The Trial by Franz Kafka


before the Law stands a door-keeper. To this door-keeper there comes a man from the country who begs for admittance to the Law. But the door-keeper says that he cannot admit the man at the moment. The man, on reflection, asks if he will be allowed, then, to enter later. ‘It is possible,’ answers the door-keeper, ‘but not at this moment.’

K. is accused of a crime. He is stand trial. He is not informed what his crime is, when or where his trial will take place, or anything but a long list of obscure and contradictory facts on how the process will be run.

The Trial is the haunting companion piece to The Castle. A character locked in incomprehensible bureaucratic hell. Unlike The Castle, with its monotonous city streets and inclement weather, The Trial is cramped, claustrophobic. The law offices of the court, the rooms of K.’s lawyers, anything related to the proceedings at all, take places in dusty old attics with low ceilings that cause people to stoop. The light is dim. The air is so stifling you literally cannot breathe if you have not become acclimated to the atmosphere. There’s secret closets K. stumbles upon in his own workplace that contain torture chambers; K’s office goes from a place of triumph to a prison he yearns to leave.

You can liken The Trial to everything from the seemingly arbitrary state-sanctioned process of contesting a parking ticket to grim foreshadowing of the holocaust. The system itself is monstrous. No single person squares off but a small portion of it. K. stumbles across various characters who give him contradictory tales about the courts, who lord their knowledge over him and then become baffled when he doesn’t act on their nonsense. It drains him completely. He meets men who have divested their fortunes across several lawyers and years later still do not know for what crime they have been accused. It’s completely absurd but also reasonable and chilling and the same critique Kafka was terrified of and writing in the twenties can be applied to modernity.

K. maintains the the Law must be just and reasonable and he simply has to comprehend its workings and all will make sense. But that is impossible. Like today, many people are assured there is some reason, some logic to the madness of state. It’s funny because readers summarize this as “we never know what K. did wrong”, when I think it’s implicit that K. did nothing wrong. 

Who could these men be? What were they talking about? What authority could they represent? K. lived in a country with a legal constitution, there was universal peace, all the laws were in force; who dared seize him in his own dwelling?

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