Justice and Injustice in The Trial By Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial tells the story of a banker who gets arrested for an unknown crime. The unusual arrest and unknown charges not only leaves the star-crossed Joseph K puzzled but also bewilders the audience of the novel. In the end, Joseph K appears overwhelmed and desperate as he lives the legal nightmare and copes with the irrationality of life. Because Joseph does not identify a single person whom he has trust, he eventually plans his own ‘defense’ in which he consents to his crime and agrees his due punishment. In due course, he is executed by the guards who arrested him. From an ethical and political point of view, the audience can agree that Joseph is charged for a crime he did not commit. Hence, he is not charged by the rules but by a bureaucratic system which, in every manner, emerges as unjust. One would supposed that Joseph probably resides in in an authoritarian territory. The case is veritable when one considers the Habsburg Monarchy where Kafka’s novel is set. In his locality, every citizen is subject to guilt when faced by the law. However the guilt cannot be traced to a single principle of justice. Hence The Trial can be visualized as a review of the bureaucratic and unjust stance of a ruling system. In the end, Joseph K emerges as a prophetic Roman who existed in the era of the Second World War in a time when human rights were written formally but never executed in reality.

            The paradoxes and complexities of the law seem to have fascinated Kafka significantly. From a juridical point of view, the purpose of the law is generally to maintain a peaceful and just society. Hence, the law deserves respect, regardless of the level of individual understanding. This notion materializes clearly in Kafka’s parable ‘Before the Law.’ The parable recounts the story of a man who wants to gain access to the law. But to access the law, he encounters a challenge from the gatekeeper. Ultimately, the man grows old without successfully accessing the law. Before he dies, he requests the gatekeeper to allow him to access the law. However, the gatekeeper announces that the door was made for the man who can solve the challenge, and since the man is dying, the door will be closed. The parable can be interpreted through the lens of the law. The allegorical gate can be alluded to as the ‘gate of death.’ Nevertheless this is paradoxical. Why should the court door be called ‘the gate of death?” It is the law that brings the man at the door, yet it is the same entity that prevents him from accessing the door. Before his death, Joseph K wondered about the judge he had never seen and the court he had never reached. Thus, Kafka shows that the law is inaccessible and takes an abstract form. Its subjects are unaware of its principles and obeyed regulations that they never understood. Seemingly, the justice system presented in the novel does not operate according to human logic. Rather, it seems to be controlled by the powerful in society.

From a philosophical viewpoint, Kafka presents the story of humans as the heirs of the original sin. The reason why man was cast out of paradise was sinning against the law. This is parallel to the universally accepted notion that men suffer the consequences of the first sin. The novel shows that Joseph K does not reconcile with this idea. He seems to have lost his sense of reality and is completely unaware whether he is free or not. What initially seems as a drama of suspicion eventually ends to be a spectacle of destiny. As the novel ends, the absurdity of life continues. The idea of innocence is obliterated and a result, everyone thinks that they must have done something to transgress the law. Joseph’s trial occurs in a span of existentialist themes, particularly guilt. The principle existentialist concept is that each individual is liable for their choices. Joseph K, therefore, must feel guilty in the end, as it is possible that he did not make the right decisions and neither did he fulfill the potentials of his life. Based on this perspective, the character of Joseph K can be visualized an anti-hero that makes bad choices and surrenders to fate.

From a legal viewpoint, the actions of Joseph K are absurd at best. While he knows that his execution is approaching, he does not make any effort to save himself. Indeed, he ceases to proclaim his innocence. The trait of absurdism indicates that human life may not have any specific meaning after all (Emrich). This is suggestively bolstered by the manner in which Joseph K espouses his fate passively and loses faith in pursuing a meaningful life. The height of absurdity is the death penalty (Kavanagh). It represents a tragic ending. Ultimately, as Joseph K looks out of the windows, he notices that most of them are closed. Only one windows seems to be open; one that reveals the posture of a weak man. At the end of his days, Joseph K expresses multiple uncertainties, which reveal the weaknesses and loneliness inside his soul. Finally, Joseph feels as if his body could survive rather than his spirit. This is a symbolic meaning of a society that has no personality and one that cannot foster justice.

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Throughout The Trial, Kafka recounts the story of a man who is under the persecution of the law. Notably, the account begins with the arrest of Joseph K who is inducted into an outwardly bizarre legal system. The arrest terms are peculiar as K is not made aware of his crime and neither is he detailed to a hail cell. As the case continues, the audience continues to perceive the degree of injustice as outlandish aspects of bureaucracy that define Joseph K’ trial (Feuerlicht). At the same time, Joseph K. is overwhelmed by his case and attempts to gain information concerning the legal system in order to fight it. The struggle ends in the most unanticipated way, with many questioned left underwired and justice unserved. This leaves the audience wondering about the original intention that Kafka had when he authored the novel.

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One major interpretation of Kafka’s account is that Kafka illustrates the meaning of justice in human life. The experiences and actions of joseph K show that it is meaningless to pursue justice in an unjust world. Despite efforts to fight against such an absurd conclusion, human beings are in some way destined to suffer failure. Consequently, Joseph K’s character is used to showcase how human beings should not lead their lives. One key aspect of Joseph K is his obsession and persistence about the case. At the outset, Joseph K sets out to go through the trial with an aggressive attitude as he attempts to navigate the law and find justice. In the beginning, he questions the arresting officers concerning the changes and persistently continues to search for answers as the case progresses. The scheduling of the first interrogation even exposes that Joseph K is willing to engage in a legal battle (Franz 32). When he arrives at the interrogation, Joseph K delivers a speech that implies that the legal system is flawed. Specifically, he describes his experience by saying that the legal system represents misguided policy that is directed against the public (Franz 42). Nonetheless, before he leaves the court, the magistrate informs him that he has lost normal advantages that defendants are allowed. Thus, his efforts to fight against the system and to find justice are fruitless.

After the initial interrogation, Joseph K shows signs of paranoia and confusion about justice. Though he is not detained, he is required to attend regular hearings. This seems to feed his obsession of fighting the law. This is evident in the manner he is always thinking about his case in his job at the bank (Franz 113). As evidence of his paranoia, Joseph K sets out to plan a statement that could narrate about his entire life and serve as an artifact in his defense. He repeatedly suggests that his whole life is undergoing a trial, though no evidence exists for such an idea.

As the novel unfolds, it becomes apparent that the case has consumed him and he feels trapped within the legal system. During one of his thoughts, the audience learns about his recent pattern of looking outside of the window. This is significantly symbolic of his choice to remain in the system while feeling oppressed instead of exploring outside the system. It is important to note that although joseph K is consistently obsessed about his case, there is no single law that obstructs him from enjoying his freedom of continuing with daily activities outsides the confines of the case (Banakar). Nevertheless, Joseph K spends much of his time attempting to depend himself despite making no progress. It is conceivable that Kafka intend to convey the notion that it is pointless to persistently appraise and evaluate troublesome issues of life. Joseph K may, therefore, represent a character that lives the way most human beings should not live; specifically, living with paranoia and feeling of entrapment. While Joseph K may have dedicated much of his life in the pursuit of justice in his case, he misses out of the life outside his circumstances. Another critical part of the case is the peculiar bureaucracy that Joseph K deals with. Predominantly, the legal forces with which he fights are inaccessible. Even though officials in the case, including the warden in Joseph K’s arrest, talks about superiors, those superiors are not revealed. The faceless system makes it hard for Joseph K to gain information that could be helpful in his pursuit of justice. Additionally, some aspects of the legal system make it impossible to access justice. At one point, a fellow defendant name Block tell Joseph K that it is hard to achieve progress in a case. Indeed, the legal system shows that defendants possess very minimal control of their fates.

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