The Trial

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

On the morning of his thirtieth birthday, the bachelor Josef K., a career-oriented bank employee, wakes up to the unsettling news that he is under arrest. Uninformed as to the crime he is alleged to have committed, K. receives a summons to appear before a judge a few days later. Yet neither this nor a subsequent visit to the curiously irregular court provides him with any clarity about his case.

Left stranded in his efforts to communicate with the legal authorities, K. finds his daily life invaded by grotesque reminders of guilt and punishment. Soon a debilitating sense of doom begins to destroy the normalcy of his existence.

In order to advance his case and to justify himself, K. turns to ever more unlikely helpers. A famous lawyer is dismissed when he counsels procrastination as the safest course of action. The inside information K. hopes to gain from a portrait artist in the employ of the court and from its prison chaplain only entangle him further in a world of legal subterfuge.

Worn out by his futile search, K. shows no surprise when, on the eve of his thirty-first birthday, two executioners come to his apartment. Willingly he submits to their authority as they lead him to his death.

For some critics, the German-Jewish author from Prague has foreseen the nightmare of totalitarianism that was to descend on Europe under the reign of Nazism. Others see K.’s fate as a parable on the price man must pay if he refuses...

(The entire section is 532 words.)