- Book: The Trial
- Author: Franz Kafka
- Pages: 266
The Trial by Franz Kafka was published in 1925, one year after Kafka’s death. The history behind the book is just as interesting as the book itself. Kafka never actually finished The Trial and asked his dear friend Max Brod to destroy it along with all his other unfinished works. Thankfully, Brod went against his friend’s wishes and did his best to scrap together and finish the messy manuscript that has become The Trial. A lot of interesting details regarding the history of the book are found in the publisher’s note in the beginning, which is followed by a translator’s note that is just as pleasurable to read. However, be warned the translator’s note does contain sizable spoilers. Check out this video by The School of Life on Kafka’s life and how it influenced his writing.
The story is about a modest individual named Josef K. who finds himself under arrest one morning for reasons he is not aware of. His arrest isn’t very normal either. He isn’t put in handcuffs or taken to jail, but he is simply “under arrest” and told there will be a trial to determine his guilt. The conversation K. has with the two men who place him under arrest give a warning of what is to expect from this story; it is utterly absurd. Frankly, I would not consider the following explanation of the premise to be a spoiler. But nevertheless, some people might consider the following to be spoilers. Read at your own risk! K. never finds out what it is he is on trial for. This is the main mechanic of the book. Everything K. does to try and help his trial is utterly useless and this is almost always attributed to the fact he has no idea why he is on trial. I don’t think wild goose chase is the right way to describe the circumstances, but it more feels like his trial is a futile battle. Spoiler territory has ended.
I enjoyed The Trial immensely. I was initially turned off by the writing style, which is plentiful with run-on thoughts that never seem to end. The dialogue isn’t broken down with indentations either, so it can be a little tricky to follow at points. And on top of it all the book is a translation from German to English, which according the translator is not the easiest translation to make. However, almost unintentionally, the style of writing embellishes the absurd tone of the book and makes it very easy to get sucked in to the story. The story is very susceptible to interpretation and I find it best to read the text before being influenced by other people’s interpretations. Skip to the next paragraph if you do not want to be influenced. My favorite way of looking at The Trial is as a critique of the modern way of life. It is no secret the ultimate criticism is of societal judgement, but it goes further when considering the way K. deals with his trial. Everything about K.’s life falls apart when he is arrested even though other than being “on trial” nothing about his life has changed. He isn’t held anywhere, he voluntarily goes to all of the inquiries and hearings, and all his choices to fight the accusation are on his on behalf. Nothing is preventing K. from leaving town and avoiding it all together. But he stays in vanity and fights it because he is selfish and wants to keep his life equally as comfortable as it was before the accusation.
An excerpt that is particularly telling of what The Trial conveys is when K. is speaking with the priest. They are talking of a story about a doorkeeper and a man from the country. The man wants entry into Law and the doorkeeper prevents him.
“The man has only just arrived at the Law, the doorkeeper is already there. He has been appointed to his post by the Law, to doubt his dignity is to doubt the Law itself.” “I don’t agree with that opinion,” said K., shaking his head, “for if you accept it, you have to consider everything the doorkeeper says as true. But you’ve already proved conclusively that that’s not possible.” “No,” said the priest, “you don’t have to consider everything true, you just have to consider it necessary.” “A depressing opinion,” said K. “Lies are made into a universal system.” (Kafka 223)
The Trial is a great work of literature that I would recommend to anyone interested in a new experience. Kafka is an impressively unique writer with a brain worth picking. It isn’t certain why he never finished the book despite starting it in 1914, but I’m glad Brod decided not to destroy it as Kafka wished.
Word Count: 795