Can you explain the meaning of the trial in retrospect in Kafka's The Trial?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It is clear that K.'s trial in this thought-provoking text opens itself to a multiplicity of different meanings. On the one hand, there seems to be little reason behind K.'s trial and it could be seen as an arbitary statement about justice and how characters are selected at random to face trial for crimes they may or may not have committed. There is an element of the absurd in this text and in the way that K. seeks to discover what is going on around him and what precisely he is being punished for. On the other hand, Kafka is clearly writing this text to comment on the various religious ideas concerning guilt and innocence. One of these is of course Calvinism, which argues predestination is the major force in theological thought. As a result, K. has been selected for trial, and, like Block, should meekly face the punishment he is given, no matter what that punishment is or how humilating it may be. In addition, there are strong elements of Catholicism in this trial, and especially in the repeated advice that K. is given: "all you can do is confess. Confess the first chance you get."

K., however, refuses to lie down and meekly and passively accept his fate in the way that Block does, and perhaps in this lies the real meaning of the trial. This text pits individual humans against forces that are bigger and much stronger than them. Even though K. is hopelessly outmatched, and his death is seen as being almost inevitable, the meaning of the trial is that it allows him to show his worth as a human being who goes out fighting to the end. Whateve the precise nature of his "guilt," the way he tries to fight his corner captures something of what it means to be human, even though both he and the reader are never sure of the precise meaning of the trial he is experiencing.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team