Posted by Hunter Prichard
About eight months ago I saw a movie called "The Trial", which was made in the ‘60s and starred Anthony Perkins and Orson Welles. The acting was good and it had some good scenes. However, the entire thing was confusing, hard to watch and a little boring.
When I read Franz Kafka's novel, The Trial, I realized how great it was. The film might be ruined for my for perpetuity, but the book — and Kafka in general — is a favorite.
Set in a dystopia Europe, the novel concerns Joseph K., an average, young man trying to please others as he rises in ranks as the manager of a city bank and is arrested and prosecuted for a crime that is never explained. Simply, officers come one morning, put him under arrest and tell him to go to the courts at a certain time.
The rest of the book follows K. as he falls for a cute neighbor, Fraulein Burstner, recruits a powerful lawyer by way of his uncle, has a morbid talk with a struggling artist who gives him a full explanation of the ways of the court (according to him, is nearly impossible for a man to be fully acquitted of the "crime") and is eventually executed in the final passages. The finality of K. should not come as a surprise to on who has any knowledge of Kafka's work – the brilliance of the story comes not from the shock or the movement of the plot but of the mood and pathos of the story.
I have already mentioned the dystopia in which K. is living; it is a world that influenced the next eighty years of science fiction. The frightening point about this world is the detachment and austerity of the law officials who put K. under arrest. Given that no actual crime has ever taken place, K. is the victim of a court-ordered destruction. Although the story is only of one man, there seems to be a systematic holocaust taking place.
The final two chapters are the best in the book. First, there is a brilliant interlude in action in which K. enters an abandoned cathedral. He believes he is there to lead an Italian client of the bank around the city. Instead, he has a long conversation with a priest. The priest knows everything about him, but K. knows nothing of him; shadows shade most of the man's face, so he is nearly hidden.
The conversation between the two concerns a parable titled, "Before the Law," that can quickly be described as a story in which a man stands outside a doorway and attempts to bribe the doorkeeper to let him inside. Years past and the man is still sitting there. Finally he is on his deathbed, and he sadly asks the keeper why he is not kept out. The doorkeeper tells him that he cannot let him in because the door is only for him, and then he shuts the door.
K. does not understand the story, and there are many pages of analysis and conversation between him and the priest. The conversations are a little boring if one reads quickly, but they explain a good deal about confusion and discordance if read patiently.
The final scene of the book — the execution of Joseph K — is fantastically written even though Kafka originally left the book unfinished. K. is led to his death by two men and he is killed. His final words are "like a dog," a fitting conclusion to a novel about a human treated like a caged animal.
Hunter Prichard is an English major from Maine, or "Vacationland."