“The Trial” by Franz Kafka

“…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.

This post is a part of German Literature Month, hosted by Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life.

“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.

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Categories: Fiction | Tags: , , , , | 29 Comments

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29 thoughts on ““The Trial” by Franz Kafka

  1. Pingback: German Literature Month 2011: Author Index « Lizzy’s Literary Life

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  4. It’s one of those books that everyone should read (although I’m not sure many people would read it more than once!). It also (like a lot of Kafka’s work) both invites and defies analysis – that doesn’t stop people trying though!

    My review was *slightly* less conventional than yours, and my other Kafka reviews were also a bit weird (there’s just something about Kafka…):

    http://tonysreadinglist.blogspot.com/2009/06/46-der-prozess-by-franz-kafka.html

    • Indeed. Kafka is meant to be a bit absurd. Even the class that I took on Kafka in college was absurd… I distinctly remember the fact that the classroom faced a window of a dorm where a man would promptly undress and shower midway through the class while we attempted to try to look the other way each day (generally unsuccessfully).

      I think that Kafka lends himself to re-reading in part because there are so many different interpretations that will come to mind at different times in a reader’s life.

      • Kafka is meant to be funny… well, not ‘ha ha’ funny, but there’s definitely an element of not taking everything that seriously 🙂

    • If you liked that one, you should see my recent post on ‘The Metamorphosis’ and my three-act play based on ‘The Castle’.

      Or maybe not 😉

  5. I’ve only ever read the Metamorphosis by Kafka, but I did thoroughly enjoy it, so I will give this a short. I’m not sure if this actually holds true, but your breif description reminds me a bit of the film Brazil (which is one my favorite movies ever).

    • I’ve never seen Brazil… I’ll have to check it out! I enjoyed “The Trial” far more than “The Metamorphosis,” interestingly enough.

  6. Great book — and I couldn’t help notice — NABOKOV is stunning as well 🙂 I’ve read Glory, The Defense, Invitation to a Beheading, Pale Fire, Laughter in the Dark, and Bend Sinister (only liked a few passages of this one)….

    • I’ve read a bunch as well. Lolita, of course, because that’s the popular one. Pale Fire is one of my favorite books of all time. Laughter in the Dark was good, although it didn’t seem quite on the level of his other books. I think I may have read a few others, but not nearly enough!

      • I’ve actually not read Lolita — but, 6 of his other novels more than makes up for it — haha. I think The Defense is my favorite of his….

        • Indeed. 😛

          I have a copy of Laughter in the Dark in the original Russian (because I’m the kind of person who will attempt it, then realize that Nabokov has a massive vocabulary even in English), but I only made it through about half of it. Of course, I’ve read the translation too. I think that the novels Nabokov originally wrote in Russian are good, but don’t have the same linguistic flavor that the ones he wrote in English do.

          I haven’t read The Defense, although I’m definitely going to look into it. I’ve also still got a copy of Ada that I haven’t read yet, as well as a collection of his works that includes some short stories. His writing is just genius.

  7. haha, we’re speaking about him often in our german lessons 😉

  8. I haven’t read any of his works but I’ve always wanted to. This novel is on my 1001 list so I’ll will be reading it at some point. I’m happy that you enjoyed this one. It gives me encouragement that I may enjoy it as well. His reputation has always scared me somewhat. But I’ll take your advice and give him a shot.

    • Awesome! He’s one of those authors that is hard to classify. I’m rather partial to the surreality of the novel. I hope you enjoy it.

  9. Kafka still stands as one of those authors I know I want to read, but have yet to do so. The synopsis for this one sounds fascinating, though; I’ll definitely have to pick it up!

  10. I haven’t read this one but his short stories and recently The Letter to His Father which can explain some things that can be found in The Trial. The feeling of guilt and being accused without a reason. It’s a huge tragedy how his father crushed him. Very painful to read.
    I’m ambivalent when it comes to Kafka, some stories I liked or was fascinated by them, others are too dark. Thanks for reviewing it. I agree, he is a writer one should at least try. There are not many like him.

    • I’m also hit or miss with his stories. I enjoyed “The Trial,” but a lot of his short stories just didn’t cut it for me. I don’t even remember “The Castle,” although I know that I’ve read it…

      I think that part of the reason why “The Trial” is interesting is that it can be read in so many different ways. I also think it might be neat to compare it to Nabokov’s “Invitation to a Beheading,” as I believe that Nabokov had a similar story.

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