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, who coincidentally goes simply by the name “K”, is arguably a direct demonstration of Kafka.
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 (page 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 them seem so. It can be assumed that the 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… (page 144)”.
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 male 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.
The Trial is dominated by themes expressed numerous times throughout this year’s course. Of these themes, the government’s effect on restricting freedom is perhaps the one most clearly expressed throughout the book. The government in The Trial enforces arbitrary laws; laws not clearly expressed to the people. K never understands the reason for his arrest, as he struggles against mysterious forces beyond his actual control. K can hire lawyers, converse with court artists, have an intimate meeting with a chaplain in a church, but it all remains essentially useless. The lucky ones can delay their imminent fate, yet are forced to live a nightmarish life constantly haunted by the court’s threats. All of these aspects of the novel return to The Trial’s core theme, and the subject of my research paper, how an unaccountable and inaccessible legal system ultimately destroys the notion of justice in society. The details of the legal system are never truly explained throughout the entire book, with K only really meeting the lower ranked, menial workers of the court. However, there always remains a sense that a shadowy figure is pulling the strings behind the scenes, secretly manipulating all of society without its consent. K’s view of the court system only represents the tip of the iceberg, and his tragic end occurs without an actual literal “trial” occurring. The entire book is a trial, as the court subtly judges all of K’s actions, and how he responds to their constant presence. Like meeting someone and suddenly seeing that person everywhere, a soon as K comes in contact with the court system, he feels it wherever he goes, in all manner of random, seemingly far removed locations. It is unsure whether Kafka would have examined additional layers of the court system had he actually finished the novel. However, the novel is able to portray its core themes more effectively by maintaining an air of mystery and foreboding throughout the entirety of the loosely constructed plot. The lack of buildup and intense description leading to K’s death, adds more of a tragic quality to his fate. K is an everyman, who represents all the victims of an unaccountable, inscrutable system of justice. It fits the tone of the book that he would die like a dog, killed quickly on the side of a road. I will examine how this corrupt and unaccountable court system has pervaded modern society in future posts.
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 (page 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. (Throughout The Trial, Kafka’s descriptions of people and situations would parallel the thoughts of K.)
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.” 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 also belittling. The lack of chivalric respect shows K.’s acknowledgement of her disloyalty. 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, but is more understandable due to the perfidious behavior that stems from the housewife.
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’ emotionally sporadic 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.
Well The Trial certainly ends rather abruptly, doesn’t it? On K’s thirty-first birthday, he meets two visitors. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he is aware of what they were sent to do, although he only chooses to act in resistance far beyond the point of no return. The two men quickly take him by the arm through the city, their grip unrelenting. Although K looks to others for sympathy or aid, he is ultimately left alone in his fate. Finally, the two men pull out a knife, and eventually kill K like a “dog” on the street. Kafka had foreshadowed this conclusion throughout much of the novel, with clear signs pointing to K’s ultimate fate. K was unable to grasp the complexity, and absolute power the justice system. His arrogance in believing that simply not committing the crime was enough to cement his innocence had doomed him from the start. An interesting occurrence in the final chapter was the random appearance of Fraulein Burstner, a character that had all but been forgotten throughout the second half of the book. The unfinished nature of The Trial is most apparent in this final chapter, as the reader soon realizes the lack of closure Kafka offers to a number of the sub plots introduced throughout the book. The reader is left without an idea of what happened with K and Leni, what K did following the meeting with the Chaplain in the church, or why K’s efforts in prolonging the judgment on his case failed. However, this ending is appropriate in context with the novel. K is killed abruptly, without any signals to when his execution would be carried out. It makes sense that K, who is killed before his time, would leave the world before he could resolve the different strands of his life. Kafka had made his final point- the justice system, when left unaccountable is a corrupt and all powerful force-there simply is no reason to expand upon the other insignificant plot pieces any further. A final aspect of note in the chapter is that the two men almost expect K to kill himself, as if to take care of their dirty work. After the justice system had already stripped away so much of what K holds dear, it is interesting that they are willing to leave his death in his own hands. However, K is unable to partake in the final act, so like a dog; he is murdered on the street, his plight likely forgotten by all.
Adding to the post about The Trial and The Lecture, I talked about how the powers work together but battle at the same time. Even though it seems as if the powers are working together, the novel shows how by following one of the powers deteriorates the others. K. has to deal with and accept the fact that his family will not think, trust, or think of him in the same way. Even though he does not know how or why he is put on trial, his relationship with his family changes for the worse. By conforming to one of the powers it simply turns into a game of chess, using K. as a pawn. He has to follow the rules of the justice system which battles the rest of the powers. This is what makes society so sad, the fact that people are pressured into being loyal to your family and keeping them happy and having to follow the rules to the justice system and church. Which is impossible and in the end something has to be sacrificed, either your relationship to your family and what you believe in or your freedom