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 The Trial Study Guide (Choose to Continue)

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The Trial: Metaphors

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Totalitarianism

In The Trial, Kafka warns readers about the dangers of bureaucracies, or governments, that grow too large and become so powerful that individuals are placed constantly under surveillance and have no chance of survival once they come under suspicion.

From the moment K. is placed under arrest, for a crime of which he is totally unaware, he enters a nightmare totalitarian environment where he has absolutely no rights and no chance of ever being found innocent. Simply, he is guilty. Case closed. In Kafka’s dark world, everything is absurd; rules are illusionary; help is nonexistent. Oftentimes, Kafka, who died in 1924, is hailed as a prophet of the twentieth-century totalitarian governments of Germany and Russia in which oppression led to imprisonment without cause, alienation, torture and, ultimately, to concentration camps and gulags. Indeed, the two foolish, faceless men who enter his bedroom at the beginning of the novel foretells, it could be argued, the horrific wake-up knock in the night before suspects were routed out of bed and taken to prison without a charge being made against them. Kafka’s own country, Czechoslovakia, fell under Nazi domination between 1939 and 1945, then under Soviet communist domination until 1989.

The Law

Joseph K. is not free because the Law says he is under arrest. To prove his innocence, K. thinks he must gain access to and confront this nebulous Law. When of his own accord, he goes to the dark attic Court for a hearing he finds that others have been waiting in line for years without ever once coming before a judge. Any attempt he makes at being heard is scoffed at or interrupted.  Simply, K. has no agency; as an individual he is consumed by the Law. In the novel, there are two types of characters; those who stand accused, like K. and Block, and those who are tools of the Law: the various women; Huld, Titorelli and the Priest who prosecute the accused.

Consider, from the beginning, there is no reason for K. to succumb to the Law.   He could simply decide to ignore his arrest. However, K.’s anxiety and guilt hold him captive and propel him forward into the grating legal machinery. Try as he might, K. cannot resist the implacable Law even when he tells himself that the Law probably exists nowhere but in his head.

Throughout, Kafka presents the idea that the inherent guilt of mankind and the obfuscation of the Law forces a state of passivity and acquiescence.




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