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| The Trial by Franz Kafka Essay


A famous novel of Franz Kafka, The Trial, can be regarded as a prophesy for the present, as well as a mirror of the time when it was written. Through such literary devices as grotesque, expressionism, and absurd, Kafka depicts such acute social issues as deep frustration and socio-political disillusionment. Therefore, he reflects his contemporary reality and encourages readers to read between the lines by engaging them to relate with the book. The Trial was written in the 20th century before the two World Wars and such political regimes as Nazism and Totalitarianism. However, the story clearly reveals the author’s anticipation of the upcoming political repressions. In The Trial, Kafka raises the issue of the absence of any legitimate and cohesive law system and the consequent absence of proper authorities. As a result, people have a very vague understanding of law and order, the society is haphazard and dysfunctional.

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The Trial by Franz Kafka Book Report Example

In this book, Kafka sketches men in continuous spiritual search of confidence, and their conflict with an established bureaucracy. The title of the book contains a contradiction and makes the reader feel like the author fails to display an actual trial in his story; however, the theme of omission and contradiction is recurrent in the main character’s life.

The Trial was especially significant to its author. It is said to be the reflection of his own life experiences and feelings. Franz Kafka was convinced that every individual lives in a hostile world, and their intrinsic forces are indifferent to the institutions established by the society. Kafka did not distinguish optimistic prospects for an individual in this hostile world. He observed that personality became reduced to being an object because of the numerous institutions that strive to limit people’s freedoms. However, despite the negligence around him, the main character of The Trial, Joseph K, is willing and trying to find justice.

The Trial cannot be viewed in a context of an ordinary life. The author creates a parallel world and skillfully transfers it to the consciousness of the reader. In other words, Kafka creates an alternative reality on the basis of his contemporary world, thus revealing how it functions. Joseph is a bank employee and a silent bachelor, who is unexpectedly arrested by officials in uniforms. Throughout the story, Joseph seeks to find and develop some means of communication with the surrounding world. One morning, he wakes up and suddenly learns that he is being filed a lawsuit. Moreover, he does not understand the reason for this, as he cannot recollect ever committing a crime.

Actually, the main character does not know what he is accused of, and this is the first apparent abuse of power presented to the reader. Joseph has never been imprisoned before; he is a free man, who lives under the strict supervision of society. Initially, his reaction to the accusation is as follows, “After all, K. lived in a state governed by law, there was universal peace, all statutes were in force; who dared assault him in his own lodgings?” (Kafka, 2003). If the man is “guilty”, by what law has he been judged and found to be guilty? Who are his judges? What are the legal procedures by which his verdict is arrived at? Is it possible to defend oneself in a court? These are the questions, which are posed by The Trial, and which Joseph K. attempts to answer (Marson, 1975).

The author’s personal tragic attitude appears amazingly suitable to the next generation, given the gradual establishment of totalitarian modes, enduring fascism, and the upcoming world war. Kafka often revealed sharp sensitivity to the pressing social, cultural and political issues of his time. Strauss commented that “The Trial, for all its ambiguity and multivalence, carries precise political meanings and warnings that Kafka fully intended” (Straus, 2007, p. 379).

The main themes of The Trial center on the issue of the use and abuse of power. People create the rules, which they have to follow, as well as the law and institutions that will manage their lives. Kafka skillfully exposes that in his literary works. The Trial shows that there is no real law and no real juridical system, whatsoever. The pretended law is used arbitrarily, and nobody really understands it. In fact, Joseph K. does not know what he is accused of, as the law in this story is based only on omissions and contradictions. In other words, although there seems to be no legitimate law system, people are still expected to respect and obey the dysfunctional rule that is somehow preserved in their society. This is best exemplified by the fact that there is no justified reason for Joseph K’s arrest, and the only time the author depicts a sort of trial, he highlights its absolute absurdity and dubiety, as there is no precise time, place, or proper representation of the law structures. The author reflects the system people live in and predicts the beginning of terrible historical events such as totalitarian regimes that will shortly occur.

The novel terminates quite symbolically. The main character is sentenced to an execution. Perhaps, it is not necessary to perceive this death as physical; death seems to have taken a different form: the person already became an inseparable part of the bureaucratic world. It seems that Joseph K. is conscious of this fact and maybe this is the reason why he embraces his death, almost begging for it. Feuerlicht (1967) wrote, “K. is guilty simply because he exists. […] Human existence is generally beset by sickness, fear, frustration, weakness, and injustice, and constantly threatened by death, to which it succumbs” (p. 339). When one is born, the guilt is already inherent. Joseph K. is naturally guilty; there is no need to have a proven guilt. Throughout the story, Joseph K. never denies being guilty; it seems that he recognizes that there is some guilt in him, but that is something he cannot change. All human existence is a never-ending trial, and the suspects are initially condemned to death. This might be interpreted as Kafka’s symbolic illustration of the concept of original sin. He satirizes the absurdities of his own contemporary world and the general absurdity of human existence.

The atmosphere of The Trial is perceived as a great metaphor of a callous and mechanical bureaucracy. The main character is initially guilty to the world, but the way in which he is punished far surpasses the real extent of his personal guilt. Basically, certain complicated forms of social establishments, which are extremely bureaucratized and callous, are forced not to consider any rational purpose unless one acts: to suppress this individual and to inspire the sense of guilt. Every person in such bureaucratic society is confronted with the numerous institutions and their artificial laws and orders, restraining influence of the outside world, and the concealed authoritative need for suppressing individual freedoms.

The plot of the novel could be viewed in the context of a long line of totalitarian anti-Utopias that date back to the beginning and the middle of the century, and describe societies in which individuals are neglected and insignificant, everyone can be replaced, and the authorities are never obliged to prove or explain anything to the people. Obviously, it is necessary to follow the rules, but one should evaluate whether these rules are significant to the state, the governor or the society in general. Being a lawyer, Franz Kafka was directly related to the issues of law and legislation.

In The Trial, Kafka describes a small person, who is bound for facing the ruthless machine of authoritative and totalitarian state, and lives in a constant state of horror and powerlessness. It is recurrently said that Kafka spoke about himself as if he consisted of fear and that this might be the best of his features. This social fear, which eventually evolved in a metaphysical horror, became dominant in Kafka’s philosophical and literary constructions. However, unlike the rescuing fear of God, this fear is destructive, and it has devastated many of Kafka’s characters (Lawson, 1975).

Kafka is among the first writers who made the vulnerability of the person as the focus of their literary work. In The Trial, he stresses that a person can suddenly appear under certain circumstances, from which other people may want to take advantage. Eventually, this person will suffer from the realization of utter injustice, disorder and social insecurity. It results in a growing disappointment with life, which causes depression and creates an atmosphere of total hopelessness and disillusionment. According to the writer, the world is doomed because the hostile reality destroys everything humane in a person.

The Trial was published in 1925; however, Kafka wrote it ten years earlier, in 1914. It was even before the Russian Revolution, before World War I, before Nazism and Stalinism. Hence, this novel may be interpreted in terms of Kafka’s analyzing possible scenarios of social modernization. Today, the book’s absurdity seems even more relevant than in the middle of the last century. According to Jaffe (1967), “Then the valuable absolute was split, and it became suddenly clear that everything that was given certain sense before now had lost its value” (p. 64). It seems that judicial system in The Trial has created an atmosphere of fear, which vivified the environment for functioning on the despotic mechanism of violence of the superiority of state over individuals. Lawson (1975) highlights that “In the novel, all are involved in the events, all know about the consequence, all are involved in commitment of a crime, but the innocent person is going to be condemned” (p. 12).

Kafka skillfully depicts individual angst, private suffering, and metaphysical disaffection of Joseph K. in the context of an obvious abuse of power by the authorities and the bizarre reality he lives in. Another feature that strikes the readers as unusual is the utter lack of surprise on behalf of he main character. The muted ordinary tone of narration puts the irrationality of behaviour of some of the characters and the improbability of the behaviour in some of the events into a sharper relief.


The Trial was written long before fascism and totalitarian regimes, but its author seems to have been able to trace and anticipate the upcoming events. The main concern of The Trial is the absence of a legitimate juridical system and the arbitrary use of the existing simulated law. The Trial is a good example of expressionism in literature. Lastly, in his book, Kafka illustrated the dysfunctional social system in which people live, as well as the loneliness and despair of the human kind.

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