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Reading Kafka’s “The Trial”

“Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., because he had done nothing wrong, but one day he was arrested.”

The Trial is ever more relevant in a world full of lies and propaganda meted out by governing bodies that appear to be democratic but in reality authoritarian.

Kafka opens with these disconcerting words, setting the tone for the rest of the novel, as what follows is a deeply disturbing account of a man placed at the mercy of (until then unknown) law courts. Although K. maintains adamantly that he is innocent, at no point is there a hint given of the crime K. may have committed, adding to the reader’s confusion as they are given as little information as K. and so cannot judge whether the appropriate ending would be conviction or acquittal.

The Trial is deeply thought-provoking in its uncomfortable presentation of a world where people are observed by secret police and suddenly arrested, reflecting the social turmoil in Europe around the time Kafka wrote it in 1914. There are striking parallels to Orwell’s 1984 where the protagonist is observed constantly and people are punished by the totalitarian state for actions which seem harmless, such as “thought-crime.”

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