The most famous work by Jewish writer Franz Kafka. Written in 1915, it tells the story of a young man, Josef K, who is the chief clerk of a bank. One day, he finds himself arrested, but is puzzled, as he is free to go to work. He declines hiring a lawyer, as he does not see it necessary; the whole system he is being put to trial under is ridiculous to him. Slowly, as he is pulled further and further into the faux legal machinery, he ends up accepting the verdict.

"Der Prozess", as was original title - it was written in German as all of Kafka's works - is a classic tale of alienation, and is very reflective of Kafka's other works.

It was posthumously published by Max Brod, Kafka's close friend, who refused to burn the manuscripts as the will dictated. Max has since stated that the reason he chose to publish the manuscripts, was that when Kafka once told him that he would request the burning, he had replied that he would not do it. The will was also written during a deep depression, and Max, as he himself was fascinated by the works, did not want to heed the wish.

Der Prozess has since been adapted as a play and movie, the movie (a rare example of an adequate book->movie conversion) starring Kyle McLachlan and Anthony Hopkins.

Audited March 22, 2002

Court or Cabal?
A conspiratorial analysis of The Trial
by neuromantic



The Trial, like all of Kafka’s 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 K’s actions. K’s questions revolve around the Court, its methods, its members, its hierarchy, and it’s purpose. The reader’s 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 it’s 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 it’s methods are so different, it is not hard to ponder whether or not it’s 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 Kafka’s 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.

Kafka’s 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 aren’t 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 Court’s 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 court’s 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 weren’t 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 isn’t 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 it’s 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.

K’s 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 people’s belief in the legal system, to subjecting them to seeing acts of torture, to accomplish their sadistic goal.
All of Kafka’s 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 protagonist’s 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!

The penultimate song on Pink Floyd's stunning rock opera The Wall, The Trial is a nice example of a play performed through music. Sounding more like a song from a Disney movie than a man's psyche crumbling to nothing, The Trial ends up being exceedingly disturbing indeed.

Note: Spoilers as far as the eye can see your honour.

The song opens with the door to the courtroom creaking open, and Pink walking in. His fantasy of being a Nazi dictator has subsided, and guilty he decides to turn himself in. One by one, the bad influences on his mind are paraded in front of the court; his cruel schoolmaster, his philandering wife, his domineering mother...however, the problem is that in their testimonies, they incriminate Pink after all. Remember that the whole of the album besides The Trial is introspective; it is Pink's thoughts on Pink's state of mind. In his mind, he is hard done by, beaten down throughout his life, destroyed slowly but surely; however the testimony of all these figures throughout his life reveals otherwise. The schoolmaster pleads that his hands were tied; the "bleeding hearts and artists" wouldn't let him do anything to Pink to straighten him out. The wife complains that Pink never talked to her, and instead went away and cheated on her-i.e., any marriage problems from Pink's perspective were entirely imaginary. The mother feels she didn't do enough for him, and wants to "take him home". The wall, as it stands, is entirely unnecessary, as all of Pink's problems and his fears are entirely of his own creation.

After hearing the evidence, the judge obviously thinks this is an open and shut case ("there is no need for the jury to retire"). Pink's creation of the wall has done nothing but cause suffering to his mother and wife, and now that Pink has exposed himself at the Trial there is no need for it to exist any longer: tear down the wall!

In the film, the sequence is dramatically brought to life. Whereas the song merely sounds like it is from Disney, the film's cartoon version looks like it too. The schoolmaster is nothing but a puppet on strings; we see him flaying his pupils, and then just out of sight his wife flaying him after dark in the bedroom, before eventually he morphs into one of those omnipresent hammers. The wife looks more like a scorpion than anything else, while the mother screams into action as a jet fighter emerging from the wall. As for Judge Worm...I'll leave that to you to imagine for yourself.

In both versions, the song ends with the demolition of the Wall (in the film after a very long pause which may cause unknowing viewers to think that their DVD players are broken). A fitting end, indeed.

There are many different ways for one to interpret The Trial, a book by the Czech-born German-speaking Jew Franz Kafka. Some are overlapping while some are contradictory, yet this should hardly be a worry; contradictions lie at the heart of the work of every great writer while being absent from the confident, simple-minded work of the second-rate. The fact contradictions exist is what spurs the great to write in the first place.

Spoilers, of course, follow; conversely, what follows will probably make sense even if you have not read the book. We are dealing here with very general matters of interest to us all.

Kafka wrote The Trial after he ended an engagement with a woman who lived in a distant city and whose friends and family had a great influence over the course of their relationship. He writes in his diaries that he felt as if he was awaiting judgement from an alien court as to whether the marriage would proceed, and he also seems to have fallen for one of the girls who was an intermediary between him and his fiancé. Both of these facts find an echo in The Trial, where the whole future of the the protagonist, one Josef K., rests on the judgements of an arcane legal system of which he has no comprehension. K. - as he is known throughout the work - also takes a fancy to almost every girl he encounters, and especially the one that stands as the intermediary between him and his trial advocate, who is his best hope of influencing the proceedings against him.

The most fruitful way of which I am aware to read The Trial is to view it as a parable of one man's search to justify his own existence to himself. K. wakes up one morning to find his usual routine has been interrupted by the arrival of two men who tell him that he is under arrest for an unspecified crime and that the trial has begun; the close reader will observe that they do not enter the room until he requests them to, and that they do not physically compel him in any way. It is K. himself who allows this process to begin, although he is deceived at the outset about the nature of this process.

K. soon discovers that he is not to be actually incarcerated and is still a free man; what takes him much longer to discover is that he has been left with his freedom so that he has the rope with which to hang himself. It soon becomes clear that K. is not to be incarcerated because it is his life itself that the court by which he is charged is interested in, and that this court counts everyone in the world as a witness, and not a small number of people as its direct agents; it is this aspect of the novel that makes it appear to anticipate totalitarianism so well.

But Kafka's point does not seem to be political nor a prophetic foreboding of Nazi Germany. What Kafka is evoking is man's capacity for rootless metaphysical speculation about the nature of his own existence, and his ability to doubt and question this existence; that is why K. is on trial for his life but the charge is not precisely defined. It is the inherent Why? of his life that is on trial. Kafka is no stranger to this theme and addresses it in an aphorism elsewhere, where he states: "He found the Archimedean point, but he used it against himself; it seems that he was permitted to find it only under these conditions". Kafka's point about modern man is that he learnt to transform his whole world by questioning everything and embracing science, but that ultimately he also had to question himself. And this questioning of himself could kill him because he could never reach a satisfactory answer to his own Why?.

K. is on trial for his very existence but almost every time that he steps out of his everyday life to participate in the business of the trial, he does so of his own volition. He started this questioning of the Why? himself but now he has begun he cannot resist pursuing it. He is told by those familiar with the legal system that official hearings can easily be skipped and that trials can be merrily elongated for years with minimal effort and never reaching a verdict; but K. is not to be placated and is desperate to quickly and actively prove his innocence of the unspecified crime. His entire life story becomes the subject matter of depositions prepared for the court as he is forced to go over every decision he has ever made, and he finds it impossible to get the whole business out of his mind to the extent that it begins to interfere with his job at the bank, which K. clearly finds less compelling than the trial.

Initially K. clings to the notion that the skills that have served him so well in his very bourgeois job - above all his reason - will allow him to quickly see off the trial and prove his innocence. But as the arcane rules of the court and its incomprehensible nature becomes clear he realizes that human reason is inadequate to the task; just as our reason cannot divine the answer to our Why?, because the answer lays beyond the realm of things that can be reasonably proven. These matters must be the subject of felt insight or faith, things that K. becomes aware of because he does not have them; and when he hence realizes the weakness of mere reason, he begins to even have doubts about his work at the bank. Doubt has begun to infect every aspect of his life.

As K. continues with his attempts to prove his innocence, he encounters various people who claim they can help him. They all offer a different route to success, claiming special influence over the court; but all stress that there is a deep futility in his quest to prove his innocence, and that once the trial has begun virtually no-one achieves this happy ending. K. has begun down a track that he cannot retreat from, and so the best he can hope for is merely to postpone the result.

He meets an artist who tells him that he has heard myths of people who were found innocent in the highest court of them all, people who managed to beat the system; he does not know the details of their cases, but he has painted some. Kafka's illustration of the redemptive but ultimately futile power of art is delightful: the artist tells K. that he can provide some relief, a temporary removal of life's warts which will take the pain of the trial from over his head for some time, but which cannot last for ever. Eventually reality will return and the trial will be reactivated, and the artist can only provide complete relief for those who are entirely innocent. So this means the artist can only help those whose life is in fact already a work of art, complete and perfect and meaningful in itself; and such people exist only in myth.

Finally K. meets a priest, who tells him that he is the "prison warder". A priest as a prison warder is natural enough if we are predisposed to see religion as a force which turns life into a prison, where we are constantly watched and judged and not free. But that is not the point here. The priest is the one who has the most illuminating things to say about the path to understanding the law, or the Why?. He tells K. a long parable about a man who seeks access to the law and yet is unable to access it, and covers many different intepretations of why he cannot get to it; the ultimately futility of the quest is illustrated by the fact K. is not heartened by any of these explanations, but concludes that "the lie is fundamental to world order". Or, as Nietzsche wrote, the conditions of life might include error; falsehood might be needed to sustain life, whereas the futile quest for the inaccessible truth of the Why? leads only to destruction.

And it is to this destruction that K. now hastens, as he co-operates with functionaries of the court who take him from his room, out of the city, and kill him. He has killed himself through his quest by destroying any reason he had to live. The very fact of embarking on the quest for a reason predisposed him to failure, because the quest can only fail. The capacities that we like to think make us fundamentally human - our reason, our faith, our empathy - failed him at the last. As so as he dies, his final verdict on his passing is this: "Like a dog!"

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