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.