trick in the book to labyrinthine of bureaucratic traps that lead to his guilty verdict and consequent execution (Kafka, 2017). The case of the Central Park Five and specifically that of Korey Wise is a testament to how things have remained the same over the last 100 years. In 1989, a group of young five black and Hispanic kids was arrested, interrogated and convicted of various charges including rape, attempted murder, and assault. Korey Wise, 16 at the time was never of the suspects but when his friend was brought in for questioning, he decided to accompany him as a friend. Unfortunately for him, this act of kindness turned to be a grave mistake.

The case of the rape and murder of a young white jogger at Central Park had already attracted a lot of attention from the media and the public was desperate for the police to proceed and make arrests. This pressure ultimately made the police make some atrocious violations of the standards, ethics, and rules regarding their operation. After the initial four boys were interrogated, mostly through coercion, threats and misleading by the police, Wise, who was only at the police station to offer moral support to his friend was forcefully called into the interrogation room and subjected to an interrogation without a lawyer or guardian all these at the age of 16 (Harris, 2019). It is crucial to not that Wise had learning and hearing difficulties and that coupled with the aggressive tactics utilized by police interrogators ended being enough for Wise to implicate himself in writing for a crime he never committed. Even though his supposedly written and videotaped confession never matched the facts of the crime, it was still used against him and the others in court leading to their conviction. Their trail was also characterized by sensational media reporting which disgraced and humiliated them and their families. The media coverage was also one of the reasons why it was so hard for the five to get a fair trial. In the end, all of the five were given harsh sentences on the back of weak or non-existent evidence.

Wise’s woes did not end up with sentencing though. Instead of being imprisoned as a minor, Wise was sent to an adult correctional facility where he was thrust among adult hardcore criminals. 12 years after his imprisonment, Wise and the other co-accused walked out of prison after the real perpetrator of the crime confessed. This is the only silver lining in the Central Park Five case but the whole process illustrates just how easily a couple of people in powerful positions could abuse their powers and subject other people to a life of misery and even death (Kafka, 2017). The stark reality is that even today such events are common and minorities suffer the brunt of this opaque justice system that continues to operate behind closed doors. However, as Josef K. proclaims before he is executed, if the powers that be can violate and destroy the life of one person, then everyone is at risk of being persecuted against.

In conclusion, events of the last one hundred years in regards to abuse of power by the powers that be to inflict maximum pain to a targeted individual closely resemble what still happens in this day and age. Franz Kafka’s The Trial and the case of Korey Wise and the Central Park Five are fitting examples to this statement. This then is one part of human development and evolution that humans have stagnated. This state of affairs must be rectified otherwise society risks plunging into anarchy.

Works Cited

  • Fletcher, G. P.; Christopher, R. L. Fletcher’s essays on criminal law. [s. l.]: Oxford University Press, 2013. ISBN 9780199941230. Disponível em: http://search.ebscohost.com.rlib.pace.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat01787a&AN=PUC.b2353378&site=eds-live&scope=site. Acesso em: 16 dez. 2019.
  • Harris, A. (2019). The Central Park Five: ‘We Were Just Baby Boys’. Retrieved 5 December 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/30/arts/television/when-they-see-us.html
  • Kafka, F. (2017). The Trial, trans. David Wyllie.


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