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Free Study Guide: The Trial by Franz Kafka - Synopsis / Analysis

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Joseph K.

The protagonist faces a crisis in his life when a mysterious court charges him with an offense. Neither he nor the reader is aware of any specific charge right till the end of the novel. But he senses unrest within himself, to clear his name and to seek justice. In the innermost recesses of his mind he understands this as the divine challenge to man. He listens to this inner voice and he runs all over the city of Prague, superficially to extricate himself from the trial seeking escape and withdrawal. He is torn between two realities - one of the well-ordered official post at the bank and the disorderly, chaotic world of the court of law. Though he seems to be completely in charge of his existence in the modern world, the power of the court is dependent on the spiritual urges within K. himself. His unknown guilt and "bad conscience" drive him repeatedly to the court.

The court is powerful in the sense that its law is inaccessible to K. in shaping his desired destiny. This is representative of the divine court demanding that he justify his right to existence in the real world. His bourgeois way of life is disturbed. This sets him free to rethink on the unconquered spiritual aspect of his life. This is a world dominated by injustice and tolerated by god. K. is the unbeliever, deeply conscious of his right. He regards the world as chaotic and his destiny as undefeatable. The "incident law books" have a superhuman life-power, but they do not endow man with any high responsibility. He resists and complains against the court.

The thought of the junior clerks with their allegorical portrayals and obscure standards by which they apply rules gives rise to night Martian images in K.'s soul. Their piled up documents are the past buried in man's unconscious soul, bottomless threatening to surface in conscious life. The clerks would like K.'s ego to become responsible for this buried past. K.'s defeat and failure finally is his refusal to accept the burden of the world or of his soul.

When K. focuses the court fails to establish his communication with the court. He does not confess his guilt and does not realize it could be connected with the supernatural. He tells the priest in the Cathedral arguing how can any man be considered guilty. He feels no man can judge another while the priest opines that all guilty men talk like that. He is the chosen one of god, his guilt is like that of the son in 'The Judgement'. It is not a personal crime but connected with that of mankind, the fall of man in Judaic - Christian philosophy.

K. is also the victim of delusion in prejudging the court and complaining and opposing. His protest against the court is also a protest against the world. He refuses to take any personal responsibility for the modern world's confusion. But because he is the sole person to be arrested, he is the chosen one. He does not realize this because he does not listen to his inner consciousness. K. is like the accused in the legend "Before the Law".

K.'s arrest forces him to perceive the reality around him and also to think about his own mind and the validity of its existence. He is driven to the court more by his becoming aware of his invalid superficial principles. He runs away more and more from the court without understanding the meaning of the court's working till the prison chaplain enlightens him.

There is a double significance in K.'s reflections when he walks through, the poor hamlets of the court. The court's officials spend money on their private past times leaving the clerks with little money for their existence. The clerks in their various grades play with legalities like a game and follow its excitement for the game's sake. In seeking justice K. is seeking more than abstract justice. He wants inner peace. K. is mistaken in thinking the mighty magistrates in the portraits are powerful. This is his delusion - a mistaken reality. K.'s existence has a deeper significance in his bondage with the divine. Why should he be judged by these petty officials? But sadly, he forgets his place in the divine framework.

K. is deluded like the accused man begging even the flea in the doorkeepers fur cap. He tries to influence the court officials, the Advocate, the painter, but there is always an obstacle, K. represents the entire mass of humanity, which is deluded in history. K. accuses the doorkeeper in the legend as obstructing the moral or divine order of the world. But then like K. man has to live in the hope of the divine or else there is no hope for his survival. Though K. believes he can fight his case himself, the novel does not, not reflect his self-confidence. It is slowly getting eroded. When the priest says that law is necessary he is pointing to god as the final truth above human judgement.

When K. is arrested, there is a fear in his mind, shaking his worldly routine life. Fear is also an uncertain condition of the mind, which should draw him chosen to a higher spiritual law. It is his self-confidence and control over affairs in the world, which is shaken. He is seeking assurance from Frau Grubach by a definite opinion of his innocence.

So far he has not been particularly nice to women, not even to the cabaret dancer he visits on Saturday evenings. But now he seeks Fräulein Bürstner's friendship. He is less self assured less egotistic that Bürstner is only a little typist. She is his immediate neighbor but is now distant in relationship. He resents Fräulein Montag's acquaintance for her official school principal manner is an echo of his bachelor existence.

When K. is summoned to the court he visits the court because he wants to be freed of charges filed against him. In an allegorical manner he is also suddenly awakened by the call of god. When K. is warned that he has come take to court it is a reminder of the new earnestness in the turn that life has taken. It is a reminder of the constant presence of god's eye. He is mistaken for a painter. It also shows that it is his inner being which maters and not the outer definition of his existence. But his dogmatism does not free him form his guilt and accusation.

Women play an important role in K.'s attempts to free himself from his arrest. He is trying to desperately reach out and maintain his contact with existence as also escape from his loneliness. His relationship with Fräulein Bürstner is casual. So his arrest takes place in her strange room. It opens new pathways in his soul. His conscious life so far has been very superficial. Though he tries to make love to Bürstner it is against his will; again casual. He is incapable of understanding the "feminine soul". He cannot physically possess her as he could with the barmaid, Elsa.

Similarly he fights over the court attendant's wife. He tries to assert his ego and "manliness". But it is seen that he seems to be a man who cannot control his own life and is again the accused.

His relationship is with the third woman, Leni. His affair with Leni is not fully satisfying but he is the accused, uncertain of his future.

In the scene with the wipper K. feels united with the warders because they broke some legal rule and denigrated their own legal status. He considers the seniors guilty and not they as being quilty on a spiritual and legal plane K. is the cause of the others sufferings because he complained about his liver. His attitude does not commensurate or the man's dignity. His character in modern living has caused unbearable suffering to others. It is jarring as this suffering takes place in the calm clear atmosphere of the office. K. again falls spiritually when he tries to bribe the whipper to prevent the suffering. It is symbolic of new movements in the world in his attempt to improve things. But it is ineffective. K.'s sorrow is reflected in the warder's shrieks. Allegorically the rotten system of the law is reflected. The suffering seems to be perpetual. So he denies it as he cannot end it, and title the bank servant that it is a dog yelling. He wants to take on the suffering of the world on himself but he runs away blaming the officials as being guilty. He still lacks courage but maintains that he is not guilty before the court.

K. is just a spectator to the existential presence of the ego as manifest in humanity in the minds of the advocates. K. is neither superior nor inferior to any of them, but just an observer, though at the house of the advocate he thinks he can triumph spiritually. His encounter with the priest in the cathedral is the climax. The priest asks him to assess his own role and character amidst all the chaos and corruption raging around him. The priest sees him on the think of a great abyss from where no actin is possible in the course of the trial. The fact that K. tries to justify and free himself is an acceptance of guilt. His guilt cannot be defined in human language. K. has prejudged himself as innocent. He is deluded and refuses to listen to the court or the divine word. He is interested in the unimportant as against the essential. Symbolically as the priest, a messenger of god delivers his sermon, K. has an album instead of a prayer look in his hand. He does not hear the prophecy nor the supernatural summons. Symbolically the lamp that the priest gives him to carry into the world outside goes out.

In the final chapter K.'s execution in a stone quarry is the disillusionment that lets in. His dying like a dog is the death of the canine consciousness, a dog whose physical senses are very alert. He does not see the spiritual light, which the priest offers and so he gives in. Also, he has lived a bachelor's existence, the figure which is like Fräulein Bürstner is unreachable. He had very little of "give and take" in his life, caring and sharing. The void in his life metaphorically symbolizes the blankness in modern living.

The courts call was that of a divine call. His trial shows that he was imprisoned, not able to bring out his own "self" or his spiritual identity. The freedom that he longs for is the deliverance of his self. He is fed up of his routine existence. Like so many of Kafka's portrayals K. ends up, negating life without any hope.

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