How does Kafka portray his views on modernity in The Trial?

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Kafka’s views on modernity are made evident as he describes Joseph K. making his way through Juliusstrasse, the poorer district in which K.’s first inquiry is supposed to take place. K. immediately feels lost as he walks down the street, which is “flanked on both sides by almost completely identical buildings, tall gray apartment houses inhabited by the poor” (Kafka 38). Uniformity, as well as increasing wealth inequality, accompanies the modern rise of cities. Kafka describes this district, which could serve as a paradigm for any generic European city in the early 20th century, as intimidating in its size/population, yet aesthetically unimpressive. His description does not do the district’s inhabitants any favors either. The reader can feel Joseph K. cringe as people call out to each other over his head and as a gramophone begins to “murder a tune” (38). Thus, Kafka depicts modernity as synonymous with increasing chaos and anonymity.

Kafka also pays attention to the lack of cleanliness in this city, suggesting that modernity is closely associated with squalor and corruption of people. As K. goes to the painter Titorelli’s apartment, he encounters a sordid scene:

. . . there was a gaping hole from which, just as K. approached, a disgusting, steaming yellow fluid poured forth, before which a rat fled into the nearby sewer. At the bottom of the steps a small child was lying face down on the ground, crying, but it could hardly be heard above the noise coming from a sheet-metal shop beyond the entranceway. (140)

K. never has to go far to witness the filth of a modern city, including smog and soot, as well as this unknown liquid. In this scene, there is much to pull his attention from one thing to the next. He cannot stare too long at the liquid and the rat because there is a child crying, and he cannot focus on the child because there is a loud industrial sound close by. Kafka infuses this sense of chaos with the corruption of youth, a theme which he carries forth throughout K.’s meeting with the painter, for the meeting is constantly interrupted by a group of corrupted girls who have nothing better to do but pester grown men. All in all, Kafka does not portray a very positive view of modernity.

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