(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Trial was begun in July, 1914, when Kafka turned thirty-one. He had just broken off his first engagement to Felice Bauer. He had also been unable to write any literature for more than a year, and he was feeling simultaneously frustrated by this writer’s block and guilty for having been unfair to either Bauer or himself (depending on how one looked at it). Out of this inner turmoil arose The Trial, which was completed within six months.

Like all Kafka’s writing, The Trial achieves a fine balance between the real and the imagistic, containing enough references to everyday life that the reader is initially tempted to confront the content of the surface story with logical argumentation. Were this a standard crime story, one would say that K., who was a banker by profession, misses three excellent opportunities to save himself. At the beginning of the novel, when arrested without being told why, K. neglects to contact his friend the public prosecutor. In the middle of the novel, when it would help to get away for a while, K. turns down his uncle’s invitation to stay with him in the country. At the end of the novel, K. avoids the policeman, who clearly wants to intervene.

The premise of fantasy, though, is that it details inner reality. Kafka was involved in coming to terms with himself, and he presents the reader with strong evidence that K. and the court are one and the same. Names are always significant in Kafka’s works, and one of the two warders who arrests Josef K. on his thirtieth birthday is called Franz—that is, the reader is to understand, Franz Kafka. Josef K. subsequently complains to the Examining Magistrate about the man’s behavior and is surprised, on...

(The entire section is 708 words.)