The Trial by Franz Kafka

I feel stranded and emotionally beat. Like I entered the ‘Hall of Mirrors’ in search for a story and now I’ve lost myself. There were reflections everywhere. Reflections of a story. I spent many days and nights staring blankly at these reflections hoping to find where the true story was hiding.

Its only 256 pages I thought, I can finish this in a jiffy. Boy was I wrong. The tent was dark and much bigger on the inside then it appeared on the outside. There were endless corridors and rooms leading me deeper. Just like the Court’s chambers in Kafka’s story. I kept thinking how unreal it all is. The chapters seem so disconnected (which kind of makes sense as the novel was believed to be unfinished) like footprints leading to nowhere, disappearing and then starting somewhere else entirely.

The story always spoke in symbols, like it’s having two conversations with you simultaneously; one real and one unreal. And the suffocation. It was immense, overpowering and completely unbearable. Almost like he was saying “This is my brain, and this is how I feel inside it”, no writer has EVER mastered the sheer feeling of suffocation in a book for me, as much as Kafka.

Almost every scene was the protagonist looking for air. Be it a ramshackle building, chambers of law, a dying advocate’s dark and depressing bedroom, an artist’s messy studio or a cathedral covered in darkness. And when I took a break from the book, I pictured Kafka venting out his frustrations on his father. All that self-hatred, sadism, nihilism caused by parental failure.

‘My writing was about you [his father]. In it, I merely poured out the sorrow I could not sigh out at your breast” [Letter to His Father]’ 

Towards the end, I had almost given up, I know longer cared what he was trying to say. In trying to find the story, I had lost my own self. Until there was the scene in the cathedral that marvellously brought the pieces together. The chapter on its own was a masterpiece, as Camus had quoted “offered everything and confirmed nothing”. This one chapter had dishevelled my very soul.

“No,” said the priest, “you don’t need to accept everything as true, you only have to accept it as necessary.” “Depressing view,” said K. “The lie made into the rule of the world.” 

Joseph K. is arrested and a legal case is filed against him. We don’t know his crime, don’t know which law he violated, and don’t even know who filed the suit. We know nothing except that Joseph K. who has a decent position for a reputed Bank, insists that he is innocent.

He is summoned to court in a broken-down building for a private hearing where no verdict is made. His case is left hanging. Initially he believed that this will soon all roll over and he will be acquitted soon enough. But days pass and nothing happens. Eventually, his uncle helps him hire an Advocate, who is old and is always in bed. K. visits the lawyer at odd hours to discuss the case and at the same time he develops an unusual intimacy with the Advocate’s carer.

He receives little or no guidance from the law officers. Instead he gets more guidance from people who have been acquainted by courts but only indirectly. For example, the washerwoman whose house was used for a courtroom, the artist who paints portraits of the judges and the prison chaplain.

K, himself is no angel either, he is rude to his landlady Frau Grubach and over steps his bounds with his neighbour Fraulein Burstner. At times he seems obnoxious, arrogant and over-confident which makes the story even more twisted, because you begin doubting if he is innocent at all.

Time passes and the case begins to affect his career, his private life, his health but he doesn’t give up and insists that he will write a plea to the Court and take full control of his case from his useless Advocate. Until one fine day, on his 31st birthday, they come for him…..

“Like a dog!” he said, it was as if the shame of it should outlive him.”

Kafka hints at the genuine struggle for a common man to seek justice in Hitler’s Nazism and totalitarian regime. (He had lost 3 of his own sisters in the concentration camps). He explains how the guardians of law themselves are the biggest obstruction in seeking justice and how the courts of law are impervious to evidence.

He spoke of two extremes in the same story. A world with form and meaning and then a world meaningless and totally abstract.  What is sense is actually nonsense. What is real is unreal. The logic and reason that we think we have may not suffice because an innocent man can never be innocent if the system is guilty. If the scales of justice are tilted then the verdict will never be true.

And at last I arrive at the end of my review. I am not an expert of Kafkaesque, but to me, the best way to read Kafka is to stop finding any hidden meanings or trying to interpret his cryptic sentences, until the very end. Because believe it or not, the bizarre atmosphere he created is definitely not absent of logic or reason, it’s just that his angles and perspectives are unique. But the story to me, was fully devoid of hope. A book I shall never forget.

“The books we need are of the kind that act upon us like a misfortune, that makes us suffer like the death of someone we love more than ourselves, that make us feel as though we were on the verge of suicide, lost in a forest remote from all human habitation” 

Pages to remember

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *