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The Trial ( ) is a novel by Franz Kafka, first published in 1925. One of Kafka's best-known works, it tells the story of a man arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime never revealed either to him or the reader.

Like Kafka's other novels, The Trial was never completed, although it does include a chapter which brings the story to an end. After his death in 1924, Kafka's friend and literary executor Max Brod edited the text for publication.

The Trial was filmed and released in 1962 by director Orson Welles, starring Anthony Perkins (as Josef K.) and Romy Schneider. A more recent remake was released in 1993 and featured Kyle MacLachlan in the star role. In 1999, it was adapted for comics by Italian artist Guido Crepax.

Plot summary

On his thirtieth birthday, a senior bank clerk, Josef K., who lives in lodgings, is unexpectedly arrested by two unidentified agents for an unspecified crime. The agents do not name the authority for which they are acting. He is not taken away, however, but left at home to await instructions from the Committee of Affairs.

K goes to visit the magistrate, but instead is forced to have a meeting with an attendant's wife. Looking at the Magistrate's books, he discovers a cache of pornography.

K returns home to find Fräulein Montag, a lodger from another room, moving in with Fräulein Bürstner. He suspects that this is to prevent him from pursuing his affair with the latter woman. Yet another lodger, Captain Lanz, appears to be in league with Montag.

Later, in a store room at his own bank, K discovers the two agents who arrested him being whipped by a flogger for asking K for bribes, as a result of complaints K previously made about them to the Magistrate. K tries to argue with the flogger, saying that the men need not be whipped, but the flogger cannot be swayed. The next day he returns to the store room and is shocked to find everything as he had found it the day before, including the Whipper and the two agents.

K is visited by his uncle, who is a friend of a lawyer. The lawyer was with the Clerk of the Court. The uncle seems distressed by K's predicament. At first sympathetic, he becomes concerned K is underestimating the seriousness of the case. The uncle introduces K to an advocate, who is attended by Leni, a nurse, who K's uncle suspects is the advocate's mistress. K has a sexual encounter with Leni, whilst his uncle is talking with the Advocate and the Chief Clerk of the Court, much to his uncle's anger, and to the detriment of his case.

K visits the advocate and finds him to be a capricious and unhelpful character. K returns to his bank but finds that his colleagues are trying to undermine him.

K is advised by one of his bank clients to visit Titorelli, a court painter, for advice. Titorelli has no official connections, yet seems to have a deep understanding of the process. K learns that, to Titorelli's knowledge, not a single defendant has ever been acquitted. He sets out what K's options are, but the consequences of all of them are unpleasant: they consist of different delay tactics to stretch out his case as long as possible before the inevitable "Guilty" verdict. Titorelli instructs K that there's not much he can do since he doesn't know of what crime he has been accused.

K decides to take control of his own life and visits his advocate with the intention of dismissing him. At the advocate's office he meets a downtrodden individual, Block, a client who offers K some insight from a client's perspective. Block's case has continued for five years and he appears to have been virtually enslaved by his dependence on the advocate's meaningless and circular advice. The advocate mocks Block in front of K for his dog-like subservience. This experience further poisons K's opinion of his advocate, and K is bemused as to why his advocate would think that seeing such a client, in such a state, could change his mind. This chapter was left unfinished by the author.

K is asked to tour an Italian client around local places of cultural interest, but the Italian client short of time asks K to tour him around only the cathedral, setting a time to meet there. When the client doesn't show up, K explores the cathedral which is empty except for an old woman and a church official. K decides to leave as a priest K notices seems to be preparing to give a sermon from a small second pulpit, lest it begin and K be compelled to stay for its entirity. Instead of giving a sermon, the priest calls out K's name, although K has never known the priest. The priest works for the court, and tells K a fable, (which has been published separately as Before the Law) that is meant to explain his situation, but instead causes confusion, and implies that K's fate is hopeless. Before the Law begins as a parable, then continues with several pages of interpretation between the Priest and K. The gravity of the priest's words prepares the reader for an unpleasant ending.

Over the course of the year, the stress of the case weighs on K. He begins a gradual decline from confident to a nervous state similar to that of the client, Block, and those of other broken defendants K meets in the explosively hot law offices. At the bank, he is humiliated by his inability to handle an important client as he is constantly exhausted from worry.

On the last day of K's thirtieth year, two men arrive to execute him. He offers little resistance, suggesting that he has realised this as being inevitable for some time. They lead him to a quarry where he is expected to kill himself, but he cannot. The two men then execute him. His last words describe his own death: "Like a dog!"

As the novel was never completed, certain inconsistencies exist within the novel, such as disparities in timing in addition to other flaws in narration.

Characters

Others

Fräulein Bürstner - A boarder in the same house as Josef K. She lets him kiss her one night, but then rebuffs his advances. She makes a brief reappearance in the novel's final pages.

Fräulein Montag - Friend of Fräulein Bürstner, she talks to K. about ending his relationship with Fräulein Bürstner after his arrest. She claims she can bring him insight, because she is an objective third party.

Frau Grubach - The proprietress of the lodging house in which K. lives. She holds K. in high esteem, despite his arrest.

Uncle Karl - K.'s impetuous uncle from the country, formerly his guardian. Upon learning about the trial, Karl insists that K. hire Herr Huld, the lawyer.

Herr Huld, the Lawyer - K.'s pompous and pretentious advocate who provides precious little in the way of action and far too much in the way of anecdote.

Leni - Herr Huld's nurse, she has feelings for Josef K. and soon becomes his lover. She shows him her webbed hand, yet another reference to the motif of the hand throughout the book. Apparently, she finds accused men extremely attractive—the fact of their indictment makes them irresistible to her.

Vice-President - K.'s unctuous rival at the Bank, only too willing to catch K. in a compromising situation. He repeatedly takes advantage of K.'s preoccupation with the trial to advance his own ambitions.

President - Manager of the Bank. A sickly figure, whose position the Vice-President is trying to assume. Gets on well with K., inviting him to various engagements.

Rudi Block, the Merchant - Block is another accused man and client of Huld. His case is five years old, and he is but a shadow of the prosperous grain dealer he once was. All his time, energy, and resources are now devoted to his case, to the point of detriment to his own life. Although he has hired five additional lawyers on the side, he is completely and pathetically subservient to Huld.

Titorelli, the Painter - Titorelli inherited the position of Court Painter from his father. He knows a great deal about the comings and goings of the Court's lowest level. He offers to help K., and manages to unload a few identical landscape paintings on the accused man.

Style

Parable

(Taken directly from Novels for Students: The Trial.)

Kafka intentionally set out to write parables, not just novels, about the human condition. The Trial is a parable that includes the smaller parable Before the Law. There is clearly a relationship between the two but the exact meaning of either parable is left up to the individual reader. K. and the Priest discuss the many possible readings. Both the short parable and their discussion seem to indicate that the reader is much like the man at the gate; there is a meaning in the story for everyone just as there is one gate to the Law for each person.

The parable within Kafka's masterpiece highlights perfectly the essence of his philosophy. Assigned unique roles in life, individuals must search deep within the apparent absurdity of existence to achieve spiritual self-realisation. The old man, therefore, is the symbol of this universal search inherent to mankind. 'The Trial' is not simply a novel about the potential disaster of over-bureaucratisation in society; it is an exploration of the personal and, particularly, spiritual, needs of human beings.

The Images of Legality in The Trial

In a recent study based on Kafka’s office writings, Reza Banakar points out that many of Kafka’s descriptions of law and legality, which are often treated as metaphors for things other than law are worthy of examination, not only because of their bewildering, enigmatic, bizarre, profane and alienating effects, or because of the deeper theological or existential meaning they suggest, but also as a particular concept of law and legality which operates paradoxically as an integral part of the human condition under modernity.. Joseph K. and his inexplicable experience of the law in The Trial were, for example, born out of an actual legal case Kafka was involved in.

Film portrayals



Theatre adaptions

  • The writer and director Steven Berkhoff adapted several of Kafka's novels into plays and directed them for stage. His version of The Trial was first performed in 1970 in London and published in 1981.


See also



Notes

  1. Corngold, Stanley et. al., (eds.) Franz Kafka: The Office Writings. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2009.
  2. Banakar, Reza, In Search of Heimat: A Note on Franz Kafka’s Concept of Law (October 19, 2009) Law and Literature, Vol. 22, Summer 2010 . Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1491034 .
  3. See http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1491034
  4. Berkoff, Steven. "The trial, Metamorphosis, In the penal colony. Three theatre adaptions from Franz Kafka." Oxford: Amber Lane Press, 1981.


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