The Trial, by Kafka, #1

Welcome to the discussion of The Trial, by Kafka.

Since I have not read the book before, I had no idea what I was signing us up for. I thought it would be a difficult read, and though short, I divided it into three weeks. As I started reading, I thought I’d like to better discuss it at once. But I am back to the initial idea of breaking it into three sections, to honor those brave followers who are reading along with me. Needless to say, if you prefer to show up at the end of the month and discuss the book in its entirety, I’d be thrilled to do so. I’m glad I picked this book for an impromptu book club. It’s one of those books I truly need to discuss with others.

I will discuss chapters 1, 2, and 3: The Arrest, Conversation with Frau Grubach and then Fraülein Bürstner, and Initial Inquiry, as well as my general thoughts up to here.

The first lines I had a flashback, it felt as if I had seen this arrest scene. I haven’t watched Well’s movie yet, but it’s probable I watched the movie in Spain a long time ago. If not, the first chapter had a movie like quality, or a theatrical quality to it. At this point I thought this was a mystery, a plot driven story in which a man is mysteriously arrested, and the book will let us know what this is all about.

That did not last long. The exchanges between K. and the guards, and K. and the inspector, showed me a disconnect. The atmosphere, as my friend Katie says, is opressive from the first line. I don’t know if K. doesn’t know, if others don’t know, if K. is not being honest with himself, or if he’s being object of a huge farcical arrest and process, or if they are all in a world that makes no sense, and they are players in the big stage of life.

At this point I am not very convinced that this is a mystery that will have a resolution. In all honesty, I felt disappointed by the book. But never mind that. I’d change my mind about the book every time I read some of it. I decide not to decide whether I like it or not, but to keep reading it.

I am only discussing the first 3 chapters, but I am going to say (without spoilers), that after chapters 5 and 6, (I’m on chapter 7), the book is becoming less plot oriented and more dialogues oriented.

I only knew the Kafka of the Metamorphosis. That story grabbed me from beginning to end both times I read it. The Trial is different. I feel that Kafka is using this plot, (a person who claims to be innocent who has been accused of something he doesn’t even know), to tell us what he thinks about a lot of topics, government, bureaucracy, and laws in particular, but also about relationships, guilt, freedom, paranoia, hypocrisy, life, -you name it.

Chapter 2 is my favorite so far. In a book where the characters are not that defined, but where one doesn’t feel affinity towards them,  I liked Frau Grubach, (even if she was the typical old lady who doesn’t like the ways of the younger generation which she finds licentious.) The encounter between K. and Fraülein Bürstner was surreal. What’s up with the homes becoming other places? When K. dramatizes the events of the morning to Fraülein Bürstner in that strange manner, I start to see Kafka may be telling us how K. treats her the same way the inspector treated K. The book seems an allegory, as Maximilian said in his post that I partially read (I did not want to read spoilers.) Even if it’s an allegory, or an exercise to show us his opinions on many topics, I think the story has to hold by itself. I am not saying this story doesn’t hold, -it still makes me want to keep reading it, maybe I don’t like what Kafka does to me as a reader, ha ha ha.

And we come to chapter 3. I said chapter 2 was my favorite, but I admit chapter 3 was very ingenious. Is it possible that the book gets better as we think about it than when we read it? K.’s thinking is quite logical inside the nonsense. K. has to arrive to court on Sunday, yet he’s not told the time, nor specifically where (other than the district address.) He decides to arrive at 9, as for where, he’s at a building where he knows court meets, but he doesn’t want to openly ask about what floor and room. (This is a constant in the book, while K. claims to be innocent, he doesn’t know what he is accused of, and he doesn’t want others to know he is being processed.)

The trial on Sunday was surreal. I even thought there was no real trial. Yes, judge, audience, magistrate, officials, K. himself, they are all there, but nobody makes a clear statement or allegation. Much to the contrary, there’s strange things happening, such as a man assaulting the washerwoman. It was a mix of Alice in Wonderland trial, and a wild version of The Wind in the Willows.

All in all, there’s a strangeness, a lack of depth, if you wish. While K. contemplated suicide in chapter 1, his actions are not those of a congruent man. Who is he?, we don’t know. While I don’t feel repulsion or strong dislike towards K., I don’t trust him. (Maybe it’s his position in the bank, his keeping up appearances, or the way he treats women, but he is not gaining ground with me at all.)

What do you all think about these 3 chapters and the book so far?

 

60 thoughts on “The Trial, by Kafka, #1

  1. Yay! You’ve brought up so many things that I want to talk to you about. I will do my best to make time to comment soon.

    I spent this afternoon slowly working my way through chapter seven. As I’ve said to you, Silvia, Kafka makes me claustrophobic, and nowhere in this book is it felt more strongly for me than in the conversations and environments of chapter seven. I would read a few pages, take a break, come back for a few more. This is not a symptom of taking in a bad book, but rather, I think, it is an intentional effect. Somehow, he creates such anxiety and discomfort in me as I read, that sometimes, I can only take it for so long. It’s fascinating, really. I breathed a sigh of relief when I made it to the end.

    As I read, I’m reminded of the conversation we had about Dostoevsky and how his stories are really just a vehicle for his ideas. I think Kafka is kindred in this. You commented to me last week that it feels fake, in a sense – farcical. And I think it is because he has such a pressing need to express his ideas; everything else takes a back seat. And perhaps it can be argued that it is partly intentional, as he tries to communicate the breakdown that he so keenly sees. I think someone once said that Kafka was a philosopher searching for a form, not a novelist searching for a story, or theme, or something like that.

    Must go as supper is ready, but I look forward to hearing more of your (and others) thoughts.

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  2. I have been looking forward to this discussion. Silvia, in your post you said: “Is it possible that the book gets better as we think about it than when we read it?” I think this can definitely be the case sometimes. At least, I have found that to be true for me with some books. I think that when we discuss books, sharing thoughts and ideas, this can sometimes change how we see the book. Don’t you?

    I have finished reading the The Trial and am still thinking about whether I liked it or not. Ha! I think this will be one of those times when the discussion will help me. 🙂

    So as I think about the first three chapters, I think those first initial chapters I was left feeling like I’m trying to find my footing with the book so to speak. I kept wondering….what kind of person is K.? Will we find out? What is really going on in this story? Is K. being set up? Like you, when they took over Ms. Burstner’s room, I thought how weird. And there were things that just didn’t make sense. I agree that the first chapter has that theatrical/movie type feel to it and draws you into the story. Whether I thought it retained that quality or not, I don’t want to say at this point. It’s hard to say much since this is only a discussion of the first three chapters and I don’t want to give any spoilers for those who haven’t finished the book. I will say, though, it did keep me reading. 🙂

    Katie, you mentioned that Kafka makes you feel claustrophobic. And you know, when you said that I thought, I can so see that in The Trial. The descriptions such as the stairways, the attic courtrooms, the stuffy air, windows hard to reach….yes, I think the book definitely gives that feel.

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    1. Karen and Katie, you have both mentioned feeling claustrophobic. I totally agree! It feels like the walls are closing in on K., but also that K. might be growing numb to it. I’m not sure though because I’m only in the chapter where he meets his uncle.

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  3. Hi Karen. I’ve seen you comment on Silvia’s posts, but I don’t think we’ve ever interacted, so it’s nice to “meet” you. I look forward to getting to know you!

    Both of you asked the question, what kind of man is K. Do we like him? We don’t really like him too much, do we? I pity him, and I feel like I’m fighting through all the absurdity with him, but I don’t really LIKE him. He’s a young, fairly successful, middle class man who’s life, for the most part revolves around his job. He strikes me as a fairly typical guy, in many respects. Would you guys say he is an Everyman? Do you think Kafka has named his character for himself? I find it interesting that they share a last initial (and perhaps his name is even Joseph Kafka, though we never find out beyond K.), and it’s also of note that he gave one of the warders the name Franz. It’s like Kafka sees himself as both victim and perpetrator. Can we call the warders perpetrators? I know they are merely cogs in the machine, doing their job. Maybe complicit is a better word?

    Silvia brought up the scene with Fraulein B. I think a discussion about K’s relationship with women will be in order at some point! And I agree with you that K. is taking the same posture with her as the inspector took with him. I have noted throughout the book many scenes where power over another human being is a focal point. K. is sometimes dominant over others and sometimes at the mercy of others. When he is the one in power, he is quite full of himself and condescending. There are no real relationships in this book, merely transactions, and (I think) the transactions are based largely on power.

    I also noted the strangeness of “homes becoming other places.” Private rooms are used for public affairs. It’s like bureaucracy has infiltrated every bit of living. Fraulein B’s room is used without permission to conduct an inquiry. Strange men are touching her things. The courtroom and law offices are in a run down tenement, and K has to walk through a family’s living quarters to get to the courtroom.

    And yes, what did actually happen at his first court appearance? Did anything meaningful take place? This is part of the claustrophobia for me: it’s not just the descriptions of low ceilings and stifling air and windows that won’t open; it’s also the talk that goes round and round and sounds like it is saying something important, when in fact it is meaningless. And the talk keeps going and going and it’s enough to make you feel like you are losing your mind!

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    1. The infiltration of bureaucracy feels eerily familiar. I am typing away at my computer, but maybe someone has access to my info. I hope not, but there is this feeling that we are being spied on somewhere in the government. Not of course like K. is, but that’s an exaggeration. I like K. as a character. For some reason, I find him relatable. I also like how you identify him as every man. It really reminds me of medieval morality plays. If this story does turn into a massive commentary on government, politics, religion, etc. perhaps that is one way we could read this tale.

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  4. I’m so glad to have you both already commenting and conversing, Katie and Karen.

    In a way, I’m glad I’m keeping the 3 original posts on this book, this way we can focus on a bit at a time for two posts, and have a third one to comment on the book as a whole.

    First things first, once I realized this was not a conventional novel, I could come to terms with the book. I guess I always assume I’m reading a novel, and then this book came along, and it’s not a well rounded novel, (more about the ending in the third post.) That aside, The Trial is growing on me thanks to our discussion.

    The claustrophobic or oppressive atmosphere. You nailed it, Katie, the talk goes round and round. It’s not only the lack of air, the places, the happenings, but the way the story is told. The arguments beg for you to follow them, yet they are absurdities clothed in logic. And there’s some more lucid moments, some parts that made me laugh, the Cathedral chapter, -which has a true tale inside it, a riddle that one minds can follow. However, I too, like Katie, could not read for too long stretches, I needed to take breaks, -even if short, since the pseudo logic tires me more than amuses me. Kafka’s absurdity doesn’t make us laugh but gets me dizzy. I believe Maximiliam is right when he said that “lack of honesty” in the characters is what makes it not so humorous. I agree. If I understand correctly, for humor to be present there has to be an underlining recognizable reality and norm. In The Trial there’s only absurdity. There’s not an underlying reality being challenged, but the same absurd in your face is what challenges reality and makes us question things.

    Kafka, -in my opinion-, tricked me, the reader, into what looked like an interesting book, a short read I wanted to gobble up so that I could solve the mystery of K. and his process. But soon I found out I was reading a different book. He then got me with the allure of the unexpected. Just to punch another blow with the ending. But I must get back to the chapters being discussed, I do agree with you Katie, that K. and the warders are both sides of a human, every human, -or every man. The character of K. reminded me a bit of Camus’s Stranger. What disturbs me the most is the lack of conviction, or passion in K.’s life. Even when he acts ‘passionately’ with his neighbor, -kissing her like an animal, his actions are so disconnected that they don’t mean anything. Definitely, this book makes me think, (I hope I’m not distorting it to unrecognizable proportions.), it’s like if Kafka was telling me, “do you live your life by going through the motions of what you are supposed to do or say?”, or, “have you gone as far as to not recognize others as humans anymore?”, for as Katie says, there is an absence of relationships, and the exchanges look more like transactions (dehumanized, absurd, illogical within a pretense of the highest and most sound logic, with a recognizable feel that keeps teasing the reader.)

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    1. I enjoyed reading your explanation of your experience with the book – disappointment, confusion, readjusting expectations. One WOULD assume she is reading a novel, when she is reading a novel, and yet….

      I don’t remember my first impressions. It was, as I have mentioned, almost 20 years ago. I read a bunch of his short stories, and I think Amerika, right before, so I was already in Kafka’s grasp – and in his head. Because of this, I don’t remember feeling particularly disoriented or dismayed by the strangeness. I was and am drawn to Kafka’s ideas and insight, and I tend to feel an affinity toward tortured souls – lol –so I appreciate him very much. (An affinity toward the author himself, not characters like K in particular). I’m not finished, but at this point, I would not say that The Trial itself is a favorite among the books I’ve read in my life. It’s not the kind of book I want to read and reread, and yet I think, without a doubt, it should be read and discussed. Perhaps the enjoyment of this book comes not so much with the reading of it (which I sometimes find downright unpleasant), but with the discussion and working out of ideas.

      Like you pointed out, there’s no mystery to solve here. There’s no solution or resolution to K’s plight. I appreciate your insight that K lacks conviction and passion. I had not put his personality into those words, but I think that is exactly right. And I think the reflections and questions you are asking yourself can certainly and confidently be drawn from the story. What important questions those are! I have an old note written in the front of my book: “This novel is about living authentically – everyone attached to the law is an actor.” This hits upon your comment of the story feeling somehow staged (is that how you would describe it?) and it also ties into those questions you are asking yourself. (My professor probably made the assertion I quoted from my front page. I also wrote “everything has the veil of suggestion. K is continually trying to gather evidence – he is in a state of unknowing.” And “everyone in this universe is continually watching each other – windows allow one to view another, but physical communication is impossible.”).

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      1. I did not see your comment until now. I totally agree with you in that this is a book that merits being read, and most specially, being discussed. I also find Kafka himself fascinating. The time in history when he writes, his own persona, mark an era and he’s still relevant -as great authors are and will always be.

        I’m also drawn to the tortured soul writer, and also to the philosophical writers, and here Kafka got my attention. I also like the ‘absurd’ writers that drive others crazy. I believe that there’s meaning in his absurd yet logical thinking. Getting very philosophical, I could differentiate between words and being. When K. goes to court, there’s nothing to hold on to on his part, but his understanding comes from other source than just the words being spoken, or the explanations. The same with his arrest. Words say something, but events say something else. I believe Kafka is telling us that, no matter the laws and civilized conventions in our world, violence, pain, power being imposed, alienation, are the ontological -the real- elements at stake in our life. Maybe that’s why he wants to defend himself, because ultimately man is alone in this world that appears to be fair, etc., but that is no different than the law of the jungle.

        It thrills me to see that all of us, no matter our age or background, -young Katie in the notes, your professor, our present selves, etc., we all have similar reactions to this book. Your professor comments are fascinating. I thought this book made an existential assertion, it gives us a way to look at life, that constant watching each other was unsettling.

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      2. Sigh. The post I just wrote was swallowed up by the internet. Rewriting is never as good, nor as enjoyable.

        Attempt #2:

        “Words say something, but events say something else. I believe Kafka is telling us that, no matter the laws and civilized conventions in our world, violence, pain, power being imposed, alienation, are the ontological -the real- elements at stake in our life. Maybe that’s why he wants to defend himself, because ultimately man is alone in this world that appears to be fair, etc., but that is no different than the law of the jungle.”

        These observations are super good. In a similar vein, I’ve been wondering this: If K just ignored his trial, would it affect him in any significant way? These trials go on for years, and the accused are not restrained from going about their normal business. There is very little they are actually required to do, yet they do all of this stuff for the sake of their trials, of which they know next to nothing about. What if K decided to pay it no mind? Could he continue living his life just as it was before his arrest? Is he only moving toward guilt and condemnation because he chooses to acknowledge the accusation of guilt? I’m really not sure, but I’d love to hear what others think…

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  5. One observation (without picking up the book): It was brought up that one sees Kafka in both the accused and the warden. We have also talked about how K. is certainly disagreeable. Along with this there is the disagreeable “morality” of the wardens. Despite their rudeness and invasiveness, they keep insisting that they’re really not that bad, and he should really be glad they are there, since they are much better than the alternative. So in these wardens we get this sort of insipid morality, where the only thing to be said in favor of it is that it could be worse. As unlikeable as K. is, there is hardly a character that one likes better than him–except perhaps all those women? It is interesting that they are so willing to help him as things go on.

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    1. To me, the wardens made me think of police from communistic regimes, viz. ignorant, cocky, brutish. All the world around K. seems messed up, there’s not the bad guys and the good guys at all. His boss and work atmosphere is as toxic as the situations he finds himself in because of his trial. There’s also that constant paranoia of not knowing who is behind his accusation. The not knowing what is happening or why is happening, drives me crazy, as much as K. himself. His life changes but we don’t know how much, since we are not told what his life was like before the morning of his detention. While K. has his dark secrets, he seems a bit more likable and more real throughout the book. As for the women, they are in these co-dependent situations, they are certainly strange to me, a mix of independent and dependent. I am not sure what they see in K. to want to help him.

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    2. “So in these wardens we get this sort of insipid morality, where the only thing to be said in favor of it is that it could be worse.” – This is such a great observation. Spot on. And this will be very interesting to discuss when we get to “The Whipper” chapter.

      I was just looking back at the first chapter. I get quite a kick out of the description of Franz’s uniform: “He wore a closely fitting black suit furnished with all sorts of pleats, pockets, buckles, and buttons, as well as a belt, like a tourist’s outfit, and in consequence looked eminently practical, though one could not quite tell what actual purpose it served.” Franz’s attire has many superfluous features intended to give the impression of usefulness, but in reality it is unclear – and unlikely – that any aspect of the suit serves any practical purpose. Just like the Law. There is a facade of order and just authority in this society. In actuality, the Law is housed in dilapidated, rather horrifying buildings that stifle and make its visitors ill. We see this same facade later in the paintings of the judges. The paintings don’t tell the truth about their subjects and create an illusion of power. Toward the end of chapter three K meets the Clerk of Inquiries, and the girl says, “We – that’s to say the staff – made up our minds that the Clerk of Inquiries, since he’s always dealing with clients and is the first to see them, must be smartly dressed so as to create a good first impression. The rest of us, as you must have noticed at once from myself, are very badly and old-fashionedly dressed……We opened a subscription – some of the clients contributed too – and we bought him this fine suit and some others as well.” The important thing is the impression made, never mind that the Law itself is an indecipherable mess. And it’s interesting that some of the clients helped pay for his clothes. They are willfully contributing to the illusion.

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      1. Could this be an analogy to ‘new changes’ made to an ‘old obsolete and decrepit law’? It’s the illusion of modernity, of progress, the same as a true advance of society, justice, and happiness?

        Now you reminded me of reading Nothing to Envy, how in North Korea this quote is a reality. They put a lot of emphasis on an appearance of grandeur, while in reality they were starving. (Specially the military, they were the ones best ‘dressed’ in the regime, but they carried fake wooden riffles.)

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      2. I think this is the right track.The old is not working, but instead of dismantling it properly they just slap a fresh coat of paint on and hope no one notices that it is falling to pieces? The illusion of modernity….. progress for progress’ sake, maybe? Like it’s too difficult (or impossible) to arrive at a truly just and peaceful society, so we’re just going to pretend? I don’t know, I’m trying to wrap my mind around it all and figure out what I think – which is hard at this point in the day!

        Appearance of grandeur while in reality they are starving – this fits so well with the fact that there are so many squalid environments in this book.

        Back to what you said about an obsolete law: when I read this in the past, I think I did so mainly through the lens of social criticism. With this reading, I have been wondering what Kafka might be saying about religion. I have been anxious to get to chapter nine so I can test my thoughts on this. The fact that it is set in a cathedral clearly signals us to think religiously in that chapter, at least. And I don’t remember anything about it. I don’t remember if we talked about religion in the class I took. But anyway….rambling…..Kafka is clearly making a point about bureaucracy and totalitarianism, but might he also be making a point about religion? Judaism, or religion at large. The inaccessibility of a God who seems to be absent or hidden away – “what authority is conducting these proceedings?” The Law with all its complications and confusions. A man who is accused and considered guilty, though he’s not sure why. This third thing is the one that most interests me. Speaking in Christian terms, under the Law we are all guilty, though the guilt may seem a vague and undefinable thing for a good person who goes about his life doing his job. Being human makes us guilty. And K, despite saying he is innocent, carries shame and guilt in his actions and interactions. I want to come back to this with some passages and explanations further explanations, but I am SO tired right now. More later. And I have read everyone’s other comments, some of which I really want to comment on. Soon. Thanks everyone, for the thought-provoking conversations today!

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    3. Interesting. The wardens do tell K. to stop complaining. Things could be worse. That’s an interesting commentary on the morality behind bureaucracy. I don’t feel a particular dislike for K. yet. Perhaps I will later.

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      1. Out of all the characters, -and maybe because K. is the one charged in that unlawful way, and despite his not so great conduct, I don’t dislike him either. He doesn’t seem to be unkind or pushy, he is disconcerted, and his thoughts are not too far fetched from what we, readers, may think in a similar situation.

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  6. Last night I read chapter 1 and had to force myself to even finish it! I felt like I was reading such a disjointed book…so little made sense! I could imagine an English Composition teacher returning the paper filled with big red marks all over! I’m jumping in here only having read chapter 1 so perhaps I shouldn’t be commenting! I’m not even sure I want to go any further…the jury is still out! Ha ha

    When I told my husband I was buying a kindle edition of this book he was completely shocked! He couldn’t believe I’d have the slightest interest in any book by Kafka! He is definitely not a fan.

    After reading the comments so far it doesn’t appear that any of you really liked and enjoyed the book. Am I correct? Can you say what you are getting out of it or what the point is of reading it at all?

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    1. :). yes, it’s not a typical book, it fools you into thinking it makes sense, but I’m not sure it’s aimed to that, but to provoke thoughts and emotions in the reader. As Katie said, it’s as if Kafka is a philosopher in search of a form to express his thoughts.

      I did not enjoy it as one enjoys a beautifully written book, or one with a story that inspires or delights, but I enjoyed it as a book that makes me think, that immersed me in a certain atmosphere, that intrigues me to some degree, and that makes me question and reflect on some topics.

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      1. Silvia and I must have been typing at the same time. 🙂 I like how you put it Silvia: “I did not enjoy it as one enjoys a beautifully written book, or one with a story that inspires or delights, but I enjoyed it as a book that makes me think, that immersed me in a certain atmosphere, that intrigues me to some degree, and that makes me question and reflect on some topics.” You said it much more eloquently than I did. 🙂

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    2. Hey Linda! I can’t speak for the others; but I do think that this is a book that can make you think, even if it’s just to try to figure out the circle of dialogue. Ha! Seriously though, I think questions do arise for the reader; and honestly, as I’ve been working on my blog post about this book, one of the things I mention is that at this point, I don’t like or not like the book. It kind of just is….if that makes sense. Maybe just average reading but yet makes the reader still think (if you can get past some of the crazy round and round dialogue! Ha!) But I reserve the right to change my mind! LOL 🙂 For me, the book actually did keep me reading…hoping to see how it all turned out. And this discussion is really helping me flesh out the book more.

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      1. I concur, I think your explanation of the book just being is perfect, and I too don’t know if I like it or not. The more I think of it and some parts of it, the more it seems to me a riddle to discuss, and as such, it gains interest. (But I always say that if a book irritates you, or doesn’t cut it for you, there’s no gain in forcing yourself to read it.) If I had to define it in terms of art, I’d say the book is a depart from the conventions, and it’s more an Impressionist book, meant to be looked at from the distance. We can also look at details and try to find meaning, but it’s not a conventional or “classic painting”, and I don’t believe we’ll arrive to a same and unison conclusion about what it is. Probably, there lays its charm, -if any charm is to be found in it.

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      2. How interesting comparing the book with art! Kind of gives you a different picture when looking at it that way, doesn’t it? That maybe this book is better with a distant look, versus an in-depth detail by detail look?

        Also, I am trying to keep in mind that if this book wasn’t actually finished by Kafka, it could potentially have been the case of the difference in a rough draft and a final copy. Most times, books get better upon editing because the process helps the writer become more succinct in what they are trying to write. Maybe some things need broadened; maybe other things need taken out. So I just wonder that if Kafka didn’t want his writing published after he died, then the novel may have been very different had he went through that process with the intention of having it published. No?

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      3. Absolutely. If we remember that, we’ll be a bit more understanding of his effort. I still prefer having this unedited and unfinished version than nothing at all.

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    3. Hi Linda! If you are going to continue reading, it might help to view the book as a commentary on modernity. Kafka was highly concerned, and one might even say distraught, about the effects of the modern age on humanity. This society he creates is what he sees as a consequence of the industrial revolution and the increasingly mechanized world – I think that would be fair to say, anyway.

      I have not thought about this before, but he was also writing this book during the first couple years of WW1. Kafka lived in Prague. As a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian empire, I wonder what life was like for him during this time. I’m not much of a historian – how did the Czech’s feel about the war and how did it affect Prague? Could the climate of the war play into what we read in The Trial?

      Anyway, I think the book is valuable for what it has to say about totalitarianism, modern living, being human, and many other things. That being said, Kafka is certainly not everyone’s (or most people’s?) cup of tea. I think one has to get past the strange world that is presented and go along for the ride in order to make it through. 🙂

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    4. Hey Linda!
      If I had to be honest, I’d say just move on to the next book… I am enjoying the sort of conversation here, which shows that there is plenty to talk about in the book. Katie’s observation that he is writing out of his place at the beginning of WWI is something I hadn’t thought about as well. The next time I read anything related to Kafka, it will probably be his personal “love” letters. These letters reveal his opinion that life is really just terrible, and then one sees how this shapes his own relationships (or attempts at relationships)–a tragicomic drama in its own right.

      This novel is a short read, so that certainly works in its favor. Also, there is a scene toward the end which I can say I enjoyed. Otherwise, if you’re looking for a dramatic account of a trial, there are certainly more enjoyable ones out there. Some example (from longest to shortest): Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky, Joan of Arc by Mark Twain, the Apology by Plato.

      Good luck deciding about whether to finish!

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  7. What a great thought-provoking discussion! Nice to “meet” you too Katie, and also Maximilian.

    I see what you are saying about it not just being the descriptions of the physical atmosphere that make it feel claustrophobic, but also the round and round dialogue. Like you, there were times where I felt the same way in that the talk just seemed to keep going and you wondered – does this mean something? Should I be paying attention to something in this conversation that I will need to recall later on?

    As I’ve been thinking about K.’s character, Sylvia said: “While K. has his dark secrets, he seems a bit more likable and more real throughout the book.” I do think that as you progress in the book, even though you may not particularly like K., and you find him disagreeable as Maximilian said, I think you do find yourself feeling sympathy for him as he’s trying to find answers and prove his innocence.

    Also, in regards to the courts being in attics and people’s dwellings. Was this a real thing in certain times of history? Does anyone know?

    The more I think about this book, the more I’m beginning to wonder if this is one of those that a re-read might be beneficial. So, the first reading maybe helps the reader get a feel for the story, the set-up, etc. Then a second reading may help the reader really probe a bit deeper and pick up other aspects that may be missed upon a first reading.

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    1. Very true, Karen. Maximilian said the same about a re-reading being beneficial.

      K. gained my sympathy at different parts of the book, and I’ll mention this later.

      About court being held in homes, I don’t know if this ever happened, but we can speculate and say that Kafka is telling us something about the justice system in the times prior to WWII, when the book was written. As I said before, the fact that he wants to defend himself speaks to his lack of trust in the institutions, and his ordeal with bureaucracy only reaffirms this position.

      What do you all make of his fleeting moment of contemplating suicide? He couldn’t do it at the very time, but he could surely do it after, though after that short moment of entertaining the idea, that’s not mentioned anymore.

      From chapter 1, that feeling of your life changing upside down in just a moment was unsettling. We have tickets to Madrid going through Istanbul, and recently there’s been a situation with a Turkish man who worked at the American embassy in Istanbul. Because of last year’s coup, they’ve been doing detentions and arrests, and they arrested this man and his family a few days ago. They arrested him at his home (not at the American embassy), as a Turk citizen, yet America’s government wasn’t in the least happy about this situation. My husband tells me that in prisons in Turkey, family and friends have to take food to the prisoners (yes, like in the OT times with Paul and Peter.) They also arrested the family of this man. I’m ignorant of the important details about this situation, I only brought this up to make us think that there’s countries where democracy is not their reality. At the time of this book, I don’t think Kafka’s Germany operated like we are used to in our country.

      I noticed also that they tell K. he is not alone, -many others are in the middle of trials, living their life almost as normal, but also subject to changes without logical explanation or warning. (Is Kafka telling us something about the life of the Jews in that war atmosphere? Is K.’s not wanting others to know he’s being tried equal to when we don’t want others to know we are a Jew, or a dissident, or an atheist, or a christian, etc., whatever it’s the way of being different in a totalitarian society?

      Another thing that bothers me is that I never knew if the neighbor wanted to get rid of K. because she did not want to be in danger herself, or if she felt violated somehow by his impetuous goodbye, which at the same time, incriminated her too. (Everybody has something to hide, but they can’t, -the walls that leak conversations, or their own imprudent behavior, the windows, the lurking.)

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      1. Just a quick note: Kafka’s Prague was not part of Germany, but part of the multi-ethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire as Katie said (though the largest ethnic group was indeed that of German Austrians). I want to do more reading on how things were over there at the time, but I don’t think they had totalitarianism of a sort that came anything close to later communist or Nazi regimes. However, bureaucracy had reached something of a high point, and I know that there was a decent amount of censoring going on (not unlike American practice during wartime). I have more questions now about Czechs during the war–I know Slavs generally did not like fighting other Slavs, and that would have been case if Austro-Hungary was moving Czech troops to fight either Russia or Serbia.

        If I get free time later this week, I may look into where the fighting was going on at the time of writing, but I get the impression that his much-hated insurance job was the inspiration for the dreariness of this book. At such a job, one would see or hear about people suffering from one thing or another, but not be able to do anything beyond the policies of the workplace, however inhumane or unfeeling this might be (think of the insurance office scenes in The Incredibles).

        I think you’re right about the religious significance, but that certainly comes out more toward he end. Your account of what happened in Turkey is also helpful for seeing just how different conditions can be from our own! My great-grandfather was an immigrant from Germany to America, and he was put into an interment camp during WW2, and his wife was left alone to run a restaurant and care for 4 children. Which is also to say that such measures are not so far away as one might think.

        (Brief plug: My dad compiled and published the letters written between my grreat-grandparents during that difficult time of the war, available here: http://a.co/54kKqmc )

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks for the clarification, Maximilian. And his job situation is very similar to what we see in the Trial. I also read he had a degree in law, for sure he felt strongly about lawyers, as we will see soon.

        Your great grandparents letters, wow, that’s such a beautiful heritage to have, Maximilian. I am glad your father published them.

        Katie, and Maximilian, I am excited about your future comments on the religious significance. And as you say, Maximilian, Kafka’s personality, -they even say he had an esquizoid personality-, his own turbulent relationships with women, shape this book. Even though it is not a finished or polished work, it was interesting.

        Is The Incredibles a movie? , a book?, -I am not familiar with it. Kafka died young, at 40, but the Gestapo confiscated his work from the hands of his siblings, (I read at Wikipedia.)

        At the court, I was shocked by the couple, I thought it was out of line, obscene. I then read that Kafka had a difficult time with sex himself. And last thing, his father was totalitarian, and Kafka had a difficult relationship with him as well.

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      3. I think one of the things that fascinates me about Kafka’s works is that he is so clearly in the pages. It’s like an exercise in psychology to read him. Not only does he use fiction to work out his philosophies, but, it seems it’s also his medium for working out his personal experiences, his complicated and confusing relationships…he’s trying to make sense of himself and his life in these pages. Interesting about the possible schizophrenia. At the least, I view him as a HIGHLY sensitive person. Turbulent is a good word for him. Like you said, he had a bad relationship with his dad. If you’re up for reading more Kafka, read his short story “The Judgment.” It is about that relationship. His fiancée, Felice…Bauer? What that her last name? She shows up over and over in characters with the initials F.B. (Like Fraulein Burstner in The Trial). I think he was engaged to one or two other women over the course of his life. I’m not sure exactly what his hang ups were, but his romantic life was a failure. I didn’t know that about the confiscation. So Brod had his own copies, but everything the family had was given up? Interesting.

        Maximillian, thanks for filling in a bit of history and highlighting the drudgery of Kafka’s day job. That would be a burdensome job for someone of an artistic/sensitive temperament especially.The more that can be filled in about his personal life, The more his writings make sense. I’m also looking forward to your take on the religious aspects of this book. I want to learn more about Kafka’s relationship to Judaism. I’m guessing it was probably as complicated an messy as the rest of his relationships!

        Something else that stood out to me when I looked back at the beginning of the book yesterday: K and Gregor Samsa’s “trials” (is it okay to call Gregor’s metamorphosis a trial?) both begin upon waking. Waking should bring one to reality, but in their cases they wake to bizarre and non-sensical situations….

        (SPOILER ALERT. DON’T READ FARTHER IF YOU HAVENT FINISHED THE BOOK).
        *
        *
        *
        *
        *
        *
        *
        *
        *
        *
        *
        *
        *
        *
        ……that propel them, seemingly inevitably, to their deaths. I want to think more about what this means – waking up to this incomprehensible reality, after going about your business and living your respectable little life.

        Must go makes school happen now!

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      4. The Incredibles was a Pixar film from about 10 years ago (a fun movie!). Here is the relevant scene: https://youtu.be/_R8GtrKtrZ4

        Felice Bauer is indeed the significant woman in his life. The intro to my Penguin Modern Classics (by Idris Parry) basically just gives background on this relationship, mostly quoting from Kafka’s letters to her. “I could have no greater and no crazier wish that that we should be bound together inseparably by the wrists of your left and my right hand…a couple thus bound together were once led to the scaffold.”

        There was also a line from him that reinforces Katie’s observation of how involved he is with these words and pages of his: “Since I am nothing but literature and can and want to be nothing else, my job will never take possession of me, it may, however, shatter me completely, and this is by no means a remote possibility.” As much as I like literature, it seems fair to say he reached a point where due order of love was set out of place.

        I love how the word “esquizoid” sounds! I think “schizoid” is how it is normally said, but I had to think twice, since I’m used to hearing the Italian names of mental disorders in class.

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      5. “I could have no greater and no crazier wish that that we should be bound together inseparably by the wrists of your left and my right hand…a couple thus bound together were once led to the scaffold.”

        Oh my, even his wooing is dark and forboding! I wonder what she was like.

        And I think your assertion that his affections were out of proper order is a good one.

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  8. We have not talked about the cleaning lady, the one married to the usher in ch 3, who is harassed by that student. The woman wants to help K. K. doesn’t want initially, he also wants to stop the student from taking her with him, but when the husband asks him if he could do it, K. doesn’t want to, he tells him that the student may be of help to him for his case.

    We then have the scene before going to the Clerk of Inquiries, when he acts impatient with another accused who seem feeble, yet to become sick like him once he enters that room with the stuffy air. Here my thoughts were that many times we become guilty by association, by sharing a ‘stuffy’ atmosphere we become sick. I also was reminded of the problems that ensue when we start doing this and that for our convenience, -the danger of using or manipulating people, even if we feel genuine sympathy towards them, or they towards us. Stay away from marriages, K.!, you can’t fix them, nor can married women help you either. This was totally reminiscent of The Stranger and how Mersault got into troubles by being in the middle of a couple.

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    1. When the interrogation was interrupted by the student and the washerwoman, we have another example of private and public life having no boundaries. This time the private is brought into the public. And there are so many things wrong beyond the inappropriate location: The student harasses and assaults the woman. The woman resigns herself to this matter of factly for practical reasons. The husband, while he doesn’t like it, doesn’t do anything to stop it because it would endanger his job. He dreams of killing the student, yet he will not take action – he will not defend his wife’s honor because his job is more important than his relationship with his wife. He is emasculated. She, on the other hand, seems empowered by the situation. I don’t think she likes it, yet she is willing to use it to her advantage. She says, “But besides that you can guess from what happened that the Examining Magistrate is beginning to take an interest in me, and that at this early stage – for he must have noticed me then for the first time – I could have great influence with him.” She allows herself to be taken advantage of without batting an eye. Just one more transaction. There’s no humanity in any of this. And then we have K wanting her for himself despite the fact that she is married and is being taken advantage of by other men. Does K have any amount of integrity and decency himself? Why does he want to misuse her and become just like these other men? One would assume he would desire to act as a rescuer.

      I really like what you say in your second paragraph, but I will have to come back later to comment!

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  9. Katie, when I read some books as this one (and I did a lot too with Frankenstein and Shelley), I always start to research the author in order to understand the book more. I don’t know if it’s good or not, I am not sure if I put too much emphasis on the life of the author and the book, but I do it. I remember Yuri sent us that article with the 3 purposes of reading, or the 3 type of readers, and one of them (and they are not exclusive) was to read to understand the author. Or maybe we try to know the author to better read the book. In any case, it’s a fun occupation (at least to me, -grin.) I have found though, that the parallelism between Kafka’s life and this particular novel is undeniable. I also read a lot about Flaubert after reading Madam Bovary, and it happens that both, Kafka and Flaubert, seem to have a discontinuation or a breakage in their emotional life between sex and love. This is a complex topic, but a simple principle at stake, some of us defend that they should not be separated, others live happily with a distinction between both realms, yet a third group, (Kafka, Flaubert), seem to live accepting these as two different entities, yet they are tormented by that, -in the case of Kafka-, or they don’t seem to be wholesome individuals, with an optimistic or a fulfilled life, -as in the case of Flaubert. And I’m referring here to both authors dance with prostitutes, pornography, or sex in its crudest form, at a young age, void of any affection or what we call love. In Kafka’s biographies it’s stated that he found sex ‘dirty’ yet he could not stir away from those desires that assaulted him and that he sought after. In contrast, his relationships seem more Platonic, and that quote Maximilian wrote sounds like a totally twisted Platonic quote that no doubt speaks of a messed up order of affections.

    The eschizoid or schizoid personality remark said to possibly explain the feeling Kafka had of being persecuted, or his inability to trust others. It was said to be a personality trait, a mild case of the more pronounced schizophrenic disorder. His personality cannot explain or exhaust his genius, but it can explain the quality and tones of what he wrote.

    Transactions. That’s a great way to define what happens emotionally between people in this book.

    Today at the park, in one of our conversations among homeschooling moms, a friend showed me the FB page of a person she knows through her church. She is the wife of a missionary. They left to go to Turkey 23 years ago, and this October marks a year since her husband was put in jail. This is eerie. He was called to show up at the police station right after the coup. He thought it had to do with his regular renewal of his visa, and just like that, without any accusations, he was sent to jail. He is there, enduring inhumane conditions (in a cell meant for 8 people, where there’s 22 people instead.) There’s not been a trial, since there are no formal accusations being made. Government in Turkey wants to negotiate his release in exchange for someone who is imprisoned here in America on charges of terrorism. They claim he is there as a suspect of terrorism. The truth is that many arrests of christian missionaries were made without further explanations.

    I understand Kafka’s nation was not what I thought, (a totalitarian regime, or that time in Europe that was about to come in history after he died), but I do believe that either he imagined this as possible from what he knew of other countries, or it’s something that could also happen in the world he knew. It doesn’t really matter whether this was lifted from reality or not, since he took it to another level, and he presents to us this timeless scenario where our life changes in the blink of an eye, while the conclusion of it develops in an unpredictable and unchanging time frame that can make us lose our minds.

    My oldest daughter is taking a class about the Constitution, and I find it immensely beautiful and reassuring the fact that we have a written law, but I am also aware that even in the best case scenario, -I mean, the States with our amazing law system-, circumstances can place themselves to bring about outcomes that are contrary to justice.

    I cannot wait to write about the next block of chapters.

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    1. I want to say so much about these insights, but I only have time for a short post right now. Please remind me to come back, if I forget.

      For the moment I just wanted to say that it is interesting that you bring up Flaubert. Kafka said that both Dostoevsky and Flaubert (and two other guys that I am not familiar with – don’t remember their names) were his blood relatives. So he felt them both to be kindred spirits. I haven’t read any Flaubert, so I can’t comment, but I have always felt a connection between Dostoevsky and Kafka. Maybe it’s partly the tortured soul thing. Anyway….

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      1. Yeah, they are a tortured soul trio, these ones. I didn’t know Kafka said that, but I saw the commonalities.
        I have the second post almost ready, I feel for publising it today. There’s more I want to talk about, but I want to do so with more of the book into consideration.

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    2. Fascinating stuff – how Kafka’s views of and struggles with sex affect his writing. I like how you describe this third group that experiences a break in emotion between love and sex, yet they are tormented by it. This is no convenient philosophy of “free love” or “do what makes you happy” etc. This is a heavy burden, seemingly inescapable.

      The conflict that Kafka must have endured comes across strongly in the scene where he kisses (assaults is a better description) FB. “He seized her and kissed her first on the lips, then all over the face, like some thirsty animal lapping greedily at a spring of long-sought fresh water. Finally he kissed her on the neck, right on the throat, and kept his lips there for a long time.” The imagery is that of a thirsty, deprived animal rather than a man. What he seeks is described in a refreshing and life sustaining, image – a spring of fresh water. What he seeks is a thing that is good and right, and yet everything about this description is wrong. And FB’s response – “she nodded wearily, resigned her hand for him to kiss, half turning away as if she were unaware of what she did, and went into her room with down-bent head.” This is not a love scene, not a successful wooing. It really is an assault, isn’t it? And she is resigned to it. Disappointed, maybe, but not surprised – like she is used to this sort of thing. Despite the fact that K failed to act rightly, he “was pleased with [his behavior], yet surprised that he was not still more pleased.” And then Kafka gives us this bit of humorous irony: “he was seriously concerned for Fraulein Burstner because of the Captain.” I mean, really? After what K just did? So funny. So what’s up with K in this scene? We’ve talked about the lack of real relationships. Is this simply as close as K is capable of getting to love or romance? He has no regard for her as a person. Does his satisfaction result from him taking action with her? Conquest? We are told earlier that he has never given this woman much thought or been particularly interested in her, and then he’s suddenly obsessed. This is such a wretched scene. So sad and hopeless, even though K doesn’t see it that way.

      I assumed eschizoid was simply the Spanish word for schizophrenic – I didn’t realize that was a distinction!

      Regarding Kafka and totalitarianism, a lot of people consider Kafka prophetic for this reason. He was clearly alarmed by the changes that modernity ushered in and concerned for the ways man was being dehumanized by the impersonal nature of industry and beaurocracy/government.
      I’ve been trying to find a passage that talks about K’s country having an orderly and beautiful set of laws – I don’t remember if that was how it was put – but I don’t remember what chapter it was in. Do you know what I’m referring to?

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      1. You wrote so well, you captured the nuances of their encounter perfectly.

        I remember the book mentioned something about the country having orderly laws, but I too don’t remember where it is said. I will look it up.

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      2. I think I have found it, (at least one mention), at the beginning, talking about his arrest, he says, -I am translating from my copy, that K.lived in a “Estado de Derecho” (democracy?), peace reigned everywhere, all laws were in place, who dared assault him in his room?

        The more I read your comment and remember K. through the book, the more I see he never had a true connection with a woman, -and who knows if with another human being?

        Maybe that nurturing that results in love is lived and learned, and he may not have experienced either.

        All of the sudden, he reminds me of one of the pair who perpetrated the crime narrated in In Cold Blood. For some reason, the deformed and in pain of the pair, fought his feelings and his actions, he wanted to find and give love somehow, (even when he could not live consistently as one who believes in its reality), he was a contrast to his partner, an unabashed psychopath.

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      3. Yes, thank you. That is what I was thinking of. For some reason I thought it came in the chapter with the washerwoman. My translation says, “K lived in a country with a legal constitution, there was universal peace, all the laws were in force….” When you were speaking of how beautiful and reassuring it is to live in a country like this with a constitution, it brought my mind directly to this. K also feels assured. Even though he wakes up to a confusing and unjust situation, he believes that the law is good and will keep him safe. There’s a lot more to be talked of in that paragraph, but for myself I feel like I need to put it together with some other passages throughout the book to really make sense of it and follow K’s development and figure out what is driving him. Know what I mean? Something to go back to when we can discuss the book as a whole.

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      4. Oh, and to the rest of your comment, I also want to examine his relationship with the various women of the book. Even with Leni, when it seems to be a mutual arrangement, it’s not a relationship in the true sense of the word. Do you get the sense that K is always using people? I think that he’s always calculating what this person or that person can do for him. Maybe there are exceptions, I don’t know, but that’s the overall impression I get from him.

        I’ve never read In Cold Blood. I did see the Phillip Seymour Hoffman version of the movie when it came out. I remembered really liking it, but a decade later I don’t remember that much about it. I have a bad memory for most movies that I’ve only seen once! Now I want to see that again…….and eventually read the book! lol

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      5. Eh, sorry, I keep hitting post too soon.

        About the In Cold Blood connection, I think what you describe of that character is an insightful link to K. He just doesn’t seem all there; he doesn’t seem balanced; he’s missing an integral part of himself. You used the word deformed when speaking of the psychopath. I think K’s soul is definitely somehow deformed, and he’s not the only one. It also made me think about the fact that he apparently grew up without parents. He was the ward of his uncle. The term ward is a rather distant and cold one, in my opinion. Does your translation use a word with a similar connotation?

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      6. I will check the translation of ward, but it felt as a cold relationship too. (I have always wanted to watch that Hoffman movie, but I have not yet.)
        The two men, one was deformed, the other the sociopath. I too want to see K in full, his motivation, and his relationships with women. I find that deformity fits him and others in the book, but I don’t know if K strikes me as sociopath or not. There’s a strange absence of feelings, or emotional coherent discourse in the book, and the inability to cut through the atmosphere and understand what is really going on, and who these people are.

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      7. Yes!

        I don’t think he’s a sociopath either. Even deformed might be a strong word, but there is a wound or malformation at the soul level. I suspect that the culture, and not the character, is mostly to blame. K. is a victim in more ways than one – to what degree is he to blame? I think that is an important question, and maybe not easy to answer,

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      8. Yes, to what degree. That was my question throughout the book, and still is. Is K. a victim of an unjust arrest, ate his country and family and work turning back on him?, or is he guilty of what is happening to him to some degree?

        In the books that acknowledge an order, a set of objective values and morality, and a God created world, we are free to be good or evil. We won’t be saints, but we are not helpless or hopeless sinners either. There’s order and a measure code to our actions. In K.’s world, absurd, gratuitous, where man seems depraved, where there’s not a reliable law to appeal to, and people live together but in a total disconnect, how can we apply our morality to judge or even understand the characters?

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  10. Yes! I do thing the book gets better the more we think of it. I have been thinking of certain scenes from The Trial throughout the past week. What does it all mean? Like K. we want there to be some meaning, some resolution. Like you, I don’t think there will be a clean resolution. The rooms in the story reminded me of a haunted house. I feel claustrophobic and dizzy when I read it. That’s the proint, right? This is the perfect discussion book!

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    1. Awww…….😔

      I have been thinking of you and the book. Just busy and tired. My parents are coming to visit on Friday for the weekend, so I’m hoping to find a little time before they come.

      Sorry you are lonely here. I’d much rather come chat here than do a lot of the other things that need to be done this week, but…..alas.

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      1. Don’t worry, Katie, I have seen at FB that you are tired for a super good reason. I just wanted to say hi, and don’t forget, but I know you don’t. (I know, I also want to sit down and write the 3rd post, and do other things I want, but I have to take care of other things first too, as you say.

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