Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Franz Kafka was one of the more complex and thought-provoking authors of the twentieth century, and though he may have died young, his classics like The Trial will live on forever, telling the timeless story of an ordinary man, Joseph K., who one day wakes up only to find himself accused of a crime he has no recollection of committing.
What’s worse, not a person in the world seems to be able to tell him what crime he’s actually being accused of. Standing before the grinding gears of the bureaucratic machine Joseph K. must resolve the impossible matter or be grinded down into nothingness, like so many before him.
Table of contents
An Omnipotent Bureaucracy
The justice system is something that we’ve developed as a society through many centuries of trial-and-error, and even though there are certainly some improvements to make, most of us live protected by the law and with various official resources should our rights be violated.
Of course, this is far from being the case everywhere in the world, but for the most part, we take it for granted that objective justice is something we are all entitled to, or at least should be. Franz Kafka, however, had some very interesting visions and opinions about the government and its bureaucratic gears, offering us quite a different perspective of the justice system in his timeless classic, The Trial.
The in itself has a rather simple premise, presenting us with Joseph K., the most regular man you could ever hope to meet. One day, he wakes to find that he stands accused of a crime… and not only did he not commit it, nobody will even inform him of what the crime is.
He is finally released after his arrest, with one caveat: he is required to report to the court on an extremely regular basis until the matter is resolved… which of course, it never is. With each passing day Joseph’s fate grows increasingly uncertain and his personal life spirals out of control. He tries to gain it back, but that may prove to be too little too late; the State knows better than to give free will to a criminal.
Judgement does not come suddenly; the proceedings gradually merge into the judgement.–Franz Kafka, The Trial
Franz Kafka Criticizes the World
As you begin reading the book, Kafka engrosses you straight away with the peculiar and oppressive setting, an atmosphere which he maintains practically throughout the whole story; disturbing, and yet engrossing at the same time.
In the beginning, when Joseph is on trial in what feels like a kangaroo court, it may seem like the whole thing is a big cautionary tale of how badly things can turn if we let the government and its justice system do as they please, completely unchecked, the abuse of power that would come with a totalitarian regime.
Very quickly though, things become a lot more twisted, complicated and surrealistic, as Joseph starts putting himself on his own internal trial, and we realize that the journey into his soul will be harrowing, but ultimately interesting, if not revealing of the human nature.
A Rotating Sculpture of Franz Kafka’s Head by David Cerny
Though the trial offers a captivating story, this is one of those books where the characters are the real driving force (or in this case, the protagonist). The plot that actually draws you in is the one taking place inside the protagonist, the many observations, thoughts and conclusions he comes to about society as a whole, the justice system, governmental bureaucracy, the meaning of his own existence and the limitations of the human condition.
While we’re on the subject of the characters, it feels like everyone besides the protagonist is simple in his or her own way, serving only as props to allow Joseph to proceed further in his philosophical explorations. In the end, this decision was a good one as it allows us to maintain our focus on the protagonist’s complex journey while still being entertained here and there by peculiar people.
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A Rarity in the World of Literature
The Trial may not be a very long story, but it certainly has countless depths, nooks and crannies to explore, metaphors and symbols to interpret, and existential theories to reflect on. It’s one of those rare books that keeps on giving more and more as you come back to it time and time again, a philosophical voyage like none other. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to get acquainted with Kafka and/or enjoys unique, deep and though-provoking books.
It’s only because of their stupidity that they’re able to be so sure of themselves.–Franz Kafka, The Trial
(July 3, 1883 – June 3, 1924)
Franz Kafka was an Austrian-Hungarian author of novels and short stories best-known for his surrealistic and at times absurd plots revolving around bureaucratic powers. His most acclaimed works are The Trial and The Castle, and in his honour the Franz Kafka Prize was created as an annual literary award.