Franz Kafka - The Trial
On his thirtieth birthday, Joseph K wakes up to find that two men are waiting for him in the living room, and that he is under arrest. They won't tell him why he is under arrest, what he has done, under what authority he is being charged, or how to do anything about it. The two men joke at him while eating their breakfast, telling him that it doesn't really matter if he is arrested or not. K is understandably confused by all of this, considering it to be all one big joke arranged by his fellow boarders and friends.
The two warders take him to the Inspector, who explains the details of K's arrest. Again, K is more confused and repelled by all this discussion, not taking what he is being told seriously, treating the three men with no small contempt. He considers that in the country he lives, which has many laws to make certain that people are free and justly treated, such a thing as an arrest without a reason could never happen.
As the story progresses, K goes to court, where he makes an impassioned plea against the absurdity of the proceedings. He is told that what he did will only hurt his case, that he is behaving foolishly. K comes to meet various layers of Court officials; all of them appear to him to be petty and small, without power or influence over anything but themselves, and, it seems, him. He acquires an Advocate who works hard for him, toiling long into the night, for no benefit that K can see. Indeed, it seems that no matter what he - or anyone - does for his case, nothing is progressing, and nothing will ever progress. The Court system is designed to keep people occupied, to shuffle them around endless layers of bureaucracy, where every small step is made insignificant by the unknown thousands of steps still to go.
Joseph K is a not particularly sympathetic character. On the one hand, there is the natural sympathy that comes from a seemingly innocent man being arrested. On the other, K is curt, rude, governed by passions difficult to identify with, and since he considers everything to be an elaborate joke (at least at first), he can be quite flippant. This is unfortunate, but is also a staple of Kafka's characterisations. K will often react violently or out of proportion to an event, for example, when given a minor rebuke by a minor official, he would fall into a rage and start banging walls. So to for other characters in the story. Most of the time, this came across as extremely improbable, but oddly, it didn't exactly detract from the story. Because it was such a surreal experience for Joseph K, these massive outburst of emotion - usually negative - were understandable.
Another point worth nothing is the treatment of females in this book. Throughout, they fall into one of two categories. They are either shrivelled up old sticks of women, pathetic and ineffectual, such as K's boarder, or they are young girls who all but fling themselves at K for no reason whatsoever. One girl about halfway through the novel, after knowing K for an hour - and during this hour he was verbally rude to her and almost physically violent, she sits on his lap, caresses his hand and declares her undying love for him. And she is not the only one. I found this handling of female characters to be extremely uncomfortable. Not once was any woman portrayed in a positive light, even when she loved someone, it was a shallow, stupid love, or at least it was as described by K.
But the story is the most important part of the novel, and this story is near perfect. Kafka captures the essence of a man unjustly arrested with great skill. There is a feeling of claustrophobia all throughout the novel, very often we are left in the dark, just like K, searching for answers to a question that we haven't even been given. Adding to the claustrophobic feel, the paragraphs are very long and very dense, it feels as if there is no escape from the great big walls of text. Speech is not usually broken up into paragraphs, which adds to the feelings. Whatever else his flaws, Kafka was a master of creating atmosphere and mood, and The Trial is one of the better examples of this.
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