The Trial
The Trial  
Kafka Der Prozess 1925.jpg
First edition cover
Author(s) Franz Kafka
Original title Der Process[1]
Translator see below
Country Austria
Language German
Genre(s) Philosophical fiction, Dystopian fiction, Absurdist fiction
Publisher Die Schmiede, Berlin
Publication date 1925

The Trial (Kafka's original German title: Der Process,[1] later as Der Prozess and Der Prozeß) is a novel by Franz Kafka, first published in 1925. One of Kafka's best-known works, it tells the story of a man arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed neither to him nor the reader.

Like Kafka's other novels, The Trial was never completed, although it does include a chapter which brings the story to an end. Because of this there are certain inconsistencies which exist within the novel, such as disparities in timing in addition to other discontinuities in narration.[citation needed]

After Kafka's death in 1924, his friend and literary executor Max Brod edited the text for publication.

Contents

Plot summary

On his thirtieth birthday, a senior bank clerk, Josef K., is unexpectedly arrested by two unidentified agents for an unspecified crime. The agents do not name the authority for which they are acting. He is not taken away, however, but left at home to await instructions from the Committee of Affairs.

K. later visits the court and stands in the witness box pleading his case. He then returns home.

K. later goes to visit the magistrate again, but instead is forced to have a meeting with an attendant's wife. Looking at the Magistrate's books, he discovers a cache of pornography.

K. returns home to find Fräulein Montag, a lodger from another room, moving in with Fräulein Bürstner. He suspects that this is to prevent him from pursuing his affair with the latter woman. Yet another lodger, Captain Lanz, appears to be in league with Montag.

Later, in a store room at his own bank, K. discovers the two agents, who arrested him, being whipped by a flogger for asking K. for bribes, as a result of complaints K. previously made about them to the Magistrate. K. tries to argue with the flogger, saying that the men need not be whipped, but the flogger cannot be swayed. The next day he returns to the store room and is shocked to find everything as he had found it the day before, including the Whipper and the two agents.

K. is visited by his uncle, who is a friend of a lawyer. The lawyer was with the Clerk of the Court. The uncle seems distressed by K.'s predicament. At first sympathetic, he becomes concerned K. is underestimating the seriousness of the case. The uncle introduces K. to an advocate, who is attended by Leni, a nurse, who K.'s uncle suspects is the advocate's mistress. K. has a sexual encounter with Leni, whilst his uncle is talking with the Advocate and the Chief Clerk of the Court, much to his uncle's anger, and to the detriment of his case.

K. visits the advocate and finds him to be a capricious and unhelpful character. K. returns to his bank but finds that his colleagues are trying to undermine him.

K. is advised by one of his bank clients to visit Titorelli, a court painter, for advice. Titorelli has no official connections, yet seems to have a deep understanding of the process. K. learns that, to Titorelli's knowledge, not a single defendant has ever been acquitted. He sets out what K.'s options are, but the consequences of all of them are unpleasant: they consist of different delay tactics to stretch out his case as long as possible before the inevitable "Guilty" verdict. Titorelli instructs K. that there's not much he can do since he doesn't know of what crime he has been accused.

K. decides to take control of matters himself and visits his advocate with the intention of dismissing him. At the advocate's office he meets a downtrodden individual, Block, a client who offers K. some insight from a client's perspective. Block's case has continued for five years and he appears to have been virtually enslaved by his dependence on the advocate's meaningless and circular advice. The advocate mocks Block in front of K. for his dog-like subservience. This experience further poisons K.'s opinion of his advocate, and K. is bemused as to why his advocate would think that seeing such a client, in such a state, could change his mind. (This chapter was left unfinished by the author.)

K. is asked to tour an Italian client around local places of cultural interest, but the Italian client short of time asks K. to tour him around only the cathedral, setting a time to meet there. When the client doesn't show up, K. explores the cathedral which is empty except for an old woman and a church official. K. decides to leave, as a priest K. notices seems to be preparing to give a sermon from a small second pulpit, lest it begin and K. be compelled to stay for its entirety. Instead of giving a sermon, the priest calls out K.'s name, although K. has never known the priest. The priest works for the court, and tells K. a fable, (which has been published separately as Before the Law) that is meant to explain his situation, but instead causes confusion, and implies that K.'s fate is hopeless. Before the Law begins as a parable, then continues with several pages of interpretation between the Priest and K. The gravity of the priest's words prepares the reader for an unpleasant ending.

On the last day of K.'s thirtieth year, two men arrive to execute him. He offers little resistance, suggesting that he has realised this as being inevitable for some time. They lead him to a quarry where he is expected to kill himself, but he cannot. The two men then execute him. His last words describe his own death: "Like a dog!"

Characters

First edition dustjacket

Josef K. - The tale's protagonist.

Fräulein Bürstner – A boarder in the same house as Josef K. She lets him kiss her one night, but then rebuffs his advances. She makes a brief reappearance in the novel's final pages.

Fräulein Montag – Friend of Fräulein Bürstner, she talks to K. about ending his relationship with Fräulein Bürstner after his arrest. She claims she can bring him insight, because she is an objective third party.

Willem and Franz – Officers who arrest K. one morning but refuse to disclose the crime he is said to have committed.

Inspector – Man who conducts a proceeding at Joseph K.'s boardinghouse to inform K. officially that he is under arrest.

Rabinsteiner, Kullich and Kaminer – Junior bank employees who attending the proceeding at the boardinghouse.

Frau Grubach – The proprietress of the lodging house in which K. lives. She holds K. in high esteem, despite his arrest.

Woman in the Court – In her house happens the first judgment of K. she claims help from K. because she doesn't want to be abused by the magistrates.

Student – Deformed man who act under orders of the instruction judge. Will be a powerful man in the future.

Instruction Judge – First Judge of K. in his trial, he confuses K. with a Wall Painter.

Uncle Karl – K.'s impetuous uncle from the country, formerly his guardian. Upon learning about the trial, Karl insists that K. hire Herr Huld, the lawyer.

Herr Huld, the Lawyer – K.'s pompous and pretentious advocate who provides precious little in the way of action and far too much in the way of anecdote.

Leni – Herr Huld's nurse, she has feelings for Josef K. and soon becomes his lover. She shows him her webbed hand, yet another reference to the motif of the hand throughout the book. Apparently, she finds accused men extremely attractive—the fact of their indictment makes them irresistible to her.

Albert – Office director at the court and a friend of Huld.

Flogger – Man who punish Franz and Willen in the Bank after K's. complaints against the two agents in his first Judgement.

Vice-President – K.'s unctuous rival at the Bank, only too willing to catch K. in a compromising situation. He repeatedly takes advantage of K.'s preoccupation with the trial to advance his own ambitions.

President – Manager of the Bank. A sickly figure, whose position the Vice-President is trying to assume. Gets on well with K., inviting him to various engagements.

Rudi Block, the Merchant – Block is another accused man and client of Huld. His case is five years old, and he is but a shadow of the prosperous grain dealer he once was. All his time, energy, and resources are now devoted to his case, to the point of detriment to his own life. Although he has hired five additional lawyers on the side, he is completely and pathetically subservient to Huld.

Manufacturer – Person who hears about K.'s case and advise him to see a painter who knows how the court system works.

Titorelli, the Painter – Titorelli inherited the position of Court Painter from his father. He knows a great deal about the comings and goings of the Court's lowest level. He offers to help K., and manages to unload a few identical landscape paintings on the accused man.

Priest – Prison chaplain whom K. encounters in a church. The priest advises K. that his case is going badly and tells him to accept his fate.

Doorkeeper and Farmer – The characters of the Chaplain's Tale.

Legality

In a recent study based on Kafka’s office writings,[2] Reza Banakar points out that many of Kafka’s descriptions of law and legality are often treated as metaphors for things other than law, but also are worthy of examination as a particular concept of law and legality which operates paradoxically as an integral part of the human condition under modernity.[3] Josef K. and his inexplicable experience of the law in The Trial were, for example, born out of an actual legal case in which Kafka was involved.[3]

Film portrayals

Theatrical and operatic adaptations

  • The writer and director Steven Berkoff adapted several of Kafka's novels into plays and directed them for stage. His version of The Trial was first performed in 1970 in London and published in 1981.[4]
  • Chicago based writer, Greg Allen, wrote and directed K., based on The Trial. It was produced by The Hypocrites and ran for several months in 2010 at The Chopin Theater in Chicago.[5]
  • Joseph K, written by Tom Basden and based on The Trial, takes place in modern-day London, with the protagonist cast as a City banker. It ran at the Gate Theatre, Notting Hill, London, in late 2010.[6]
  • Gottfried von Einem wrote an opera, Der Prozeß, based on the novel. Its American debut was directed by Otto Preminger.

Selected publication history

See also

Book collection.jpg Novels portal

Notes

  1. ^ a b Kafka himself always used the spelling Process; Max Brod, and later other publishers, changed it. See Faksimile Edition and the discussion at de:Diskussion:Franz Kafka/Archiv#Prozeß vs. Proceß and de:Diskussion:Der Process#Schreibweise und Artikelname.
  2. ^ Corngold, Stanley et. al., (eds.) Franz Kafka: The Office Writings. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2009.
  3. ^ a b Banakar, Reza, "In Search of Heimat: A Note on Franz Kafka’s Concept of Law" (October 19, 2009) Law and Literature, Vol. 22, Summer 2010.
  4. ^ Berkoff, Steven. "The Trial, Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony. Three theatre adaptions from Franz Kafka." Oxford: Amber Lane Press, 1981.
  5. ^ "'K.' by The Hypocrites: Greg Allen's 'K.' can be unfeeling, but it showed the way" by Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune (26 October 2010)
  6. ^ "Joseph K – review" by Lynn Gardner, The Guardian (17 November 2010)

Bibliography

  • Engel, Manfred: "Der Process". In: Manfred Engel, Bernd Auerochs (eds.): Kafka-Handbuch. Leben – Werk – Wirkung. Stuttgart, Weimar: Metzler 2010, 192–207. ISBN 978-3-476-02167-0

External links


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