The Trial

Introduction of The Trial

This short novel of Franz Kafka was titled ‘Der Prozess’ in German. It was first published in 1914 and republished in 1925 after his death. Later, it was translated into various languages, raising eyebrows in the fiction-writing world about its storyline. The story revolves around a bank employee, Josef K., who is being put on trial by an invisible authority without any disclosure about the crime. The story seems to have been written under the influence of Dostoevsky’s works to whom Kafka is stated to have termed as his relative. The readers do not know the nature of the crime, just as the main character; and the end of the novel is abrupt with no resolution.

Summary of The Trial

Josef K works in a bank, living an ordinary life. One day while he is waiting for his breakfast, he faces an explainable situation as if he woke up to a new bureaucratic world. Two men without uniform enter Josef’s home and arrest him without giving an explanation. He asks many questions to find out why is he arrested, but the officers say nothing.

Surprisingly, Josef is permitted to do his regular job. So, he goes to work every day and tries to live a routine life. After a few weeks, he receives a notice to attend a court hearing on Sunday. However, he is not given the exact time or place. He understands that this is done to avoid interference with his job obligations.

Josef arrives at the hearing and is lost. He searches for the right spot for a long time, and the place is just an ordinary building. He walks to the upper floor, searching for the court, and does not find anything that would match the description of a court hearing. After a while, he sees a woman with kids, along with many empty and abandoned apartments.

He enters the last floor and knocks on the door; another woman answers it. She takes him to a certain room. Josef notices everything is different but it still looks like a courtroom. The judge accuses and insults him for being late. At the same time, Josef is not even aware of the place and time of the hearing at all.

The courtroom drama is almost surreal. It is divided into two sections. The audience’s reactions are entirely different as well. While it appears that they are in Josef’s favor for a while, they start smirking, whispering, and discussing among themselves without understanding what Josef has to say. Josef defends himself, trying his best to explain but soon he walks out. The audience continues to ignore and whisper, and nobody understands him. The trial doesn’t make any sense to Josef as he walks out.

Following Sunday Josef comes to same the court uninvited. He goes into the building where a courtroom worker’s wife offers herself to him. She begs him to take her away because she is entirely under the will of the court. Josef thought it would be an act of great revenge. However, a young lawyer appears and tells the woman that she has attended the court and there’s an order issued for her. She supposes to see the judge. Josef tries to help her but she refuses his help. The lawyer and the woman disappear together.

Her husband arrives and confides to Josef that he has to do all of these worthless jobs while his wife is taken away. Without a second thought, Josef agrees to take the tour of the building with the woman’s husband. Josef is extremely tired and begins to violently feel ill, barely managing to pull through at the end of the tour.

After a few days, Josef encounters an unusual incident. While returning home from work he hears strange noises behind a door. He sees three city guards, who tell him that the court coroner has ordered the third guard to whip them because he complained about them. Josef tries to convince the man not to whip the guards. The punisher pays no attention to Josef’s requests. Appalled, shocked, and confused, Josef is helpless as he can’t save them from the punishment and leaves. The next morning, Josef is terrified of the same scene is repeated.

Just like the previous incident, Josef experiences weird things almost every day. One day Josef’s uncle visits him. To his dismay, Josef’s uncle tells him that the position he is in will bring a bad name to his family. The uncle persuades him that he needs a good lawyer, meet’s Huld a lawyer, who is also Josef’s uncle’s friend.

Josef faces another shock when he discovers that the lawyer already knows everything about the case. Josef also learns that Leni, a girl he was seeing, was Huld’s nurse. Josef has a strong relationship with her, but his uncle objects to it. He also believes that Leni has or had a relationship with Huld, the lawyer.

Josef continues to think and wonder more about his situation, feeling hopeless. He visited a lawyer, Huld. Huld assures him that there is some hope. And also tells that the case is going well. Judging by the circumstances, Josef knows that the case is not strong and he may not win it. Josef also wonders if the lawyer is purposely delaying everything to take advantage of the situation. Finally, Josef decides to defend himself. However, he doesn’t know how to defend himself because he has no idea what crime he has committed, in spite of recalling the smallest possible details of his life.

Josef’s life continues to grow harder each day, making his regular job difficult too. His colleagues reveal that they know about the trial and most of them hold him accountable. Josef also comes to know that the Court Painter Titorelli knows the details about his trial. Titorelli agrees to clarify a few details to Josef and also about where the court stands. He also mentions that the court is already convinced that Josef is guilty. This decision will make Josef’s case even weaker and he will not be able to defend himself.

Titorelli adds a little hope in Josef’s case. He says that if he has connections in higher places, especially in court it is possible to influence them to overturn their verdict. He offers to help. However, Josef is confused when Titorelli asks him if Josef wants a real release, an illusion of a release, or just stall the court process further to avoid any final judgment. Titorelli clarifies that acquittal or full release from the case is impossible. Josef also finds that the other two options are of no help. The only thing he can do is to try his best to postpone the trial. In return for his advice, Josef buys a few of his paintings and returns home feeling more terrified and confused.

After losing hope and not seeing the results, Josef decides to fire the lawyer. He is greeted by Block, a tiny man who works with Huld. Block too has been on trial for five years. He says to Josef that he discovered a few new pieces of information about his (Josef’s) case. Block tells him that Josef’s lips are probably the reason he will get convicted. Hearing this Josef is further terrified. He fires his lawyer immediately. Huld tells Josef that he is impatient and unappreciative of all he has done for him so far.

Josef’s situation hasn’t changed and they get more complicated each day. One day he is ordered to take an Italian man to show the cathedral. When the visitor doesn’t show up, Josef visits the cathedral on his own.

He sees the priest who appears to talk to Josef or at least give a speech. After a while, when Josef is trying to leave, the priest calls him by the name. While Josef is surprised, he listens to the priest. The priest continues to tells him that Josef is too much dependant on others, especially women. His choices and his behavior will reflect poorly on Josef’s trial. The priest tells him a story of a guard and a man from the village who stood outside the door of law his whole life, waiting to get in. The story has no ending because right when he was dying the man, was told that the door can be shut.

A year is passed now, and it is Josef’s 31st birthday. Two men in black coats arrive and they do not introduce themselves. Josef, who is standing at the door, is waiting for his guests. It is surprising that Josef knows of their arrival and has made peace with his destiny. He knows the court has decided to execute him, unlawfully without clarifying his crime. While Josef is taken, he does not fight back. The men take him outside of town. They stab him in the heart with a knife. The readers hear his last words echo as the story comes to an end: “Like a dog!”.

Major Themes in The Trial

  1. Original Sin: The novel shows the theme of the original sin of mankind through Josef K.’s character, who is undergoing a ridiculous trial without having any information about his crime and activity. Therefore, his execution signifies that man’s cardinal sin that is the Original sin of our forefathers, Adam, and Eve. This shows that though he is being tried for different and vague allegations, the real crime lies in his being a human.
  2. Identity versus Bureaucracy: The theme of bureaucracy and the loss of identity is clear from the second missing name of Josef K. He comes to know that even the persons implying to sentence others are also undergoing punishments but the authority lies somewhere in the maze of this ambiguity the bureaucracy has created. This institutionalization of the judicial procedure has made all of them equally anonymous. Hence, the loss of identity.
  3. Communication: Communication and its significance is another major theme of the novel. Josef K. who might also have been a bureaucrat is in the management. He also knows how communication works, how it can run systems, and how its breakdown leads to mismanagement and outright exclusion from the social fabric. It is shown through his Italian client to whom he is unable to follow due to this ambiguity. Also, he does not understand Titorelli’s paintings and fails to get rid of this ambiguity and trial. It could be that the novel is a metaphorical representation of this failure of communication.
  4. Power: The theme of power is present in the discursive practice that is conveyed to Josef K. through different representations of the law enforcing agencies but the invisibility surrounded them shows the working of power. It shows how institutional power is distributed through its instruments which also become the victims of this power. The agents involved in arresting Josef also undergo torture due to their corrupt practices, while Josef seems to understand the absurdity of this power dispensation with his own trial and final execution.
  5. Society and Class: Despite its being a dystopic novel, The Trial shows that the burden of population and strict institutionalization of abstract ideas into concrete models give nothing to the society except plundering the citizens of their identity and creating classes among them. The predicament of Josef to go through hell to know his crime, which is not disclosed after his death. The main officials of the judicial process show the absurdity of this modernization. It also shows how personal relationships are lost in this maze of the new modernity where institutions work without having any proper infrastructure.
  6. Isolation: The thematic strand of isolation is clear from the trial of Josef K. as is left alone without proper guidance or support. Throughout his experience, he feels isolated in the community where everybody blames him or assumes that he is guilty. He is caught in a situation where all of his efforts are creating more complicated situations for him. Even the lawyer, his uncle refers to, proves a trap for him including his secretary Leni. So, his isolation increases further.
  7. Law: The Trial also shows law, its different hermeneutics, and its implementation as well as loopholes in this implementation. A person caught in the web of law cannot free himself until his death. Josef’s plight shows that even his relations are hellbent on making him a fly to be caught tightly in the web of law. His lawyer, Huld, lawyer’s secretary, Leni, his landlady, and even neighbors seem engaged in trapping him from one or the other side. The parable, too, shows the same seamy side of the law.
  8. Ambiguity: It is another major theme of the novel in that nobody knows about Josef’s crime, while the institution where he is to be tried, too, is ambiguous and anonymous. When he tries to go deeper, he comes to know about more complications that prove hazier and more ambiguous than before. This ambiguity continues until his final execution.
  9. Absurdity of Life: On the philosophical level the novel shows the absurdity of life. Josef’s life has become hell in running from pillar to post to find out his crime and likely way to pull himself out of this mess. However, the more he enters into this mess, the deeper he is trapped into it. This shows him the absurdity of life.

Major Characters in The Trial

  1. Josef K.: Josef K. is the main character, a generic white-collar worker of a bank where he is caught in an anonymous crime. Despite his being in his job, he is ensnared by some unknown officials to get him entangled in a judicial process. This trial puts Josef in an inescapable situation and affecting his sanity. Despite the certainty of his innocence, he runs from pillar to post, getting guidance from his landlady and his uncle, suspecting both and then involving himself with Leni and pulling himself out of his love such as with Burstner and Leni and seeking legal assistance from Huld. By the end of the story, having made peace that he will not be given justice, Josef, is killed by two unknown assailants.
  2. Mrs. Grubach: Although Mrs. Frau Gurbach’s character is not vast. Yet, she plays an important role when she alleges that Josef K. might have been arrested for his love affair with Miss Burstner. Despite this, she does not seem unkind offers Josef a helping hand. However, superficially or really, she does not help him to free himself from this anonymous legal complication.
  3. Miss Burstner: Miss. Burstner does not help Josef K. to pull himself out of his predicament despite having a good legal background and a job in a legal corporation. She is merely his beloved and stays that. When she comes to know about his problem, she very carefully separates herself from Josef K.
  4. Uncle Karl: Karl is Josef’s guardian who has raised him. However, he is unable to help him much other than merely suggesting to him the way out of this mess. He blames Josef that his actions have trapped him. While also telling that the family is losing its good reputation due to his trial. He sends him to Huld, which proves ineffective.
  5. Mr. Huld: Huld is the legal adviser of Josef introduced by his uncle Karl. Huld is an extremely pompous lawyer and also an impractical person. He is only seen spending his time with Leni and advises his clients otherwise instead of their legal matters.
  6. Leni: Although Leni appears quite briefly as the servant of Dr. Huld, she becomes the mistress of Josef for a brief period in a bid to justify her job with Huld so that his client could continue their visits. It is clear that Huld is using her as a seduction tool to exploit his clients.
  7. Fräulein Montag: She is the friend of her former beloved, Burstner. She works as a mediator between Josef and Burstner but later takes Burstner with her.
  8. Minor Characters: Inspector who arrests Joseph, his agents Fraz and Willem, and several other characters whose role is limited to appear at certain places and disappear after moving the storyline forward. Josef’s colleagues in the bank Kullich, Rabensteiner, and Kaminer are among these characters.

Writing Style of The Trial

Although it seems specifically Kafkaesque style which is a bizarre mixture of reporting and fantasy of the storyline. At some point, it seems that the story has a matter-of-the-fact tone as it does not tilt here and there but stays to the point. It is typical and simple prose that has a direct but seductive impact on the readers in attracting their attention to the simplicity of the diction without their knowing it explicitly. The story ends without resolution, leaving the reader with a wider understanding of the institution that runs the world.

Analysis of Literary Devices in The Trial

  1. Action: The main action of the novel comprises Josef K.’s plight of seeking justice for an uncommitted crime which shifts from his lodging house to court offices and then to his bank, and finally to a place outside the town. The rising action occurs when he meets his uncle Karl who guides him to meet a lawyer, Huld. The falling action occurs when he faces execution outside the town.
  2. Allegory: The Trial shows the use of allegory of totalitarianism, institutionalization, and religious narratives. The court system, the court, the judicial procedure, and the clients, too, become instruments of this allegory.
  3. Antagonist: Although it seems that fate is the main antagonist of The Trial in the opening chapters, yet it is clear that the court system, magistrates, and the state itself are the main antagonist as they do not let the protagonist fulfill his dreams of living in peace.
  4. Allusion: There are various examples of allusions given in the novel. For example,
    i. Josef K.’s name alludes to Jesus Christ.
    ii. Josef K.’s trial alludes to Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.
    iii. The trial in the cathedral alludes to the Biblical parable of the narrow passage.
    iv. The book having an obscene image alludes to Soloman Maimon’s autobiography.
  5. Conflict: The are two types of conflicts in the novel. The first one is the external conflict that starts between Josef K. and the court system. The second conflict is the inner conflict that goes on in the mind of Josef K. about his strange predicament.
  6. Characters: The Trial presents both static as well as dynamic characters. Josef K. is a dynamic character who witnesses various transformations throughout the novel. However, the rest of the characters such as Huld, Uncle Karl, Mrs. Gurbach, and Leni; all are flat characters as they do not go through any change during the course of the novel.
  7. Climax: The climax takes place when the priest in the cathedral informs him that he only needs to accept it as a necessity after which he is executed.
  8. Foreshadowing: The novel shows the following examples of foreshadowing:
    i. Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., he knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he was arrested. (Chapter-I)
    ii. K. was informed by telephone that there would be a small hearing concerning his case the following Sunday. (Chapter-II)
    iii. Every day over the following week, K. expected another summons to arrive, he could not believe that his rejection of any more hearings had been taken literally, and when the expected summons really had not come by Saturday evening he took it to mean that he was expected. (Chapter-III)
    These foreshadow show that something ominous is going to happen to Josef K. despite his being certain that he is innocent.
  9. Imagery: Imagery is used to perceive things involving five senses. For example,
    i. The weather was dull on Sunday. K. was very tired, as he had stayed out drinking
    until late in the night celebrating with some of the regulars, and he had almost overslept. He dressed hurriedly, without the time to think and assemble the various plans he had worked out during the week. (Chapter-II)
    ii. What a position it was that K. found himself in, compared with the judge sitting up in the attic! K., at the bank, had a big office with an ante-room, and had an enormous window through which he could look down at the activity in the square. (Chapter-III)
    iii. One evening, a few days later, K. was walking along one of the corridors that
    separated his office from the main stairway – he was nearly the last one to leave for home that evening, there remained only a couple of workers in the light of a single bulb in the dispatch department – when he heard a sigh from behind a door which he had himself never opened but which he had always thought just led into a junk room. (Chapter-V)
    All of these examples show the use of different images such as color, sound, and touch.
  10. Metaphor: The Trial shows good use of various extended metaphors. For example,
    i. He threw himself down on his bed, and from the dressing table he took the nice apple that he had put there the previous evening for his breakfast. (Chapter-I)
    ii. Then K. noticed a small piece of paper next to them, went across to it and read, in a childish and unpractised hand, “Entrance to the Court Offices.” Were the court offices here, in the attic of this tenement, then?. (Part-III)
    iii. He was no longer a client, he was the lawyer’s dog. (Chapter-VIII)
    The underlined words show the use of metaphors as the apple is indirectly compared to the first fruit while the court offices are compared to the attic or narrow building where it becomes very heavy upon the undertrial prisoners to win freedom. The third is the comparison of the client to a dog.
  11. Mood: The novel shows a quite serious but highly ironic mood during the trial of Josef K. However, with the passage of time, it becomes somber and even sardonic by the end.
  12. Motif: Most important motifs of the novel are justice, trial, and the importance of human life.
  13. Narrator: The novel is narrated in the third person POV. It is also called an omniscient narrator who happens to be the author himself as he can see things from all perspectives. In the case of The Trial, Kafka himself is the narrator.
  14. Paradox: The novel shows paradoxes in different situations such as the trial that shows contradiction. The second is the situation of paradox where Josef seeks help from an assistant’s wife but then refuses and the third is his own interest and indifference. All these paradoxes show the novel itself a paradox.
  15. Protagonist: Josef K. is the protagonist of the novel. The novel starts with his case and ends with his end through execution at the court’s order.
  16. Rhetorical Questions: The novel shows good use of rhetorical questions at several places such as:
    i. Oh, my God!” said the policeman. “In a position like yours, and you think
    you can start giving orders, do you? (Chapter-I)
    ii. In what way could she entrap him? Was he not still free, so free that he could crush the entire court whenever he wanted, as least where it concerned him? Could he not have that much confidence in himself? (Chapter-III)
    iii. Was the lawyer trying to comfort K. or to confuse him? (Chapter-VII)
    iv. Were they to be exploited solely for K.’s benefit? (Chapter-VII)
    This example shows the use of rhetorical questions posed by different characters such as first by Josef K., then Leni, and then the narrator.
  17. Theme: A theme is a central idea that the novelist or the writer wants to stress upon. The novel shows the titular thematic strand of trial and also other themes such as the absurdity of life, justice, alienation, sex, seduction, legality, and existentialism.
  18. Setting: The setting of the novel is an unspecific modern city where it takes place in the bank, at a lawyer’s chamber, at some cathedral, at some attic, and in an apartment.
  19. Simile: The novel shows good use of various similes. For example:
    i. And cases like this can last a long time, especially the ones that have been coming up lately. (Chapter-I)
    ii. Was this man, probably younger than he was, lecturing him like a schoolmaster? (Chapter-I)
    iii. None of them stood properly upright, their backs were bowed, their knees bent, they stood like beggars on the street. (Chapter-III)
    iii. The whole thing really looked just like a coverlet thrown carelessly over the couch. (Part-II)
    The first simile compares the cases, the second the person to a schoolteacher, the third the persons to beggers, and the last one the thing to a coverlet.
  20. Tone: The novel shows an indifferent and sometimes very sad tone.
  21. Irony: The novel shows the following irony in the story:
    i. The irony of the trial that an innocent person is trapped.
    ii. The irony of the title of the novel shows a trial.
    iii. The irony in the interpretation and of an allegory within an allegory.