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

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The plot is spread over the protagonist, K.'s arrest and his attempts to extricate himself from an aging, totalitarian bureaucratic system. This is at the conscious surface level. Kafka is also the social chronicler very much like Dickens, commenting in monotonous detail on the Czech legal system - which is symbolic of any organization that is governmental even in democratic countries. The story is also crowded with Dickensonian characters, each with his own identity, but who fall into the system whether they like it or not. A hierarchy of characters, starting from the judge and leading to an isolated painter, is neatly arranged.

At a deeper level, the story deals with the Christian idea of the fallen man and his deep sense of guilt. The nature of the guilt is never told. There is never a trial held in accordance with the dispensation of justice. In the process, Huld, the invalid lawyer assumes the role of the gigantic figure of divinity. But he also has his weakness like "Everyman", a beautiful blending of myth and reality. Without knowing what his guilt is, K. responds as a guilty man. He refuses to submit to the divine will. His end is brought about by the break down of his resistance. The conclusion is open-ended. Does K. die because death is preferable to survival with a lack of faith? Does he die because he lacks the strength to resist? Or is his ending an allegory? It invites wide reader appeal defying closure. K. is executed at a place, a quarry symbolizing the sacrificial altar. This is reminiscent of primitive tales. The sheen of the warder's sword glimmers in the beginning of the tale, foreboding the grim ending. The plot is filled with metaphor superstitions, legends, allegory and parables. The time in the duration of a year is accurately marked from K.'s thirtieth to his thirty-first birthday. But there is no chronological recording of time in the story. It is the regular change of seasons or periods like afternoon, morning, night. The description is cinematic, with graphic details of spaces and rooms, of the painters attic, the labyrinth of court rooms, the lawyers house, Frau Grubach's rooms and of course the office and the chapel. Changes in light and shade give an artistic effect to the whole tale.


The theme is based on the protagonist's inability to reach his own self. The court's summons is symbolic of a call of a higher spiritual existence. The protagonist resists submitting to this force. Instead he holds on to laws in conscious life. The 'Trial' also deals with totalitarian politics and the illogical beaurocracy, which is evident in modern living. It is evident in professions, visa litigators and seemingly democratic organization. In keeping with the Judaic tradition the book is a commentary on the system. It is not a reflection of the Judiciary. It concerns Kafka's yearning for truth, to create something universal and the urge to live in a world, overpowered by destiny and human contradiction. There are these two opposing trends one of human and the other of fate. The theme skillfully avoids the everyday ordinary happenings and incidents of a regular novel. It concerns unusual guilt, where the guilt is not specified. The reader and the protagonist, K. are caught in the trial. There is almost an amnesia or forgetfulness which forgets to greet his cousin on her birthday. The trial seems to afford a lot of hope of freedom, but in reality there is none for the accused. He is sentenced to live an accused victim's life. This is the metaphysical aspect of Judaism, which the novel deliberates. The protagonist tries to free himself from his guilt, though he does not know what the guilt is. There is no joy in the act of living. The theme is pessimistic.

The maze of courts with the characters abounding in it caricatures a bureaucratic. It is a satire on the modern state with its administration, agencies and services. It also concerns the poverty of the officials who resort to bribery. There are sexual themes in the affairs of the judges and of K. himself.

The parables, the usher, the painter and the lawyer are figures of a metaphysical religious imagination. In a strange way it also delineates the fallen man in Judeo Christian philosophy, who has the freedom to be a culprit. That would be Kafka's masterly stroke.



There are motifs of a Judaic kind. The debate with the priest and parable described by him is a Judaic style, which confuses and places the possibility of a solution. But finally K.'s problem remains unresolved. K. continues to think he is innocent though he says the law considers him guilty. The parable lead to a message that man has to be responsible for his guilt. The technique is also one of commentary - extensively on the Judicial bureaucracy.

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