Franz Kafka: The Mystery of “The Trial”
The Trial by Franz Kafka.
In reviewing Franz Kafka”s “The Trial,” I was reminded that my Professor some years ago had suggested that the class should read this book. I had tucked that away in the back of my mind, and went on my way to the next class never thinking more of it.
Looking through a review list recently, I found “The Trial,” among them, and decided this was the time to read it. Too impatient to wait for the actual book, I used my Kindle to read the story.
Kafka Wrote Oddly Disturbing Stories
The first work of Franz Kafka I read was his famous, “Metamorphosis,” a strange story about a man who turns into a huge insect in his bed, overnight. The treatment he receives from family and friends is symbolic of how Kafka must have felt about his own life.
His stories always carry a powerful amount of symbolism and “The Trial” is no exception. You cannot and must not take it literally, but as symbolic of something else.
“The Trial,” is a story that’s hard to figure out and it resounds almost like Orwell’s “1984” in some respects. On Josef K.’s 30th birthday, he is arrested in his home by two unidentified men. Not only is he arrested, but he is told there will be a trial, and although he is under arrest, he is to remain in his home and go to work as usual. As the story proceeds, you expect that someone will tell him (and the reader) what crime he is accused of committing. He is stalked, commanded to appear in a pseudo-court many times, terrified to the point that he is unable to sleep or eat, and still no one tells him what he has done.
It’s always referred to in terms that the “case is unusual,” by everyone, including the lawyer he finally retains. But the lawyer talks in circles, as everyone else does, never making the nature of his crime clear. There’s no way of knowing who is trustworthy, as K. (as he is now called) comes into contact with numerous people who seem to know he is on trial, although he does not know them. The story is dark, confusing and tragic, and ends at Chapter 10. Oddly, Chapter 8 was never finished, but just skipped over almost in mid-sentence.
Symbolism In The Stories
Kafka wrote stories that seemed odd, but if you think about the times in which he lived, you realize each story is written using symbolism; the use of one thing to mean another. His themes oftentimes concentrated on injustice, social mores, and policies he felt should be changed or abolished. He wrote them obliquely so that he could not be held accountable for undermining the government. For instance, using the story of “The Trial,” he made it seem as though he was on the side of the accusers, while actually showing the cruelty and injustice done to the accused.
Kafka Grew Up Depressed and Ill
Not only did Kafka have a difficult relationship with his domineering father, but he also had many health issues; perhaps the two were connected. Kafka suffered from depression, migraines, insomnia, and tuberculosis, for which he was in and out of sanitariums.
He died in a TB sanitarium, of starvation on June 3, 1924, because his throat was too painful for him to swallow food. There were no medical procedures in that era for feeding with a tube. His writings were mostly published posthumously, by a friend he wrote asking him to burn them once he was gone.
The friend refused to do so and had them published. “The Trial,” is one of those manuscripts. Kafka was also the author of “The Metamorphosis,” “Amerika,” “In The Penal Colony,” and others. Most of his books are published in German, but a few have been translated to English, some with great difficulty.
Franz Kafka’s Birth and Family
Franz Kafka was born in Prague, Bohemia on July 3, 1883. Bohemia, which no longer exists under that name, was under persecution and governmental crackdowns on the citizens. Kafka’s father (who died in 1931) was a brutish sort of man who demanded a lot from his wife Julia (who died in 1934) and his children. Life was never made easy in any respect for the children. Franz was the eldest of six children, but two younger brothers died in infancy, leaving Franz and three sisters to be verbally and physically beaten by the father. The sisters all died in concentration camps during WWII. Franz survived, but I’m sure he wondered many times why.
Franz Kafka’s Birthplace in Prague
Videos From Kafka’s Stories
See videos of the movie of “The Trial,” from 1962, directed by Orson Welles, starring Anthony Perkins, and from 1991’s “Kafka,” directed by Steven Soderbergh, starring Jeremy Irons.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR