The Reality of Guilt
"Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning (FK 1). " In his book entitled "The Trial," Franz Kafka introduces the reader to the main character and presents a major theme in the novel with this sentence. The sentence leads the readers to assume that (1) Joseph is a decent man, far from a criminal and (2) there is a flaw in the process itself. Kafka has composed this sentence in a way, which may influence the readers to believe that the arrest is a mistake. With these subtle context clues arises the question of guilt. Joseph's crime is never directly stated anywhere in the novel. It remains an enigma to the reader and to Joseph. Ultimately, at the end, Joseph is executed superficially without conviction. Probing deeper, however, one ponders the question of original sin. Is Joseph guilty for merely existing? Is his incessant denial of committing a criminal offense a crime in its self? In 'The Trial," Joseph may not be guilty in the sense of committing a sin, but could be guilt itself.
An important note to keep in mind while reading "The Trial" is Kafka's structural organization of paragraphs. Most of the paragraphs are confusing and lengthy; some even more than one or two pages long. In chapter two when Joseph is speaking at the Court of Inquiry, he is abruptly interrupted by the shrieks of a woman. Kafka explains the scene in almost two pages, paying extreme attention to detail. Most of his descriptions seem unnecessary, redundant, and quite confusing. At one point he is describing the scene of one part of the room, then Kafka describes a revelation, which occurs to Joseph about the men to whom he is speaking. Ordinarily, an author would designate a separate paragraph to Joseph's revelation about the men and his situation. Kafka however continues his ideas in large paragraphs. He writes in a stream of consciousness, making it complicated for readers. It is confusing and disorienting at times, even demanding that the reader re-read for clarification. Kafka's unique organization may have been intentional. Similar to Joseph, the readers experience a world comprised of perplexity and chaos. We are encouraged to re-evaluate what we have just read, like Joseph is encouraged re-evaluate his life. Our constant reflections are Joseph's reflections; his challenges are ours. While the reader attempts to mentally organize his or her thoughts, Joseph replays various events in his life. Kafka's purpose is to demand an intimate relationship between the reader and Joseph. Like Joseph, we desire to know his crime; even feel responsible for piecing together the puzzle pieces to make sense of the arrest. What has Joseph done wrong? Is there anything Kafka is keeping from us about Joseph? These questions arise as the reader continues his investigation.
Many literary critics have argued about the presence of religion in "The Trial." Some believe that religion is irrelevant and others view "The Trial" as a piece of integrating ideas revolving around religion. In his essay, "The Trial and the Theology of Crisis," John Kelly argues that "The Trial," ignores social problems…[and] plunges directly into the tangled morass of Calvinistic conceptions regarding man's relationship with an absolute God (The Kafka Problems 153)." Reading his essay further, the reader can deduce that John Kelly believes that "The Trial" is a parable about religion, and nothing more. In chapter nine of "The Trial," most of the setting takes place in a Cathedral. The Cathedral itself becomes gradually darker and more gloomy, and oppressive as the chapter continues. It is described as cold with only a hint of light, which is scattered inside. The Cathedral takes on human like qualities like sad and cold. With these adjectives, the readers will recognize that the same quality the Cathedral possesses accurately describe Joseph as well. The coldness symbolizes Joseph's indifference. Light is used to represent hope and optimism. The scattered light in the Cathedral represents Joseph's deteriorating hope to win the trial. As the audience readers further, they will take note that many months have passed since Joseph was arrested, perhaps even a year. A colleague of Joseph's leads him to the