Court or Cabal?
A conspiratorial analysis of The Trial
The Trial, like all of Kafkas works, is a novel of questions. Not only is the protagonist, Joseph K., plagued with questions of the nature of the Court, and their case against him, but the reader is plagued with even deeper questions regarding Ks actions. Ks questions revolve around the Court, its methods, its members, its hierarchy, and its purpose. The readers questions why K puts up with the system, why he is so intrigued by it, and (in the end) why he so willingly accepts his fate.
From the beginning of the story, to its very end, we see that the shadowy legal system that K is wrapped up in is wholly unlike the one we know. There is no arrest, there is no incarceration, there is no charging, there is no trial, and there is no sentencing. The closest thing to a formal proceeding is the inquiry that occurs in chapter 3. However, even that is short on formalities, and bears little resemblance to a legal process.
Because its methods are so different, it is not hard to ponder whether or not its purpose is different as well. Our legal system exists to examine cases in which violations of the law are suspected, and decide if the laws were in fact broken. I propose that Kafkas legal system exists not to interpret laws, but to spur feelings of self doubt in the accused, and force them to decide if they are guilty.
Kafkas title, in the original German, was Der Prozess. Due to the legal theme of the story, the generally agreed on name is The Trial. However, an alternate translation can give you a different view on the work. The Process implies something wholly different. Joseph K is never charged. He is never brought to an actual trial. His lawyer never really does anything. Indeed, no one ever serves him with any kind of a sentence. His own actions are the only real actions in the entire Process.
The Process, in this case, is the environment created by the Court, in which the accused is brought into doubt about his own innocence or guilt. The Law is not written, nor is it even known by members of the Court. The Law exists only within the head of the accused. As the process progresses, the accused makes their own choices about their status. The only trial that occurs is within their own minds. Ultimately, the burden of sentencing falls upon the accused themselves.
In chapter 7, Titorelli reveals countless nuggets of valuable information. The painter reveals many thought provoking facts about the long-term results of the Process. When detailing the various types of acquittals we see that the only ones that truly happen arent real acquittals, they are merely postponement and delay. They always leave the specter of the trial to loom over the accused. That there is little talk of the sentencing is an intriguing fact, which will be discussed in relation to the ending. Overall, Titorelli implies that most cases become foregone conclusions, that drag out for inordinate amounts of time. This is corroborated by the usher K meets in chapter 3.
These facts imply that there is little action in the cases by the Court. The entire burden rests on the accused, who is slowly consumed by the guilt instilled by the Process.
As I said above, the purpose of the Process is to bring on these feelings of guilt, and to force the accused to accept their own unidentified crime. We see that most of the Courts few actions result in creating guilt and self-doubt in K. The most blatant of these is the Flogger in chapter 5. We see the drastic effect this has on K: he begs to let him replace the victims, and ultimately breaks down into tears. The exchange with the courts Clerk is a similar, but less drastic move. When K reappears after his dalliance with Leni, the Clerk makes disparaging remarks about the effect of the absence on his case. This piles even more guilt onto K.
Another character that brings more insight into the Process is Block. Both what Block says, and his actions say much about the Process. He speaks about the great lawyers, who are wholly inaccessible(in stark contrast to Herr Huld, who is utterly useless). Also, he alludes to the idea that the guilty can be superficially identified. Perhaps those who have been in the Process for so long have become so accustomed to guilt and self loathing that they can smell the tendencies on others. If they can identify those with guilty personalities, then it is not hard to identify those who will ultimately decide that they themselves are guilty.
Additionally, we see a man who is entirely consumed by his case. We see how he is utterly consumed with the manufactured guilt, and is entirely prostrate before the court. At the end of chapter 8, we see that Block has been reduced to the level of a house pet, in the service of Herr Huld. Indeed, they treat him like a dog, thoroughly humiliating the man. This fact plays an important part in the ending.
As if this evidence werent enough, it all pales in comparison to the events of chapter 9. Of all the characters who bring light to the nature of the Process, none of them hold a candle to the Chaplain. There is one quote from him that gives significant insight:
The judgment isnt simply delivered at some point, the proceedings gradually merge into the judgment.
If the Court were a court in the sense that we use the word, then by its very definition it would have a definitive verdict, delivered at the end of the proceedings. The visual of the guilt slowly crystalizing in the head of the accused is the logical conclusion.
His allegory, however, is the most important passage in the entire text. It manages to encapsulate the entire Process in an easy to understand form.
The countryman is obviously the parallel of the accused. He is searching for an understanding of the Process, and a knowledge of the Law. However, it is sequestered behind an infinitude of burly guards, each more powerful than the next. The door to the Law lies open before him, the implication of punishment being the only bar to passage. He is told that he might one day be allowed to pass, but he is never given a boundary. It is a forgone conclusion. Instead of brushing off the threats, he folds under the pressure, and waits for the supposed day. In his waiting, he becomes obsessed with the guard, consuming him until his last days.
The guard represents the Court. He stands between the accused an the amorphous Law. Behind him lie the supposed High Guards, which are analogous to the High Courts. Just as the High Courts are only alluded to, and never discussed from firsthand knowledge, the guard speaks in vague terms as well. Just as the countryman becomes obsessed with the guard, so do the accused. We see this in the throngs who sit in the lobby of the law offices, and the pitiful behavior of Block.
The door represents the chance for knowledge of the law, that is closed off with the death of the accused.
From this allegory, we essentially see that the Process consists of the accused desperately striving to attain knowledge of the Law, while playing within the confines of the Court. We see that the purpose of the Court is to give the accused the run around, until they die in the attempt.
Finally, this brings us to the events of the final chapter. Nowhere is the degree of control given to Joseph K more apparent than here. When the two men take him from his room, they hold him tightly, but not in a controlling way. They allow him to walk where he pleases, even allowing him to follow a woman. When K stops, and holds his place, they pull, but not enough to uproot him. This is intended to imply that they are in control, and that they have somewhere to take him, when really they are only following his lead.
The events at the quarry reinforce one previous statement, and explain one of the unresolved questions in the book. As the two men are passing the knife back and forth in front of K, he gets the idea that he is supposed to commit suicide. This, of all of the evidence, speaks the strongest. By the time the accused is taken by these men, the hope is that they are so consumed with guilt, that they have already decided in their mind that they deserve to die. The suicide absolves the shadowy Court from any public implication. At no time is the nature of any of the verdicts or sentences revealed. It is said that most of the accused become depressed, and it is not a stretch to assign a suicide to depression induced by a trial that is going badly.
Ks dying words are also illuminating. Like a dog is, without a shadow of a doubt, an allusion to Block. As he is dying, the nature of the court becomes clear to him. He sees that the entire purpose was to subjugate him, and reduce him to the same level of pitiful Block.
In the end, the Court is able to make Joseph K is own judge, jury, and executioner.
Analyzed in this way, the Court becomes more of a cabal. A group of people using shadowy social engineering to commit heinous crimes against humanity. We see them use a variety of techniques, from exploiting peoples belief in the legal system, to subjecting them to seeing acts of torture, to accomplish their sadistic goal.
All of Kafkas works seem enigmatic at first read, until one finds a context in which to read it. The Metamorphosis seems utterly supernatural and bizarre until you realize that the protagonists transformation is merely a reflection of his emotional state. Similarly, if one reads The Trial with the view of the Court as a manipulative body, instead of a legal one, everything becomes utterly clear.
Node your homework kids!