The Trial is not merely a story, but an experience.
And a pretty terrifying one too. A friend of mine, earlier this week, described a song as a ‘mood’ and I think this is a perfect analogy for The Trial. It is a mood.
I will be talking about the Heron Books 1968 edition of The Trial (Books that have changed man’s thinking) by Franz Kafka. Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir and with an introduction and appreciation by author David Pryce-Jones FRSL and original illustrations by Pauline Ellison.
I usually don’t read editor’s forewords until after i’ve read the story however this time I did and it spoiled the ending so i’d say when you read this story to just jump right in at page one, chapter one because I feel as though this novel would have been a lot more exciting had I not known the ending. However with this in mind I can actually say that this novel really gripped me more than a story has in a while. It was one of those stories that keeps you up at night wondering what will happen next and I read it a lot quicker than I usually read a book because I just couldn’t put it down!
I was surprised to find that the third to last chapter was never completed and even more surprised to read that this is not an anomaly in Kafka’s works. These incomplete works Kafka wanted destroyed however these wishes were ignored and Max Brod, a friend of Kafkas, published them all posthumously.
The Trial is more than just another story, it is a work of art in and of itself, it encourages thought and is vastly open to interpretation. Each reader will find something different in the book, which I find very fascinating. This book does not impose the author’s views nor does it give a clear cut message of any kind and that is what makes this such a skilled masterpiece, it merely displays the facts and bears witness. In my opinion that is what makes this novel so outstanding and timeless.
It is relevant for every age of time and critics and scholars have often speculated upon it’s stark and harrowing predictions of the future of Kafka’s time for shortly after his death the outbreak of World War II would occur. Kafka, himself being Jewish, would have found himself living in his own nightmare.
The story revolves around the protagonist Jospeh K. who is arrested for no particular reason and sent to a trial in which he can present no evidence nor defend himself. The odds seem dead set against him as he feels his way through the darkness of the bureaucratic system.
‘Someone must have traduced Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.”
Franz Kafka – The Trial – Chapter 1, Line 1.
As the novel proceeds we are left with more questions than answers and I would say that anyone who likes a definitive ending will perhaps be left wanting more with this novel for the ending answers very little and the angles of interpretation are seemingly infinite.
One could perhaps call this a mystery novel but I think that to try and restrict it to a specific genre is to restrict the boundaries of thought. I think this novel should be approached with as open a mind as possible for this is the only way to truly enjoy it. Read it as if it were a work of art and let it play out in front of you. Take note of the details and appreciate the characters. I think that to get the most out of this novel one needs to approach it almost as if it were a trial, to collect all of the information and make an interpretation at the end, as opposed to connecting the dots as you go, because Kafka certainly didn’t intend to create a picture but somewhat of a blank canvas with room for thought.
I think that to limit this story to any specific interpretation would be an insult to the work itself, however we may never know what would have lain in chapter eight and after all I am human so I am going to offer my personal interpretation of the work because it’s fun to speculate!
What I saw in this work was a criticism of the bureaucratic system of Prague in Kafka’s time (1883 – 1924) and although not the only theme I believe this to be the most prevalent. The Trial appears to demonstrate the confused and frosty relationship between state and man where people become lost, confused and forgotten and I believe this novel outlives itself in that this strained relationship between countries and their people is still prevalent today all over the world. I believe this idea to be reinforced by the outbreak of WWII in that it demonstrates how Kafka’s novel wasn’t so absurd and far fetched after all. Although this happened long after The Trial was written I believe this to be of little importance as a bureaucratic system takes shape over a long period of time and Kafka himself worked as a lawyer and had first hand experience in the justice system.
I believe that to better understand a novel we have to know more about the author. Kafka was born into a middle-class Jewish family in Prague in 1883 and lived throughout the first world war. Life was hard and his family, like himself, worked long hours with little time for worldly pleasures. Kafka was awarded the degree of Doctor of Law on 18 July 1906 and worked in law for most of his life, he was exempt from military service on the grounds that his work was of government importance. At one point his job was to acquire compensation for work-related accidents, there were no shortage of cases as working conditions were pitiful in his time. I believe his knowledge and experience in this system of law would have inspired many aspects of The Trial.
Kafka clearly knew the justice system well and it is known that Kafka was a very intelligent and introspective person and this is prevalent in The Trial. Upon reading The Trial I believe we discover more of Kafka himself and his way of thinking and I encourage anyone interested in the bizarre and the grittiness of reality to go ahead and give this a read!