Kafka’s storytelling is gripping, unique and rich – Today we look inside one of his masterpieces: The Trial.
“If you descend upon me while I’m still in bed you can’t expect me to be in my Sunday best” – Josef K.
Josef K, the main character of the story, wakes up one day and instead of breakfast in bed, as usual, he is put under arrest. Not in the common sense of handcuffs and taken to a police station for questioning. No, not in this story. In this story the authorities are instead caging him in a much larger cell; Under constant surveillance from the police and with the threat of legal action hanging over his head, yet still free to roam the world.
It is unclear what the charges are. In the reality that Josef K lives in, Kafka paints a beast of a juridical administration that is too big for anyone to get the whole picture of. Every little cog in the law and order machine only knows its specific part and can only delegate information further up the chain of command. The arresting officers do not know why Josef is going to trial, just the fact that he is. Their commander holds another information-piece: When Josef’s first hearing is and the street addresses it’s going to take place on.
This kind of anti-individualistic behavior of bureaucracy is a common theme in Kafka’s work. Individual rights are lost along the way as the government’s agency grows. The greatest concern for every cog in the machines is to do their task well enough, to not to be punished or lose their job.
“Perhaps none of us is hard-hearted, perhaps we’d all like to help, but as officials of the court, we can often appear to be hard-hearted and not want to help anyone. I’m really unhappy at having to appear like that”
The Trial is a strange ride to be on. There is no-one to root for, everyone is equally awful in their own way and the parallels you can draw between our world and the fictional one presented in the book are too many to be comfortable. The message and lessons are not easy to swallow, nothing is sugar-coated and that’s the Kafka I hate to love: The bitter reality is a fact, it is staring you in the face and you, the reader, will be provoked by the behavior of the book’s inhabitants. No one is free from corruption in this tale:
“Look how fat he is, the first strokes will be wasted on fat. Do you know how he got so fat? He has the habit of eating the breakfast of all those he arrests.”
If you like dark, quirky humor hidden deep under a layer of seriousness you will enjoy this book. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone that wants the outsider-looking-in perspective of frustrated dealings with boneheaded, paragraph worshipping, administration agencies ‘doing their job’.
If you are looking to buy a copy of the book I want to highlight the Oxford University press version (affiliate link) that has an excellent introduction by Ritchie Robertson that gives great insight to the book and his explanatory notes in the back pages is a true treasure, packed to the brim with information surrounding the story and the book itself.