The Trial, #3 and final post

Remember where we left K.?, escaping Titorelly’s studio with those paintings he didn’t want but bought from him. In the book, he took the canvases and placed them in one of his drawers at the office. But this photo from Orson Wells’s movie of K. running with the falling off full framed pictures makes it more dramatic.

This post I’ll discuss the last 3 chapters according to shmoop’s division,

Chapter 8, Block the Merchant, Dismissal of the Lawyer

Chapter 9, In the Cathedral

Chapter 10, The End

It’s remarkable how much pleasurable, (or stimulating) it is to discuss the book than to actually read it. Once out of the suffocating chapters, one has enough space and a regained clarity to ruminate at leisure about K., the other characters, and the significance of the events and whole book.

Chapter 8 introduces us to Block, a merchant who also sees Huld as his lawyer. One of his lawyers. K. doesn’t know Block, but Block knows K. He tells him he was there the day K. almost fainted at the court offices. Characteristic of the book, events and character seem random, but they are also connected by a logic, a logic that seems to be rooted in the absurd more than in a solid reasoning or system. The conversations, people and events, seem random, but they also appeal to our logic or reasoning capacities. For example, Block’s talk doesn’t quite make sense, -about having several lawyers, and how some are petty lawyers, and how some are great, but no-one has ever seen or contacted any of those. I want to understand what’s off or different in Kafka’s book. Katie commented about her college professor telling them that Kafka’s style was expressionist. I wrote in a reply this from Wikepedia,

In literature, expressionism is often considered a revolt against realism and naturalism, seeking to achieve a psychological or spiritual reality rather than record external events in logical sequence. In the novel, the term is closely allied to the writing of Franz Kafka and James Joyce (see stream of consciousness).

We are thrown facts and assertions, but there’s no explanations or judgments in the text. We don’t have any clear identities in the book to whom we can pin subjective behaviors or value statements, all the book is in itself impersonal and at the same time, unreliable. Individuals are objectified, and like Katie said, their relations are reduced to transactions.

There’s a surreal chain of events in this chapter between Block, K., Leni, and Huld. Block tells K. that the accused can be told guilty or innocent by looking at their face, and K.’s face has guilty written all over. At the same time, Huld tells K. he is not surprised that Leni has something for him, seem all the defendants seem to be attractive. Leni dominates Block, and Huld dominates Leni and Block. Block tries to assert himself over K.’s too. Block sleeps in the maid’s room, waiting until Huld is ready for him. Leni serves Huld, she also seems to take advantage of the defendants to have a relationship with them as she pleases.

Chapter 9, The Cathedral, one of the most intriguing and slightly different chapters of this book.  K. is assigned to show some sites of the city to an Italian client. K. would normally see this as a privilege, but ever since his trial, he is having lots of disconcerting thoughts, like the one of loosing his high status in the bank if he leaves the bank for long, -which makes sense and doesn’t make sense. (If our job is compromised, does it matter much if we stay at the office long hours?) K. attempts to refresh his Italian. To his dismay, the client speaks a dialect he’s not familiar with, and to make matters worse, the client has a mustache that makes it difficult to read his mouth. First, I’d like to say it’s so true that languages vary much in their strong dialects. My husband knows Italian, particularly Sicilian, -since that’s the Italian region closer to Malta. Many years ago, the only English I was familiar with, was British English. That all changed when I came to Texas. Nowadays, when we have a visitor from up north, or from places like Ireland, or South Africa, come to our congregation to preach or talk, it takes us all some time to acclimate to the accent. In K.’s case, communication is never possible, even though his boss helps him up.

They agree to meet at the cathedral next morning. K. arrives, (maybe early or late, there’s a confusion with time we don’t know if intentional or due to the incompleteness of the novel), but he doesn’t see the Italian anywhere. He decides to go inside. I don’t know if this is relevant, but he sees a picture with a guard, standing sentry at Christ’s tomb.

Then it comes my favorite part of the book, K. talking to the priest, and the priest telling him about this story from “introductory texts to the Law,”  as the priest calls them.

I’m quoting the story from shmoop,

As the story goes, a “man from the country” approaches the doorkeeper of the Law and asks to enter. The doorkeeper says the man can, but not at the present time. Even though the gate is open, the doorkeeper explains that 1) he’s a pretty tough dude, and 2) inside the gate there are more gates, guarded by tougher dudes.
So the man from the country decides to wait it out – for years on end. He has quite a few conversations with the doorkeeper, who remains polite but indifferent to the very end.
Finally, the man from the country is approaching his own death. It seems like everything’s getting dark, so dark. But the man thinks he sees a bright light emerging from the gate.
The man finally asks the doorkeeper why, in all the years he’s been waiting at the gate, that nobody else has tried to gain admittance to the Law. Because the man is growing deaf, the doorkeeper has to yell his reply, which is that no one else has come by because the gate was meant for the man alone.
And that’s the end of the parable.

And this is what K. believes from that parable,

K. at first believes that the parable confirms his basic suspicion that the court and everyone in it is corrupt and the best thing for him to do is to ignore the trial. The priest disagrees, and offers K. multiple interpretations of the story:

1. The doorkeeper doesn’t seem like a bad guy or a corrupt one. In fact, the story seems to indicate he’s got a friendly side that goes beyond mere dutifulness.
2. The doorkeeper could just be doing a really, really good job – he’s just simple-minded. Perhaps he doesn’t understand exactly what guarding the gate entails. Maybe he’s supposed to let the man in and he just, uh, didn’t get the memo, so to speak.
3. The doorkeeper is actually dependent on the man from the country. He’s inferior and subordinate to the man because as long as the man is there, the doorkeeper is stuck at the gate defending it.
4. Don’t judge the doorkeeper. The doorkeeper is a representative of the Law, and you can’t criticize the Law.

And chapter 10, the end. The Trial ends abruptly. It’s his 31st birthday, two men come to see him, they take him to a quarry, where K. takes off his jacket and shirt. The two men take turns passing a knife back and forth. K. deduces from this that he should take the knife and kill himself. But he doesn’t want to. Then he sees someone at a house, open a window and stretch his arms, K. does the same, and at that time (as if welcoming death), one man grabs him by his throat, while the other stubs him in the heart. K. sees the two men cheek by cheek, and he said, “like a dog”, and it was as if the shame of it should outlive him.

Do you all think this chapter had Judaeo Christian resonances, or direct allusions?

And this is the moment when we all say, “what did just happen?” My edition had some added notes, other chapters. You can read them here, they are called Fragments. What do you get from them?, and from the whole book?

Thanks for reading along. I had always wanted to read some more Kafka than just his The Metamorphosis. I am glad I read The Trial, and it was great to be able to discuss this strange book with you.

11 thoughts on “The Trial, #3 and final post

  1. My computer recently had ot go away for repairs, so I haven’t been keeping up on your posts, but I got a chance to read the last two on Kafka today. (My copy of the book is also distant at the moment, but I have some thoughts nonetheless…)

    Reading your second post and remembering the tediousness of the trial is almost maddening! (Your writing and summarizing is great, but how awful some of the things described!) Your account of Block and the nonesense with all of the lawyers he hires and how he presents himself as an expert while at the same time making plain the futility of it all, and the uselessness of his knowledge. That is part of the reason why I found the Cathedral chapter so refreshing. Though K. is being corrected throughout much of the book, it is in this chapter that K.’s is criticized becoming cynical, as the priest shows there are many ways to look at it. Since K.’s experience seems to be presented as something akin to the author’s, it is possible that Kafka is recognizing that a critique exists for the whole presentation which he has given throughout the novel.

    On the other hand, he may be making a more cynical point about how even the structure of religion is tied to the bureaucratic and suffocating structure he has been describing all along. I forgot how exactly it is stated, but the priest basically says he is working for the same people who are after K.. Even the detail that the parable is included at the beginning of the lawbooks, indicate even the stories we tell have become a tool in the hands of some oppressive system. Nothing in the last chapter seemed to obviously follow from what came before it, but there you have it.

    One thing I found frustrating about Kafka is that I think too many in society already have a distrust of law and structure and process. Surely these are used corruptly or for personal gain in many instances, but this will only be perpetuated when people continue to be taught that they are merely power structures in the hands of whoever can get ahold of them. I’m sure this reflects Kafka’s experience to a great extent (especially working in insurance), but it is necessarily a pessimistic point of view that does not admit of improvement.

    Liked by 2 people

    • On point, Maximilian. I like your comment on that meta element, when you say that a critique exists for the worldview he presents.

      I see his novel is very subjective, and he’s presenting this to us, and I feel compelled to answer if I see the world like this or not. And I don’t, 🙂

      He builds a cage for himself, and throws away the key. No improvement, no escape, perpetual distrust, and no possible communication or effectual change. It’s such a deterministic scenario, it feels like being inside the mind of a “squizoid?”
      Thanks for reading with me. I would have felt so bad had I read this alone. Arghhh.


    • Loved what you had to say on your blog.

      “There is something quite Calvinistic about K.’s world. It seems as if he has been predestined for condemnation. He cannot defend himself or do anything to change his sentence.”

      This is an interesting and solid observation. What kind of despair must a person live with if they believe they are sentenced to hell. They’d probably look a bit like Kafka. I recently read Gilead, and I was moved by the character Jack’s questions and struggles about election and unbelief. While reading The Trial, I got the sense that everyone was equally damned, some just didn’t know it. Kafka tells us that K and others are simply unlucky, yet I get the sense that others in this universe carry around the same guilt; it just hasn’t been exposed. Predestination throws a different light on the story than my reading. I want to think much more about all this.

      Liked by 1 person

      • “I got the sense that everyone was equally damned, some just didn’t know it. ” Yes. I got that impression too. The question of unexposed guilt is also interesting. The executioners may see themselves in K.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. “Do you all think this chapter had Judaeo Christian resonances, or direct allusions?” yes, yes, and yes! Actually, the entire book got me thinking of original sin.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, me too! That was on my mind so much as I read. K. is walking around with this guilt attached to him, yet it is vague -undefined – and he can’t find a way to escape it, even though he believes himself to be innocent of the unnamed crime he’s being accused of.

      Liked by 2 people

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