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
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
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