Franz Kafka The Trial Critical Essay

It is surprising that Kafka surprisingly doesn't surprise anyone. To fight against nonsense or to consciously accept it? Whether a person searches through life for meaning or will give up his destiny depends only on him. Franz Kafka is a magician who pulls a convicted criminal, Josef K, from a black hat. He made him a black cloak of destiny, which Josef K. would not even try to take off. The mystery of an unusual hero in the The Trial starts from his incomplete name. He lives a completely normal, absurd life, working as a bank clerk.

The world of the The Trial is just a part of the puzzle that we need to agree on. The Trial is the immutable fate of yesterday's, today's and tomorrow's men. We live in the world, but we're out of it. We've been walking long distant paths.

A prospective, ambitious and young clerk one morning, on his thirtieth birthday, is arrested by two guards.
K. was innocent, outraged and offended. As the novel develops, Josef K. is increasingly losing himself in the labyrinth of the trail that has been brought against him. The trial runs quietly and continuously. Everything had already been completed before it started. Josef K. was guilty in advance and therefore convicted. His life was determined, the days and hours were counted, and the time of death was accurately known. A life is taken away for the sake of defamation.

The trial, initiated at the request of an unknown, ends with murder for unknown reasons. The guilt rests on the fact of existence. The Invisible Court is caught up and the Accused complains in these processes without a word. Kafka is talking about lost trust in man, about God in vanity. The world is a strange landscape and life is an attempt to extinguish the unknown. In the The Trial is not only the world that is alienated , but also your own self.

In the events in the book there is nothing that is safe. Josef K. slowly enters into the soul fear and feeling of insecurity because the invisible world of laws and regulations has a power over him. Invisible bureaucracy, dusty rooms. Accused and arrested, he didn't know why he was charged and how to defend himself. The hero carries the blame in himself until he is completely penetrated, rounded and captured.

The first sentence of The Trial is paradoxical :

''Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., he knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he was arrested.'' [1]
''K.found himself, without intending it, in a mute dialogue with Franz, but
then slapped his hand down on his papers and said, "Here are my identity
documents." "And what do you want us to do about it?" replied the big
policeman, loudly. "The way you're carrying on, it's worse than a
child. What is it you want? Do you want to get this great, bloody trial
of yours over with quickly by talking about ID and arrest warrants with
us? '' [2]

What kind of a world is it where people break into houses without an arrest warrant and take away an innocent man? Instead of judging themselves and their deeds, they judge a person who is not guilty. Josef K. lives in a devious world, in a world where innocent people are guilty and guilty of innocence. It is normally abnormal and abnormally normal. The arrested man lives freely.

''Watch, William, he admits that he doesn't know the law, and at the same time claims to be innocent. "[3]

This sentence could be interpreted in many ways. This law, which governs them, seems to be unknown by anyone. And the only law no one knows is the law of God, in which God judges us all, and we are deprived of any rebellion.  That's my only explanation for arresting an innocent man, taking him to the Trial and the death sentence. But again, besides all this I have to point out that Joseph K. was not a varnish.

Where is the judge whom he never saw? Where is the High Court to whom he never came? He raised his hands and spread all his fingers. " [4]

A judge whom Joseph K. never saw could be God, a high court he never came to can be a terrible judgment. Spreading fingers at that moment before death itself, before going to court and before getting to know the judge of God, can present prayer.

Avoiding meaning is the meaning of the The Trial:

"You are looking for meaning and doing the most sensible thing in the world here." [5]

The idea was to find a discovery, and Joseph K. never tried to find it. Even the fact that he at the beginning of the novel also rejects both the trial and the possibility of guilt, and finally becomes an accomplice in his own execution, can't be explained either by psychological development or by psychological breakdown.

''Before choosing or throwing a challenge to the organs of prosecution and starting with them an uncertain and dangerous game he defines the "security" and "natural flow of things". However, this is not only the wrong choice but also the biggest logical error in his thinking and judgment, because it will soon show that this "safety" path is the most insecure route he could choose, since from then on until his death he will not be safe at any moment. Likewise, it will be shown that his notion of "natural flow of things" is the biggest misconception he could fall into. And here is the Kafka's system of the philosophy of cognitive absurdity, according to which things are completely opposite from what they seem to be. " [6]

 Josef K. leaves everything to the case all the time.  Instead of struggling to look for a person for whom he was sentenced, he surrenders and, by himself, attributes himself to the death penalty. Abortion, laziness have killed him. Not knowing the rules, he played their game.

Paradoxically in the novel is the lack of accurate time and space. The only thing we know about the time is that it lasts for a year, from Josef's thirtieth to thirty-first birthday. But this year is actually his entire life, so we can say that the novel runs from Josef's birth to his death. 

The last chapter of the novel has many symbols: it talks about untouchable legal rules and norms. The entrance is not impossible, but it can not be entered, because behind one guard is always the second, behind the second there is third and so everything is indefinable.

All these are only side issues besides the most important and complex one, and this is the question of Joseph K's guilt. This guilt is in the most intimate relationship with K's ignorance of the law and with the absence of self-criticism and the re-examination of his past. Before talking to the priest, Josef K. has a desire to bring everything into line and live the life he lived before the arrest.

Does it make sense to fight against nonsense? Josef K. lived in a futility circle from which he could not find a way out. Is it worth the search for the truth? Is it worth fighting for justice? Is it worth it to quit as a dog on a quarry and let the shame to live in our place? -No!
You have to fight. Everything needs to be meaningful. What makes life meaningless? Josef K. consciously entered into a dead-endless street.

Novel The Trial is not an answer but a question.  Franz Kafka consciously raises questions, and the answer is only one: The purpose of life is searching for the truth.

This was my translation from Serbian to English from PULSE article ''Paradoks u romanu Franca Kafke ,,Proces’’ by T.Perovic

[1] The Trial, Franz Kafka page 23
[2] The Trial, Franz Kafka page 26
[3] The Trial, Franz Kafka page 27
[4] The Trial, Franz Kafka page 186
[5] The Trial, Franz Kafka page 31
[6] The Trial, Franz Kafka page 13

Franz Kafka wanted no evidence left
behind—at his death, at age 40 in 1924, he
left behind instructions for his friend Max
Brod to burn all surviving manuscripts,
unread.  Had these wishes been followed,
many of Kafka’s most
famous works, including
The Trial and The Castle,
would have been
destroyed. Yet other,
even more daunting
obstacles to Kafka’s
legacy came post-
humously from Nazi
censors, who first
limited the sale of his
books to Jewish readers, and then finally
banned them outright as “harmful and
undesirable.” But the influence of this
intensely self-critical writer—who spent
most of his career working in the insurance
industry—was only augmented by these
heavy-handed attempts at suppression.
During the postwar years, Kafka not only
emerged as one of the most influential
authors of the century, but even inspired an
adjective, "Kafkaesque"—referring to
anything nightmarishly arcane or
bureaucratically illogical—that  has crossed
over into the fields of sociology and political
commentary. "Though during his lifetime he
could not make a decent living," Hannah
Arendt once wrote of Kafka, “he will now
keep generations of intellectuals both gainfully
employed and well-fed."


Essay by Ted Gioia

Gustav Janouch, a friend of Franz Kafka, once
angered the author by referring to Edgar Allan
Poe as a notorious drunkard.  Kafka responded
that Poe "was a poor devil who had no defenses
against the world…. He wrote tales of mystery to
make himself at home in the

What an odd way of describing
the mystery genre!—an idiom
obsessed with crime, bloodshed,
guilt and punishment. How can
these gruesome and sordid
elements help anyone feel "at
home in the world"? Yet the
mystery elements in Kafka’s The
contribute to a very similar
ambiance. They are part of the
fabric of author’s imaginary world, woven into
the most familiar and comforting contexts. And,
given Kafka’s comment, it is perhaps no coincidence
that our protagonist Joseph K. first learns that he
is part of such a mystery while he is resting at home.

When Joseph K. wakes up one morning and rings
his landlady for his breakfast, he is visited instead
by a strange man who tells him: "You can’t go out,
you are arrested."

"So it seems.  But what for."

"We are not authorized to tell you that."

The apprehension of the culprit usually comes at
the end of a crime story. But in Franz Kafka's The
, the arrest is signaled in the first sentence. In
most mystery stories, the reader's curiosity is
aroused by the pressing question of who committed
the crime. In Kafka's reversal of the genre, the
guilty party is known from the outset, but what
what law he violated is far less clear. Other culprits
flee from the law, but Joseph K. confronts with
gusto the legal system that has accused him of an
unknown offense.  In short, every aspect of the
traditional crime story is turned upside down in
this famous novel.

Other mysteries emerge as the story progresses,
but—again—not those that typically figure in
crime stories. Who are the authorities making the
charges? What is the evidence? What is the process
to decide innocence or guilt?  What are the penalties
and punishments?  Even the significance of being
"under arrest" is uncertain, since K. is never
brought to jail.  

Kafka does everything possible to emphasize the
quotidian qualities of his story. He is quick to
remind readers that "K lived in a country with a
legal constitution, there was universal peace, all
the laws were in force." The rote rituals and
responsibilities of ordinary life continue as usual
even after Joseph K’s arrest—he still goes to
work, consults with friends, sees family members
…everything proceeding without significant
disruption.  Even so, the judicial procedures here
both intrusive and unsettling. The very locations
where they take place—in the attic of a tenement,
or a woman's room in a boarding house, or the
storage place in a bank—blur the lines between
the everyday world and the formal settings we
typically associate with legal matters. In Kafka's
upside-down world, the places where justice is
dealt out resemble the locales where, in other
novels, crimes might be committed.

Although The Trial was left in an unfinished state,
Kafka tries to give closure to the work in a
dramatic final scene. Yet even at the end, Joseph
K. is wondering where is the Judge, where is the
High Court—"were there arguments in his favor
that had been overlooked?" In a book that solved
the crime and apprehended the criminal at the
outset, huge mysteries remain after the story's close.  
Inconsistencies in the plot remain and drafts
of unfinished chapters add to the ambiguity of the
final work, but these hardly detract from Kafka's
masterpiece.  Indeed, one senses that this is a mystery
in which the author deliberately wanted many
elements to remain unresolved.  

Do we distort Kafka's intentions by looking at this
canonic work in the context of crime fiction?  We
have good reason to believe that Kafka would have
had no objections to such an approach.  His friend
Janouch relates a revealing anecdote in this regard.   
Janouch was embarrassed when, one day, a crime
novel in his briefcase was seen by Kafka. The latter
quickly reassured him:  "There is no need to be
ashamed of reading such things,” Kafka said.
“Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment is, after all,
only a crime novel.  And Shakespeare's Hamlet? It
is a detective story.   At the heart of the action is a
mystery, which is gradually brought to the light.
But is there a greater mystery than the truth?  
Poetry is always an expedition in search of truth."

This is the same spirit in which we need to read
Kafka's The Trial, and indeed this author's other
works as well.  He takes mystery to a higher level
—one in which clues, evidence and the atmosphere
of suspense and uncertainty are raised beyond the
scene of the crime and permeate the world around
us.  In this regard—as Kafka's definition of poetry
makes explicit—all true literary works confront, to
some degree, the mysterious. The adornments
provided by police, judge and jury are merely empty
gestures to compartmentalize and circumscribe this
mystery with the appearance of coherence and
completion.  Kafka resists this process at every
step, even while mocking it via his use of plot
elements drawn from conventional crime fiction.  
And if, in The Trial, Kafka had altered the
conclusion and given his beleaguered protagonist
an acquittal or dropped the proceedings completely,
this element of mystery would still have remained.  
After all, our author seems to say, this is not just
Joseph K’s trial, but our’s as well.

Ted Gioia writes on music, literature and popularculture.
His  latest book is Love Songs: The HiddenHistory,
published by Oxford University Press.

Publication date of this essay: August 23, 2011.


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Further Clues:

The Kafka Project

Understanding Joseph K.'s Failed Case

Orson Welles' The Trial (1962)

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