Jeff Scott's Reviews > The Trial

The Trial by Franz Kafka
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May 26, 11

bookshelves: 1001books
Read from May 22 to 26, 2011

The existentialism underlying this book is more accessible than other books I’ve read. The duality of Joseph K.’s trial and the trial of life are a good marriage. The legal world can also be so obtuse, even for those versed in it that it makes for good metaphor. The analogy in Chapter 9 really emphasizes this and is the crescendo of the book. It’s an absurd book, in some ways stranger than someone being turned into a cockroach.

Joseph K. awakes one morning to two unknown men in his room. The men inform him that he is under arrest and is to await trial. Conveniently, this occurs in the adjacent room. The whole scenario is surreal and throughout the book further strange scenarios occur. Most of these scenarios reminded me of a Monty Python skit, and generally the book is similar to The Man Who Was Thursday in strangeness and The Stranger in the existential metaphors.

Joseph becomes overwhelmed with the maneuvering of his trial. The trial affects his work and disrupts his life. The lack of control over his trial seems to be the central analogy for life, where one has to take control of his own destiny; to allow it to be controlled by another only results in the subservience of a dog.

Overall, really enjoyed it for the bizarre and the accessible analogies, plus it has a rather anti-bureaucratic tone to it (specific to law, but could be generalized) and anyone who has to deal with frustrating and obtuse maneuvering when dealing with some form of business or government will find it cathartic. I will probably re-read this again to get more out of it.

Best Passages:

So these were the lawyer's methods, which K. fortunately had not been exposed to for long, to let the client forget about the whole world and leave him with nothing but the hope of reaching the end of his trial by this deluded means. He was no longer a client; he was the lawyer's dog. P. 186

"I still need to find help," said K., raising his head to see what the priest thought of this. "There are still certain possibilities I haven't yet made use of." "You look for too much help from people you don't know," said the priest disapprovingly p. 195

"You fool yourself in the court," said the priest, "it talks about this self-deceit in the opening paragraphs to the law. In front of the law there is a doorkeeper. A man from the countryside comes up to the door and asks for entry. But the doorkeeper says he can't let him in to the law right now. The man thinks about this, and then he asks if he'll be able to go in later on. 'That's possible,' says the doorkeeper, 'but not now'. The gateway to the law is open as it always is, and the doorkeeper has stepped to one side, so the man bends over to try and see in. When the doorkeeper notices this he laughs and says, 'If you're tempted give it a try, try and go in even though I say you can't. Careful though: I'm powerful. And I'm only the lowliest of all the doormen. But there's a doorkeeper for each of the rooms and each of them is more powerful than the last. It's more than I can stand just to look at the third one.' The man from the country had not expected difficulties like this, the law was supposed to be accessible for anyone at any time, he thinks, but now he looks more closely at the doorkeeper in his fur coat, sees his big hooked nose, his long thin tartar-beard, and he decides it's better to wait until he has permission to enter. The doorkeeper gives him a stool and lets him sit down to one side of the gate. He sits there for days and years. He tries to be allowed in time and again and tires the doorkeeper with his requests. The doorkeeper often questions him, asking about where he's from and many other things, but these are disinterested questions such as great men ask, and he always ends up by telling him he still can't let him in. The man had come well equipped for his journey, and uses everything, however valuable, to bribe the doorkeeper. He accepts everything, but as he does so he says, 'I'll only accept this so that you don't think there's anything you've failed to do'. Over many years, the man watches the doorkeeper almost without a break. He forgets about the other doormen, and begins to think this one is the only thing stopping him from gaining access to the law. Over the first few years he curses his unhappy condition out loud, but later, as he becomes old, he just grumbles to himself. He becomes senile, and as he has come to know even the fleas in the doorkeeper's fur collar over the years that he has been studying him he even asks them to help him and change the doorkeeper's mind. Finally his eyes grow dim, and he no longer knows whether it's really getting darker or just his eyes that are deceiving him. But he seems now to see an inextinguishable light begin to shine from the darkness behind the door. He doesn't have long to live now. Just before he dies, he brings together all his experience from all this time into one question which he has still never put to the doorkeeper. He beckons to him, as he's no longer able to raise his stiff body. The doorkeeper has to bend over deeply as the difference in their sizes has changed very much to the disadvantage of the man. 'What is it you want to know now?' asks the doorkeeper, 'You're insatiable.' 'Everyone wants access to the law;' says the man, 'how come, over all these years, no-one but me has asked to be let in?' The doorkeeper can see the man's come to his end, his hearing has faded, and so, so that he can be heard, he shouts to him: 'Nobody else could have got in this way, as this entrance was meant only for you. Now I'll go and close it'." P.200

But you've already explained very fully that that's not possible." "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." P. 205

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