The Trial by Kafka

This morning, I looked over some reviews and summaries I wrote years ago. The one I was looking for was on Ghosts by Ibsen but it didn’t cover everything I felt about the story. Then I came across my thoughts on The Trial and I wanted to share them here:

I attempted to read this book a few years ago and I didn’t like it. I only read it this year for uni and I didn’t agree with most of the things we said about it, such as the importance of the lawyer and Joseph K’s free-will.
However, when I thought about the different forms of power in the novel, the symbolism of the story dawned on me: Joseph K is guilty of Original Sin. As a punishment, he is mortal and has free-will.

One morning, he is quite literally woken up and informed of his guilt. Guilty of what? We don’t know. Everyone tries to convince him to plead guilty, to accept his guilt and basically bow down to the presence of a greater power. But he doesn’t. Right up until the very end, he refuses to admit he’s guilty: he is too proud (the devil’s sin). He is made aware of religion, but he won’t accept that there is something beyond the bank, beyond his small sphere of the world. He barely accepts his responsibility towards his family name, and he is a bachelor, therefore only responsible for his own life and own actions; and yet, very susceptible to the influence of the female characters (representatives of Eve?).

The lawyer is indeed a sort of divine presence: someone there to defend you, there to give you a (false) hope of acquittal, who has seen thousands of cases and speaks mostly in platitudes, a support when the times get rough and someone to talk to but who is an impartial party who doesn’t actually actively get involved in the trial.

I found the novel to be a very damning view of the world. Not of society, but of life, of what it is to be a human being. Guilty of something we didn’t do directly, so heinous that it merits death.

It got me thinking about what we are experiencing now. Some have referred to it as biblical (Australians for instance, who had the bushfires just before) and many are reminded of other great infectious diseases. We have also seen comments quick to place the blame somewhere: “this is China’s fault”, “it’s all those travellers!”, “no, it’s the government’s fault for not taking the necessary precautions”, “and what about those healthcare workers, recklessly risking their lives and then bringing it home to our neighbourhood!”.

Blame is just the other side of guilt, only it is the kind we refuse to accept. Are we guilty of COVID-19? It sounds like a harsh question. That said, is the question any harsher than “are we guilty of Original Sin?”? Whether we realise it or not, we live in a society full of omnipresent guilt and blame: we are destroying the planet, we are letting people die, we are selfishly thinking only of ourselves. And this time, we will be punished, but not by God, as it were in more religious times, but by Nature in all its forms: floods, fires, famine and disease.

Personally, I’m not much for the doomsday prophesies, but these are the underlining messages coming from our media and our society.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store