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The Trial
by Franz Kafka A single action, event or artwork can be interpreted in many different ways. A good example of this is the constitution. Judges have spent many years trying to understand it. Some explain it literally, while others explain it according to the basic concept of the law. This gives different people various understandings of the law. The same thing holds true for " The Trial", by Franz Kafka. There are many explanations of the novel with different proofs and examples for each interpretation. Some people even believe that there is no "hidden meaning" in the book, but that it was written to be a tragedy. One interpretation of " The Trial", according to Solomon J. Spiro in Twentieth Century Literature, is that it is a psychological book which deals with guilt. After all, Kafka was a contemporary of Sigmund Freud, the famous psychologist. Freud called guilt "the most important problem in the history of evolution" (Spiro. "Verdict - Guilty! A Study of The Trial". 170). Kafka, who had formerly been a lawyer, decided to deal with this issue in a setting with which he was familiar; the court. The court is perfect for this topic because a judge determines the guilt or innocence of a person. According to this opinion the novel is about what happens in one's mind. Kafka, himself, was obsessed with guilt, as shown in his diaries. He once wrote "I am sinful in every nook and cranny of my being" (Spiro 172). The story begins at K.'s thirtieth birthday, which is an extremely likely age for guilt to begin. Also, the court appointments are all on Sundays, the day of the week when people's idleness causes them to contemplate their guilt. There are three ways in which a person attempts to relieve himself of his guilt. They are religion, psycho-analysis, and art (Spiro 169-174). With religion, man gets comfort but no solution for his guilt and ends up confused. This is evident in the Cathedral that K. visits. In K.'s conversation with the priest, the priest relates to him a wonderful parable about the doorkeeper of Law. The two enter a debate as to whether or not the doorkeeper can be accused of deception. In the end, they decide that the doorkeeper is arrogant, yet kind; free, yet subject to the law; simple-minded, yet sophisticated... However, ultimately the doorkeepers "are beyond human judgment" (Spiro 175). This is what every religious man must believe, that the "law" is not in his hands but rather in the hands of god. In the end K., in spite of the fact that he wants to learn more from the priest, makes an excuse to leave. This is "to keep himself from being utterly dependent on the priest" (Spiro 175). Religion can only offer the enigmatic, as with the possibility of entrance to the law, with faith. But not a "mode of living outside of the court" (Spiro 175). The second manner of dealing with the court is psycho-analysis. An intense attachment to religion is usually a prelude to psycho-analysis. Psycho-analysis is the following of a person's history in sequential order to find out that person's peace of mind. Huld, the lawyer, is the psychiatrist according to this approach. Huld, in German, means grace. This is quite close to "Freud" in German- delight. Huld's constant illness, which is due to his constant work for his clients, is like a psychiatrist's counter-transference, or the analyst's own suffering due to his involvement in the treatment of his patient. Freud has held that sexual instinct is an essential element to guilt. Leni, Huld's nurse, has animal-like qualities which suggest the personification of sexual instinct. A basic complaint about psycho-analysis is that it makes everyone self-conscious about the motivation of their actions. When K. tells Huld that he will no longer represent him in court, K. Says: One would naturally have expected the case to weigh even less on my conscious after that, since after all one engages a lawyer to shift the burden a little onto his shoulders. But the very opposite of that resulted. I was never so much plagued by my case as I have been since I have engaged you to represent me (Spiro 177,178). The third approach in which a person tries to relieve himself of his guilt is through art. Originally, Kafka may have considered this the ultimate solution, but then changed his mind. A deleted section from an unfinished chapter does contain elements of a solution. However, the painter chapter conveys a sense of ugliness. Titorelli, the painter, gives K. the most extensive description of the court, but the emptiness of the "heathscapes" implies that there is no way to escape the burden of guilt. Art can describe the problem, but not solve it (Spiro 178). Kafka was a Jew living in Prague. He wrote " The Trial" in 1925. This was the time immediately preceding World War II, and the holocaust. It is very likely that Anti-Semitic propaganda was already beginning to spread. Because of this it is feasible to say that the book is a story to remind the Jews of that time of Jewish history in Europe, and to show everyone the senseless of Anti-Semitism. The story takes place in Germany, the country that led the attack on Jews during the Holocaust. K., the victim, is a wealthy banker. This occupation was reputed to be one that many Jews had held. The court would then be the anti-Semites attacking the Jews for no apparent reason. In the Middle Ages, people would try to isolate the Jews in an attempt to convert them to Christianity. If the Jews did not comply and convert they were often killed. These steps are all followed by the court in The Trial. The novel begins with the arrest of K. For no reason. At first, K. tries ignoring it and tries to continue with his everyday life. When K. finds out that being arrested does not affect his everyday life he replies "Then being arrested is not so very bad" (Kafka. The Trial. 16). However K.'s uncle later tells him: "think of your relatives, think of our good name" (Kafka 102). This tells him that because of a false accusation his family will undergo hardships. False allegation often caused many Jews in a community to be killed as an act of retaliation.. The court continued isolating K. by filling his mind with the case so that he thought of nothing else. Finally, the court tricks K. into visiting a Cathedral. They do this by having a client of K.'s arrange a meeting with K. in a Cathedra. When he arrived, the Cathedral square was "quite deserted" (Kafka 224). K. then has a long conversation with a priest and gains valuable information about the court. However, before they finish their conversation K. interrupts "Of course, I must go" (Kafka 243). In the following chapter, two people visit K.'s house. Before they tell him why they are there, K. announces "They went to finish me off" (Kafka 245). He already knows that the happenings at the Cathedral would lead to his death. This is reminiscent of the Jews who rejected Christianity in the face of death. This disturbing and vastly influential novel has been interpreted on many levels of structure and symbol; but most commentators agree that the book explores the themes of guilt, anxiety, and moral impotency in the face of some ambiguous force. Still others believe that the novel does not represent anything and is simply a tragedy. K. would be the tragic hero of the story. He is a rich banker who is treated better than anyone else in his apartment complex. His tragic flaw was his tendency to have to reason everything logically. He tries to rationally understand why he is being tried, but learns that "There's nothing learned about it" (Sewell. The Vision of Tragedy 150). What makes K. a hero is his longing to find who is charging him and why he is being charged. In one chapter while K. is walking through a section of the court, he passes by some other victims. They all stand up when he passes, however, his tragic flaw brings him down in the end. The climax is reached in the last chapter when he assumes that the two people must be people from the court who have come to kill him. In fact we never find out who these people are, all we know is that they kill him. K. just figures that logically this is the event that must come now (Sewall 148-153). "The Trial" has been one of the most widely discussed books of our century. The plight of Joseph K., consumed by guilt and condemned for a "crime" he does not understand by a "court" with which he cannot communicate, is a profound and disturbing image of man in the modern world. There are no formal charges, no procedures, and little information to guide the defendant. One of the most unsettling aspects of the novel is the continual juxtaposition of alternative hypotheses, multiple explanations, different interpretations of cause and effect, and the uncertainty it breeds. The whole rational structure of the world is undermined. In fact it has been twisted to mean so many different things that some people have become tired of it and decided that it represents nothing and is just a tragedy.

"For complete summary and analysis of literary works, please visit NovelGuide.com

 



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