Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Trial | Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka is an intriguing man. After reading “The Trial” in addition to “The Metamorphosis” last year, I wonder just what was going on in his life at the time. After some brief research (Everyman’s editions are amazing), three things stick out to me from his past:

1) He got engaged, called it off, got engaged again and called it off.
2) He was in and out of mental institutions.
3) He told his best friend that when he died, he should burn all of his work. “The Trial” was never supposed to be published. It was only published after Kafka’s death, a refusal of his friend to acknowledge his dying (potentially crazy) wish.

With that being said, there is some question in regards to where chapters fit. One chapter in my edition ends abruptly without much resolution. Neither the placement nor the abrupt ending matter much; the story works just the way it is presented (at least in my addition). The themes are perversely explored, and no resolution is presented. Thoughts are planted where they should remain rooted in the reader’s mind for some time. This is what makes this novel a classic.

“The Trial” was essentially about one man, generally referred to as “K”, who is accused of a crime. What ensues is nothing short of complete bureaucracy, making fun of the way the legal system “works.” Of course, the novel goes further than that - and I believe it hauntingly portrays where our society is headed. It is unarguable to me that things have become more bureaucratic over the last 30 years, and it’s sad to me to get a glimpse of just how far it can go. This novel forces you to think about that. Do you remember the last time you called a customer service line to fix a problem with your account? Have you ever had every attempt at gaining ground revoked, digging you further and further into a hole? That is exactly what K. experiences… and he does not even know why he is charged!

In addition, there is an undertone in the main character, and possibly Kafka himself, about a feeling of complete alienation and isolation from society. It’s a common theme in works of darker writers… Dostoevsky, Kafka, Bellow, Salinger… and it is evident that this resonates with many readers. If you feel you’re misunderstood, it’s more likely that you feel sympathy for the writer and a great passion for his work.

When I look back on this novel, here’s what sticks. “The Trial” was so exceedingly frustrating… Kafka did an amazing job in two chapters in particular of making my head spin as much (or more) than the main character. There were times I was so upset that I wanted to throw the book across the room. If you realize how frustrated you were experiencing the novel, can you imagine how frustrated you would be living in a society that far misplaced from functionality? Perhaps Kafka did not foresee this happening in future society; perhaps he felt that at the time he wrote his novel. One could see how that would eventually make someone ‘crazy’.

I wasn’t a fan of the writing style, and I was often bored because the theme was tackled so holistically that you felt it was overkill, which was precisely the point. You cannot help but feel as if Kafka did a good job – he made his point. It wasn’t eloquent, but these things aren’t in society. These things are frustrating and haunting – precisely what this novel was about.

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