Book Review: The Trial by Franz Kafka (Translated by David Wyllie)

By | November 22, 2019
The Trial

Kafka began writing “The Trial” in 1914 during the first months of World War I, but he never finished the novel and left it unpublished at his death.

About the Author

Born in 1883, in Prague Franz Kafka was a German writer. He studied Jurisprudence at the Karl Ferdinand University along with art and history. He wrote his first short story “the description of a struggle in 1904 and later in 1906 received his Doctorate in Law. In 1915 his most famous works “The Metamorphosis” was published. In 1924 Kafka died of tuberculosis.

The figure of Kafka’s father overshadowed his work as well as his existence. This conflict with the father is reflected directly in the “Letter to his father” which he could never give to his father.

A large number of Kafka’s tales contain a vague, bewildering blend of the ordinary and a fantasy. Throughout his life, he struggled to achieve the impossible but remained in dissatisfaction with what he had written. Yet today, he is the most significant fiction writers of the 20th-century world literature.

Background

One of Kafka’s significant works and regarded as his most cynical one is a phantasmagorical story of a man tried in Court for an unknown crime under the mysterious rule of Law and is often considered to be an “imaginative anticipation of totalitarianism”. Kafka began writing “The Trial” in 1914 during the first months of World War I, but he never finished the novel and left it unpublished at his death.

An ordinary person’s feelings of isolation and perturbation in the modern age, the fight and the eventual surrender to the unreasonable, absurd law and authority are projected in this book.

The tale of a man who is captured without reason, without being accused of a crime yet persecuted, caused suffering to and lastly executed conveys the ordeal of thousands of victims of political and legal injustice. The Trial uses the genre of mystery but leaving it in an abrupt, unresolved end.

Summary

On his 30th birthday Josef K. finds two men in his house who tell him he is under arrest but neither they nor Josef knew why. He was free to continue his usual day which puzzled him. The next day a phone call informs of his initial court date. He finds the location to be a dilapidated building in which the court is set up in an attic. He makes a lengthy speech complaining about his treatment that does not please the judge or the audience.

Through his uncle, he hires a lawyer. Josef gets directed to a man who paints portraits for the court who tells him about three possible outcomes of his trial – abso­lute acquittal, apparent acquittal and deferment. Later as part of his work at the bank, Josef finds himself at a cathedral, where he encounters a priest who tells him a parable about a man who waits by a doorway his entire life trying to gain access to “the law”.

Finally, the night before his thirty-first birthday, Josef is visited by another pair of men. He goes with them without complaint. They end up at a quarry at the edge of town and take out a large butcher’s knife. One of the men plunges the knife into Josef’s chest, and Josef says, “Like a dog!” and dies.


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