“…After all, our department, as far as I know, and I know only the lowest level, doesn’t seek out guilt among the general population, but, as the Law states, is attracted by guilt and has to send us guards out. That’s the Law. What mistake could there be?” “I don’t know that law,” said K.
I first read Kafka’s “The Trial” for a project in high school. We were allowed to choose a book, and I asked the librarian for something unlike anything that I had ever read before. This book met that description, and I’ve since returned to it several times.
“The Trial” isn’t as linear as most novels, as Kafka never published his work while he was alive. Instead, his notes (including his three unfinished novels) were given to his friend Max, who was instructed to burn them. Luckily for us, Max didn’t, and instead arranged them for publication. In this edition of “The Trial,” several unfinished chapters are located after the story concludes. I don’t think that the unfinished nature of “The Trial” detracts from the novel at all, but rather adds to its already surreal atmosphere.
The story opens as Josef K. wakes up one morning to find strange men in his room. They inform him that he has been arrested, although they don’t state where their authority is from or what crime he has committed. Rather than being taken to a jail, K. is instructed to continue his day-to-day life as the trial overtakes his activities. As the book progresses, K. finds himself caught up in a kangaroo court where hearings are held in tenements, law books contain pornography, and nobody can tell him what he has done wrong.
There are many different ways of looking at the events of the story. On a literal level, one can question the meaning of law and the importance of understanding it. “The Trial” can also be read as a critique of totalitarian ideas, or as a metaphor for depression. My own interpretation is that K. condemns himself by his feelings of guilt rather than by any of his own actions. He overthinks what he does to the point that he becomes paralyzed his feelings of guilt and can no longer continue to function in society. He is condemned and judged by his own insecurities.
I’d recommend giving Kafka a shot. If nothing else, his work isn’t easily categorized. He uses absurdity to make his readers think critically about their own lives, and his works contain a wide variety of different interpretations.