Gaby’s term paper, “Franz Kafka’s Unconscious Biographies”, presented a rather fascinating analysis into Kafka’s own psyche. Some of the themes in the essay echoed Tyler’s paper, as both essays used Kafka’s works to examine the subtle facets of Kafka’s personality. I particularly liked some of the connections presented between Kafka and K, describing how both figures felt trapped in sedentary jobs. Furthermore, the parallels drawn between Kafka and K’s tumultuous love lives was also interesting, revealing how K’s misogynistic personality mirrors Kafka’s. The essay was not confined to The Trial; utilizing Kafka’s other short stories to create a better portrait of Kafka’s personality. Kafka’s works share a number of similar themes, each demonstrating Kafka’s wary attitude towards law and government. Additionally, a recurring theme throughout many of Kafka’s works is the idea of alienation. K, Gregor, and The Officer have all been rejected by society, and represent dejected and bitter figures. Once could say Kafka felt similarly alienated, as he found himself unable to fulfill his required societal obligations. Gaby successfully incorporated an analysis of Kafka’s numerous works with Kafka’s own biography to draw thought provoking connections between Kafka and the characters he created.
It is inevitable that a writer’s work will reflect their life in some form. Incidentally, this ends up demonstrating profound aspects of the writer that perhaps even they are never consciously aware of revealing. Franz Kafka’s work consistently demonstrates his own personality traits, ideas, attitudes and life. This allows readers a certain insight and proclivity to understanding his infamous, somewhat strange persona. This is perhaps portrayed most obviously in his novel The Trial. The main character, which coincidentally goes simply by the name “K”, is arguably a direct demonstration of Kafka.
Of course, there are literal similarities between K and Kafka. They both have sedentary jobs, K being a bank officer and Kafka having worked at an insurance agency for a portion of his life. K’s character dies on his thirty-first birthday, while Kafka dies exactly one month after his forty-first birthday. However, the important similarities to be found between these two deal more with personality traits.
K is blatantly arrogant. This is seen almost immediately in the very first chapter of The Trial. While K is originally being arrested, he claims his absolute innocence, yet he has not yet been informed of the charge. The police men find this rather amusing, yet K is certain in his belief, and refers to them in his thoughts as mindless drones. Throughout the entire novel K’s attitude does not lessen, it only becomes more severe. Franz Kafka is known to have a similar attitude, and has been described more than once as arrogant. The arrogance is not one of physical cockiness, but more of intellectual superiority. Both K and Kafka find just about everyone they meet to be inferior, and a majority of the time suggest down right stupidity. This is a major aspect of both personalities, however this is not necessarily something Kafka added to this novel consciously. Because of such similarities in personality, the reader must begin to question whether Kafka believes his character K to be arrogant, or whether Kafka was simply creating a character he finds to be normal. The character of K is also very sarcastic, which is expressed mostly in the manner the novel is written. Kafka’s sarcasm is apparent in all of his writings, however it is expressed a great deal within the character of K in this specific one.
A more morbid similarity between K and Kafka is the contemplation of suicide. The idea of suicide is brought up several times throughout the novel, as K begins to truly drive himself mad with the impending trial. The reason for this morbid contemplation and going crazy is blatantly K’s inability to cope with his situation and the society in which he lives. K is being charged without having the slightest of notion of what he is being charged for, which in K’s mind is completely unjust. Yet the very system doing this is known as ‘the justice system’. The law is supposed to be positive, a source of protection to the innocent, yet here K is, reaping the exact opposite. K is incapable of fathoming the fact that everything he is supposed to believe in and trust is ultimately corrupt. This idea is developed throughout the novel as K’s thoughts.
Kafka is almost identical in this aspect. The reason why Kafka chose to work in sedentary jobs throughout most of his life, is because he always valued free time; free time to think. Kafka himself can be described as somewhat crazy, as he spent every free second analyzing society, and ultimately being disappointed. It is said that Kafka had contemplated suicide several times throughout his life, yet the reasons were always unclear. It is in moments such as the ones in The Trial that touch upon the idea of suicide, that Kafka’s low points become clear. He himself was also overwhelmed with the devastating flaws in the justice system, however there was much more to his self-destruction. A great deal of this was also due to his self-deprecating tendencies, many dealing with shame, guilt, disgust- all towards himself, and mostly because of women.
The Trial has numerous scenes dealing with different women, however they always seem to be divergent from the general plot. This is perhaps one of the most unorganized aspects of the novel, however it plays an essential role in the topic at hand now. K seems to be perpetually interrupted by women, and by having sex with women. Throughout the course of the novel, there are almost countless sexual or sexually charged encounters with women of all ages, from all places. However, these occurrences all have many things in common. K has a generally misogynistic attitude. He has sex with women at a whim, no matter their marital status, their inappropriate age, or their position in his life and his trial. It would not be correct, however, to state that the sex was purely physical, because at times it was not. No, at times, it was much more to K – it was a form of revenge. Kafka had a very similar relationship pattern. He is notorious for always having several affairs going on at one time. Even whilst engaged, which he was three times with two different woman, he would have multiple emotional affairs through letters and would also visit whorehouses. What is perhaps the strangest about K and Kafka’s attitude towards women, is the fact that they both feel that sex is a dirty thing. Both see any woman who has sex to be automatically promiscuous, and while they partake in the act, it is something that causes major self-loathing.
This novel is one of Kafka’s largest writings, in comparison to his countless short stories, which is perhaps why it is easiest to find autobiographical elements. However, in many of his short stories many of the same elements appear, making them only more consequential. In comparing The Trial to a number of his short stories, striking resemblances can be found (mostly in the protagonists) and all can reveal even more about Kafka’s thoughts.
In “The Judgment” Georg, the protagonist, exchanges letters with his closest friends for years, always maintaining an artificially close relationship while still keeping a very grave physical distance. Kafka does this all of his life, having countless relationships (mostly considered to be romantic affairs) through letters with various different women. Both characters feel uncomfortable with actually meeting their pen pals for various different reasons. In this particular short story, another very important aspect is the fact that Georg is removed from not only his friends, but his father as well who is actually keeping in contact with Georg’s friends. Together, they are all lying to Georg about practically everything. Kafka had a very estranged relationship with his father. The two never truly got along, and Kafka often felt that he, just like everyone around him was somehow leading a lie. This is clearly apparent in The Trial as well, as countless characters appear as shady, or holding out the truth from him – for instance, his sentence.
Kafka’s short story “A Country Doctor” is one of his shortest pieces, however the protagonist also parallels the writer. The doctor is the main character, and he represents traditional medicine. He feels as if he is being left behind by society and is under-appreciated, alone, and removed. In The Trial K also feels as if he is being left behind by the world around him. This can be seen simply in the premise of the novel – the legal system takes over his entire being without lending any sort of explanation; essentially, leaving him behind. This is just another thought to add to the fact that Kafka clearly felt seclusion from society.
In “The Penal Colony”, the Traveller is a man who has been called to an obscure state where he is then asked to judge the standings of a violent killing machine. The machine is without a doubt obscenely violent, and has been removed from this society because of this. However, the man who has asked the Traveller here is an old man who grew up in a time where this machine was not only accepted, but was used as a mean of social growth and as something to keep society together. The Traveller does not ever truly agree with the machine, however once the old man has shown his true devotion to his morals (which are now seen as outdated and cruel), he begins to understand. Again, the very same idea. Again, a moral code is in question. The idea here is that whatever is outdated will eventually seem negative, something Kafka was clearly terrified of. This specific story takes a different approach to the idea, using something so preposterous as a killing machine to make the reader truly question their own values. Is this machine so terrible, if one was raised on the belief that it was essential in keeping a society together?
In “The Metamorphosis”, Gregor wakes up as a giant insect, literally. This cuts off absolutely all communication with his family and the world around him. This is perhaps one of the more sarcastic expressions used by Kafka. Because of the outrageous idea, this short story displays Kafka’s issues as almost comical. This is however one of his most serious issues revisited time and time again. Gregor is completely secluded and incapable of communicating with anyone. In The Trial, most characters are known only amorphously, as representations or ideas. Kafka could never truly communicate with anyone. He was best at communicating through letters but when it came down to true human contact he was helpless.
The most profound idea to grasp from all of the similarities in Kafka’s works is the fact that he lived an entire life of self-inflicted seclusion, and it affected him. Although arrogant, sarcastic and somewhat misogynistic, Kafka truly did not mean to be so unlikeable and he certainly did not enjoy it. A genius – perhaps, an incredible writer – without a doubt, but socially Kafka was significantly more than just awkward. He was truly his own worst enemy and constantly questioned himself. Kafka was someone who felt passionately but was perpetually frustrated and arguably too intelligent for his own well-being. His unlikable tendencies may very well still be unlikable but at least now there can be an understanding of them. Kafka turned to writing to sort all of his emotions and overwhelming thoughts and unknowingly left an entire collection of literature to break apart and to finally communicate what he never truly could.
Gabe’s term paper encapsulates many of the themes discussed throughout our English Literature class this year. The paper delves into the idea that one is destined to fail the guidelines established by either church, family, or state throughout one’s life, and how this idea relates to K’s struggle throughout The Trial. I found it interesting that K’s arrest ultimately affects all aspects of his life, emphasizing that punishment in one major foundation of society causes difficulties in other societal institutions. This term paper mirrors my own paper in a few ways, describing Kafka’s criticism of corruption in government, and how K is destined to never escape the Court’s clutches. Furthermore, aspects of Tyler’s paper are displayed in a larger context within the essay, as Gabe demonstrates how an inability to fulfill the requirements of all three major societal institutions result in the destruction of many of K’s spur of the moment relationships. I thought another interesting portion of the novel that relates to Gabe’s term paper was the scene inside the church. In this scene, it is apparent that the state’s influence had seeped into the religious building, as K soon discovers that the chaplain is an employee of the Court. This illustrates how the three core societal institutions serve to collaborate and contradict one another, thereby restricting the liberties of the people. The government simply seeks to control the masses, utilizing impossible or unclear rules to establish its dominant relationship over the people.
Tyler’s term paper, “K’s Interactions with Women”, was quite interesting, as it delved into how K’s relationships with females in The Trial mirrored Kafka’s personal view of women. While reading The Trial, I was often intrigued by how easily K seduced the many women he encountered. However, factoring in K’s middle class lifestyle, it becomes apparent that K was attractive more for his status and wealth than his personality. I had not realized that Fraulein Burstner was the only woman who rejected K’s advances throughout the book, which adds an interesting dimension to a rather underdeveloped character. Furthermore, Tyler presents a valid point in describing K as misogynistic, as he often uses his attractive qualities to further his own case. It is interesting to note the typically minor role of women in most of the Kafka stories we have read throughout the year. In A Country Doctor, the one female character is portrayed as helpless, desperately in need of the male protagonist’s help. In The Metamorphosis, Grete plays a major role in the plot, but appears to still embody typical early nineteenth century gender roles. By studying K to analyze Kafka’s own viewpoints regarding women, Tyler presents an fascinating study into a peculiar aspect of The Trial.
In order to live in this world there are boundaries and rules one must live by. Some have to do with the justice system and others fight the boundaries within church and family. In Franz Kafka’s The Trial, he criticizes the troubles of trying to conform to one of the sets of boundaries while maintaining his position in the others.
Like most authors, Kafka’s work seems to reflect his lifestyle and who he was. Throughout The Trial, K. is faced with many challenges including family, morals, and women. These are also things that Kafka faced in his life.
The novel is about a man named Josef K, who is framed of a crime he has no idea bout. He wakes up one day expecting to see the breakfast that his landlady brings everyday, but she is no where to be found. Men in suits, who seem to be detectives are sitting around his house. When he questions them, they refuse to answer any questions. This is the first sense of criticism Kafka has. It shows the corruption from the government , and how these people will just follow orders without questioning the reasoning behind it. At first it seems as if the criticism is towards the government, and how corrupt it is, but it then seems that he is criticizing the people within our society for letting the government control the masses with such ease. This can also be due to the way Kafka and many other jewish people were living at the time. When this book was written it was in the middle of World War II. A time where all jewish people had to fear for their
lives, wondering if they were going to be able to live without being captured. It is not only seen within other characters, but also within K. He considers himself to be a higher class individual and does not want to talk to the “lower class” police officer because he sees himself higher than them. Once again it seems as if Kafka is critiquing society, showing the difference of classes and how people interact in between them.
All of these examples show the institutions working in order to bring the individual back to society. By them informing K. that he has been arrested, but will not tell him why, makes K. become nervous and will do whatever it takes to find out what he has to do to get out of this situation. By threatening people with consequences, it keeps them from doing things that could get them kicked out of one of the “institutions.” The three institutions are church, state, and family. These three institutions are prevalent throughout Kafka’s literature. Like Kafka’s personality there is not much happiness to the institutions, because the basis of it is that one is determined to fail. All three of the institutions contradict each other making it impossible to reside within one. In order to be accepted within one of the institutions, one would have to break rules of the others. The institutions are used in order to keep individuals from straying from society. It seems as
if they work in unison, but in the smaller picture they are just contradictions of each other. K. is put through all of the institutions starting with state and family. Like anyone else when one gets arrested it does not only put affect you, it also puts a burden on your
family and all your loved ones. Even though K. has no idea what he is being charged with it is very unlikely that his family will believe him, or ever trust him again. It is hard for one to be able to keep one of these institutions happy while trying to please the other ones.
Under the category of family fall a very important part in Kafka and K’s life, women. Kafka was known to have many relationships when he was alive, even being engaged numerous times. K., also has countless relationships with women throughout the novel, some of them being a little strange. Throughout the book K. destroys and makes relationships, starting with Frau Grubach. She was his landlady who made him breakfast everyday,which was another thing that shook K. up, having to change his routine. He had a relationship with her that seemed to be friendly, until the detectives arrived. After the whole ordeal he goes to apologize to her for them using her to get to him. This is also goes to show how the institutions not only work together but also fight against each other. Throughout the book girls are trying to help K. in his prosecution. He has girls throwing themselves at him kissing him and risking their jobs just to help some random stranger that they just met. The reason the institutions do not work together is the fact that he has to choose between them. He can either choose the girl and have the possibility of being distracted throughout his prosecution. Or choose to get helped by them, but then
most likely just using them for the help and forgetting about them. Which he seems to do through out the novel.
In the end the final theme seems to be control over the masses. By using restrictions and consequences, the government is able to treat society and the masses as a giant game of chess, moving each piece like a pawn. It also becomes apparent that it is impossible to get away from these institutions and restrictions, they will either force the masses to conform to their restrictions. Or change their restrictions so they can find a new way to oppress the masses.
Getting towards the end of the novel it is pretty evident that K. will never be free again. On his thirty first birthday he is visited by two men. K. knows what they are their to do. He is dragged out to the street, hoping someone will help him. No one ever does and the two men eventually pull out a knife and kill K. The ending of the book is bittersweet. Although it fits the novel perfectly, because the reader never finds out what K. was accused. Or because the execution is just as abrupt as his accusation was. In the end Kafka critiques how corrupt and poorly run are the judicial systems. The only
problem with the ending of the book is all the sub plots that are left wide open. When Kafka wrote this book he never intended to publish it, but one of his friends ended up publishing it years after his death. This although gives the book a cliff hanger feel with many of the sub plots, makes it seems like maybe the book was not ready and should have never been published.
In Franz Kafka’s The Trial, he criticizes the troubles of trying to conform to one of the sets of boundaries while maintaining his position in the others. K struggles throughout the whole book trying to make everyone in his journey including himself happy. Trying to defend himself in a case in which he has no idea takes a major stress on himself and his family and friends. But the only way to be able to conform to one of the institutions is to break the rules of the others. Which in turn makes everyone pre- determined to fail
Kafka’s The Trial, at its core, is a haunting parable of what occurs when a justice system operates without societal boundaries. Kafka, who lived much of his life under the iron grip of the Austrian Hungarian Empire, knew how easily a government, when structured on a basis of fear and intimidation, can restrict the civil liberties of its constituents. These themes are overtly present in K’s struggle against the justice system, as he futilely attempts to prove his innocence for an unknown crime. Following The Trial’s posthumous publication, the concepts in the novel have grown more relevant. In all societies, from the police states of fascists Germany and Italy, to Cold War and even present day United States, the prophetic undertones of the novel are often readily apparent beneath the constructed surface of the legal system. The legal system, in Kafka’s view, is a tangled and bureaucratically dominated institution, developed to advance the will of the state, not of the people. Kafka illustrates in The Trial how an unaccountable and inaccessible legal system ultimately destroys the notion of justice in society.
The Trial’s historical context is crucial to understanding Kafka’s critical perception of law enforcement. Kafka, a Jew born in Bohemia, often faced difficulties as a minority living within the Habsburg’s cruel and inconsistent justice system. Without due process, Czechs and Jews were often imprisoned and harshly punished based on their nationalities, rather than their presumed innocence or guilt (Kushman, 52). These experiences illustrated to Kafka the law’s potential corruptibility at an early age, and laid the foundation for his later works. It is interesting to note that while many mistakenly assume The Trial was based off events during World War I, and the ensuing rise of fascism throughout Italy and Germany, it was actually written years before the war began. This fact adds weight to the prophetic tones of the novel, as the nightmarish judicial landscape Kafka describes is frighteningly similar to real life occurrences throughout the turbulent 20th century.
Kafka’s strong condemnation of the inner workings of the law is imbued in nearly every page of The Trial. The novel is written in an episodic nature, with each chapter essentially a self-contained anecdote of K’s life after contact with the law. The novel begins abruptly, simply stating that “someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested,” (Kafka, 1). Like Kafka’s short story, The Metamorphosis, The Trial offers little explanation for the sudden cataclysmic change in the protagonist’s life, wasting no time in casting K into the horrific and surrealist underbelly of the court system. The legal system’s expansive power is quickly demonstrated, as K earliest efforts against lowly court officials grant him the realization “that he shouldn’t have spoken aloud, and that by doing so he had, in a sense, acknowledged the stranger’s right to oversee his actions,” (Kafka, 1). Whether K is rebellious in the face of oppression, or ultimately succumbs to his fate is unimportant. The law, through its extensive manipulation of numerous facets of society, will always retain control over his fate.
Kafka illustrates the expansive grip of the justice system by having its influence apparent nearly everywhere K travels. The law is figuratively portrayed in the suffocating air that weakens K’s mental and physical resolve every time he enters the court offices. “The air in the room was extremely oppressive, those standing furthest away could hardly be seen through it,” (Kafka, 32). Kafka is describing the corrupt Court as a life-draining force, one that leaves strong members of society feeble and unable to defend themselves. Rather than working to promote social justice, the legal system in The Trial strives to stifle the freedom of the common people. It soon becomes apparent that the law’s power is far wider in scope than K initially anticipated. Like meeting a stranger on the street and suddenly seeing him everywhere, following his arrest, K begins to notice the law’s presence in every small crevice of society. The law’s presence can be a stranger passing through an apartment building, a man getting whipped in a random dark room, or the desperate look of one of the court’s victims, eager to escape the inescapable. The law, which had previously been invisible to K, is now easily visible in nearly every place he visits, the cloying air seeping out of the court offices and contaminating every nook of K’s now gloomy hometown.
A significant scene in illuminating the consequences of interacting with the law is K’s meeting with Block. K arrives at his lawyer’s office prepared to fire him, when he meets a strange man named Block. Block is described as a “dried up” pitiful figure, a hollow man who has festered in the court offices for the last five years of his life. K, who by this point has already seen a deterioration of his own mental faculties due to the intense stress of his situation, sees in this man his inevitable future. Yet, Block’s life represents the best possible outcome of K’s case. Without contact with any of the government higher-ups, and without the ability to appeal his case’s verdict, prolonging his inevitable fate is the best outcome K can hope for. This shallow life without privacy, constantly living under the eye of the “Big Brotheresque” court system, is essentially tantamount to receiving a not-guilty verdict. In essence, innocence and guilt are entirely inconsequential, with the defendant either doomed to a quick death, or a hollow, artificially prolonged existence.
Kafka further illustrates the law’s unfairness, demonstrating that innocence is solely reserved for those with personal connections to high-ranking officials, or to those who are able to manipulate and prolong the judgment process. Block mentions how some are able to hire so called, “great lawyers”, or lawyers actually able to garner a not-guilty verdict for their clients. This is immediately ironic, as the reader sees the sharp contrast between the actual and perceived function of attorneys in this oppressive society. K’s lawyer does little throughout the entire book, foreshadowing K’s ultimate tragic fate, as well as implicating that only people of power and influence are able to successfully manipulate the court system. Additionally, the details of the legal process appear vague and muddled, revealing the law’s unaccountability, and lack of constitutional checks and balances to control its blatant disregard for justice. When K first questions the policeman regarding the nature of his arrest, the policeman responds, “our department, as far as I know, and I know only the lowest level, doesn’t seek out guilt among the general population, but, as the Law states, is attracted by guilt has to send us…” (Kafka, 1). Throughout the novel, K only meets lower ranked, subordinate court workers, such as the court magistrate and the court painter. However, there always remains an eerie sense that a shadowy figure is pulling the strings behind the scenes, secretly manipulating the legal system without society’s consent. The law remains inscrutable, with only the invisible upper ranked figures understanding the legal system’s complex machinations. The Court inevitably judges the accused guilty; refusing to explain its allegations, present evidence, or provide any transparency into the private deliberations that result in the final verdict. K only sees a small fraction of the complex court system, with the novel never revealing who is responsible for K’s final verdict. Furthermore, while it appears that K never actually partakes in a trial, the entire novel can be seen as a trial of sorts, as the court constantly judges how K reacts in response to their presence. In The Trial, the omniscient and inscrutable Court perpetuates inequality and injustice through its lack of openness and accessibility.
The Court in The Trial appears nightmarish, too manipulative and powerful to possibly exist in real life. Yet, many justice systems since the publication of this novel have taken actions that frighteningly mirror the corrupt court of Kafka’s imagination. The Russian Communist Government under Stalin completely discarded the notion of a fair trial, purging threats to Stalin’s all-powerful leadership with utter disregard for innocence and guilt (Kagan, 877). Hitler and Mussolini utilized similar techniques, taking control of the justice system to obtain absolute power over the state. However, The Trial becomes especially pertinent when the criticisms Kafka levels against corrupt court systems are apparent in societies founded on a strong belief in justice and equality. The United States, even with its Constitution, transparent legal system, and Bill of Rights, has similarly used its court system to restrict the rights of certain nationalities and ideologies. During World War II, the United States placed Japanese citizens into internment camps following the bombing of Pearl Harbor (Brinkley, 744) While the majority of Japanese citizens were innocent, and possessed no traitorous intent towards the U.S., the government still authorized their imprisonment, suspending their rights to insure the protection of the country. This event mirrors Kafka’s own early life as a Jew in Bohemia, as both the United States and the Habsburg Empire treated minorities less fairly in the court of law. Decades later, at the peak of the heated Cold War between the U.S. and Russia, the United States was again host to rampant injustice. Senator Joseph McCarthy, capitalizing on fears of the spreading “red terror” of communism, accused numerous people of secretly harboring communist sympathies (Brinkley, 757). Though his accusations were baseless, his successful use of manipulation, fear, and intimidation, temporarily made McCarthy one of the most powerful men in America. McCarthy’s actions parallel the steps taken by the Court in The Trial. Both forces grew powerful through a lack of transparency, and a perceived will to maintain societal order and safety. These historical examples make it clear that a desire for greater law and order ultimately comes at the cost of one’s personal ideologies and liberties.
The Trial is a cautionary tale that illustrates the potential corruption and restriction of freedoms that occur under an all-powerful, overbearing government and legal system. K, who cannot question or ask the Court about the actual details of his case, is doomed to his tragic fate from the novel’s start. Through the use of horrific surrealist imagery, Kafka starkly portrays what occurs when injustice is consistently perpetuated in society. Even more pertinently, the dystopian undertones present in the novel are mirrored by real life examples in the in the legal systems of all spectrums of governments, from dictatorships to democracies. The Trial represents Kafka at his most prophetic, as he warns the readers of the extensive societal control and restrictive practices enforced by higher governmental institutions. Without transparency or accountability, a legal system has no responsibility to the common people, instead acting to insure the state’s absolute control. The Trial, a nearly unpublished novel, remains extremely relevant today, as it compels its readers to seek out and prevent injustice in one’s own society.
Details about Franz Kafka’s personal life, namely his relationships with women, have eluded and mystified readers for nearly a century. The existentialist author endeavored to keep his work and private life hidden from the criticism of others. However, dissecting his work seems to be the most revealing way to reconnoiter his relationships with women. In many of his novels, Kafka’s narration serves as a muddy rendition of both his and the main character’s thought process. The Trial, one of Kafka’s most famous and studied novels, offers unique insight that helps reveal information concerning his personal life that most biographies fail to grasp. The protagonists’ unbridled interactions with female characters reveal the authors array of views toward women, whether merely as sexual toys that deviate from functional society, or as gentle and mysterious necessities of a sane life.
One of the first encounters that K., the protagonist, has with women occurs at the courthouse. A housewife, who cleans the law offices simply as a way of paying the rent, courts K. despite her marital status. From the start, K.’s brief relationship with the woman becomes scandalous and rogue when “she stretched out her legs, pulled her dress up to her knees, and viewed her legs herself as well (Kafka, 61).” He shows no restraint in having an affair with a married woman. Moreover, the narration does not even recognize this inappropriate act as ludicrous, as if both K.’s and the unfaithful woman’s actions was warranted.
One might say that K. is not at fault, seeing that the young woman approached him, and that it is only natural to flirt with an attractive member of the opposite sex. However, K. takes the courtship a few steps further. After becoming aware of her promiscuity with other people involved with the court, namely a student and high-ranking court official, he continues to desire the woman. But this desire is spiteful. Kafka claims “there was perhaps no better way to revenge himself upon the examining magistrate and his retinue than taking this woman away from them for himself (Kafka, 61).” His quest for revenge on the court is both premature and ignorant, but it is even more degrading to the woman if revenge is his sole purpose in the affair. He goes on to refer to the woman as only a “warm body”, something that “belonged” to him. These sentiments are belittling. The lack of chivalric respect shows K.’s acknowledgement of her promiscuity, yet he still wants her. He wants her to the point that he becomes infuriated in jealousy when the student carries her away. It can be concluded that the attraction to the housewife is based on a swaying foundation of lust and spite. This type of lewd attraction would be deemed benighted and lecherous by society, and had he followed through with the affair, K. would have faced a great deal of misfortune in his relations with the court.
Leni the nurse represents another example of how women seem to yearn for K.’s attention. Out of all the female characters in the novella. Leni seems to be the most attracted, obsessed, and persistent in her pursuit of his affection. The sexual relationship shared between the two is odd to say the least; just moments after meeting each other, they have sex. The relationship becomes even more scandalous as the chosen place of refuge is in K.’s lawyers residence, while the lawyer, a court official, and a family member are impatiently waiting in a nearby room. This impulsive act of nature shows both K.’s and Leni’s willingness to defy all laws of courtesy in order to achieve sexual satisfaction. K. practically snubs a very elusive, powerful court official for the charms of a complete stranger. His behavior paints the reader a very clear picture of where his priorities are. The initial voluptuous adventure marks the second time that K. jeopardizes his reputation and relationship with the court, a very risky and impulsive action for someone deeply concerned with the outcome of his trial.
After their initial engagement, K. seems to lose romantic interest in her. While they do have sexual relations, K. refuses to let her become a distraction as he focuses on the process of his trial. Eventually, before he endeavors to fire his lawyer, K. treats her as more of a nuance than a sex toy. K. responds to the statement that she “does not need any other thanks than that you’re fond of me,” with a rhetorical “Fond of you (Kafka, 181)?” He then reconsiders his words in an earnest effort not to openly demean her. But the comment, or slip rather, truly shows how little he values Leni. Later in the chapter, the lawyer asks whether Leni had been too bold in her speech. K. replies “Too forward?”, as if he was oblivious to the meaning of the phrase, or had not noticed this flaw in Leni. There are a few reasons explaining K.’s dumbfounded nature upon hearing of her forwardness. It could be that he had been so consumed in his case that he had not devoted an ounce of thought to her or her boldness. He may also believe women like Leni have the right, or obligation rather, to sexually market themselves, and that women behave like this around him so frequently that it seems normal. Whatever the reason, K. obviously pays no attention to the lack of chastity in the women he meets.
K. encounters a contingency of teenage girls on his visit to the painter, and Kafka seizes another opportunity to imply judgments on women. The behavior of the girls is described in an inappropriate manner as neither the lead-girls’ “youth nor her deformity had prevented her early corruption (Kafka, 141).” This description provides the reader with an aftertaste of pedophilia. A thirteen-year-old girl is not yet developed mentally and sexually, yet Kafka describes her speech and actions in a way that would make her seem “corrupted.” It can be assumed that the entire situation is inappropriate by K. “Ignoring her behavior.” Furthermore, the reference to “early corruption” also hints at the immature sexual prowess of the girl. The corruptness correlates with rushed ploys of courtship; the thirteen year old girl’s “inviting” behavior towards a man two decades her elder is appalling. Moreover, the young girl continues her lewd behavior as “she lifted her little skirt, which was extremely short to begin with, with both hands and ran as fast as she could…(Kafka, 144)”. The comment on the short skirt is a direct judgment on the girl’s sexual provocation at such a young age. Kafka could have simply stated that she ascended up the steps to the top of the building, but instead he makes comments concerning her scanty attire.
His choice to recognize the inappropriate behavior has significant meaning. The building where the girls live is located in an impoverished part of the city. It can be assumed that the girls dress accordingly, based on Kafka’s use of the word “depravity” to describe them. K.’s age and looks may have been factors in the girls’ behavior, but it is obvious Kafka intended to make wealth a major catalyst as well. As seen with the maid at the courtroom and Leni the nurse, women of the lower class seem staggered by K.’ presence and frequently offer themselves to him. Similar actions occur with the girl’s at this building. In their meager status, the teenagers run towards K. as if he were the last man on earth. The desires appear to be the less developed version of the lusts experienced by other blue-collar, lower class women in the novel, but are noteworthy nonetheless.
The fact that Kafka describes her boldness in such a manner is intriguing in itself, but it must be remembered how K. responds to the young girls’ behavior. He simply dodges her volley of flirtation, insisting to meet with the painter. K.’s attitudes towards women throughout the novel are both misogynistic and opportunistic. He exchanges courtship for sex, and his strategy is fairly successful. In the case of the teenagers, he pays attention to them, and they lead him to the painter. The girls perceive his attention as mild flirtation, and everyone is satisfied. K. more or less takes advantage of his looks, status, and wealth to lure women, use them, and continue onto his next conquest.
K.’s brief relationship with Fraulein Burstner sparks interest in several ways. To begin, her role in the novel is both unclear and unresolved. She appears in the first few chapters, and then returns in the final scene for only a moment, as if scenes with her in it had not been included in the publication of The Trial. Regardless, her limited part is significant. She serves as the only woman who entirely rejects K.’s advances. Like the others, Leni, the court maid, and the little girls, Fraulein Burstner has a modest social status- she is a typist. This similarity coincides with K.’s other women. He is attracted to a woman in a lower monetary tier of society, Fraulein Burstner, and attempts to have relations with her. The banker’s spontaneous kisses are not warmly welcomed, and she promptly moves away, making her the exception to the lower-class women’s attraction to K. Her appearance in the end may serve as a symbol of his solidarity; he never meets another woman that he truly wishes to commit himself to. K. dies as a bachelor. It is difficult to analyze the peculiarity of her actions because of the undeveloped nature of the book, but it exemplifies an exception to Kafka’s previous undertakings.
K.’s relationships with the women of The Trial serve as a microcosm of both Kafka’s lifestyle and the lifestyle’s of the young, upper-class men in this time period. Women of the lower classes desired men with power. Men with money. Men who were attractive and sophisticated. They wanted commitment from these men, and tried to lure it through advanced courtship- intense affection and sex. Leni’s promiscuity, the maid’s undressing, and the young girls’ flirtation were purely instinctive, promoted by a society that condones these types of premarital, crass associations if it meant .Kafka was known for his various, lusty affairs with women. He often met with them merely for sex, regularly hiring prostitutes. He never maintained contact with these women for more than a few months, moving onto to the next woman he could seduce quickly. Women found him attractive for his calm, serious demeanor, not to mention his law degree and boyish good-looks were inviting (Brod, 11). His description sounds eerily similar to K., a young, sophisticated, attractive white-collar man. In essence, the two people are one in the same; Kafka’s views towards women parallel K.’s. Each man found it easy to find and seduce women, but maintaining a relationship proved difficult. They used impoverished or lower class women as pawns of sexual satisfaction, living and dying alone.
Brod, Max. Franz Kafka: A Biography. 1995. Web.
Kafka, Franz. The Trial. New York: Schocken Books Inc, 1952. Print.