By Sana Alam Khan
The Trial (original German title: Der Process) is a novel written by Franz Kafka between 1914 and 1915 and published posthumously in 1925. One of his best-known works, it tells the story of Joseph K, the protagonist, who is arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority. He is made to go through a disconcerting and confusing process where neither his crime nor the nature of the judicial system is made clear. As quoted by one of the judges dealing with K’s case –“It is not necessary to accept everything as true, one must only accept it as necessary.”
The book has a series of events, discussions and meetings as K attempts to find answers about the law and this bewildering system.
On its surface, the trial is an allegory about the labyrinths of bureaucracy and how even the innocent are forced to navigate through them, trapped in the complex and pointless clockwork of the Law.
There are indeed many mundane and absurd aspects to the story that form this plotline, but beyond the futility of a Kafkaesque scenario, there are several other elements to point out.
Firstly, the characterization of Joseph K. Nothing is black or white in this story, and K being so morally grey without any outstanding characteristics, can be described as the perfect anti-hero. He is just another banker, attempting to work his way out of the web of obstacles that have unjustly ensnarled him. K tries to rationalize the situation logically. I find his circular reasoning to add more irony to the situation. If anything, he is playing the role, which the system wants him to play.
One scene that particularly stood out for me was the parable “Before the Law”. K enters the capital’s cathedral to meet with an Italian businessman, who fails to show up. Instead, he finds a priest beckoning him to tell the long-winded story of the “doorkeeper to the law and a man from the country”. In short, a man is trying to gain entrance to the law but is denied so by the gatekeeper. He spends his entire life viewing the gatekeeper as absolute authority and ends up never getting admittance to the law. Despite the plot being simple, it does call for interpretation. The man can be seen, as a personification of determination or desire and the gatekeeper can be the seen as the mediator or a lawyer. As such, if the man were not able to get past the gatekeeper, he would never gain access to the law. The law itself remains hidden and therefore begs the question- does justice exist in this system?
Parables are meant to teach particular lessons. Here, it conveys the entire meaning of the story. Both the protagonists are in a constant, pointless struggle that has consumed their entire lives.
We ourselves have mastered futility. As an example, when a child begins school, his perspective of what he should strive towards is completely distorted. Material wealth is viewed as a success and the senseless, disorienting and illogical processes which he is made to go through becoming perfectly normal over the course of time.
It shows that we are simply bleak actors, who are perpetually involved in an absolute system. These convoluted and obdurate systems are followed and relied on upon without protest. Their only purpose is to sustain themselves indefinitely and be so confounded that they cannot be questioned. This strange tyranny is perfectly illustrated in this book. Its ever-darkening relevance continues to cast its sinister reflection, which can be easily identified in many of the systems we rely on today.
The author can be reached here.