Places: The Trial

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Der Prozess, 1925 (English translation, 1937; restored German edition, 1982; new English translation, 1998)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Allegory

Time of work: Twentieth century

Places DiscussedCity

City. Trial, TheKafka’s urban setting for The Trial reinforces the ordinary quality of protagonist Joseph K.’s life. K. lives and works as anyone else might in a large, industrialized city. The urban setting also emphasizes the arbitrary nature of his trial, as K. appears to be an ordinary citizen picked at random to face charges for an unspecified crime.

Frau Grubach’s boardinghouse

Frau Grubach’s boardinghouse. Residence of K., in which Kafka sets much of the novel, thereby creating a sense of personal invasion. One morning, while he is still in bed, K. discovers that he is under arrest. Two guards of the court have been sent to deliver the message; however, they give no information about the crime for which he is charged. His arrest is sudden and inexplicable, and because it occurs in his bedroom, the proceedings against him exhibit a confusing and invasive quality. They do not correspond to any rational system of justice. The law condemns Joseph K. in his bedroom in the opening chapter, and it returns for him there at the novel’s conclusion to execute its sentence.

Court

Court. Building to which K. goes, using the address given to him for his initial hearing. There he finds a dilapidated apartment complex, in whose cramped and overheated attic the court that has accused him meets. This unlikely setting for a court of law emphasizes the nightmarish nature of K.’s trial, while also creating questions about the legitimacy of the proceedings. The locations of other court offices in the upper rooms of buildings also suggest the transcendence of the court and its procedures. K. has difficulty breathing the air in the court, as though it exists at a level beyond, or above, normal life.

Junk room

Junk room. Small storage closet in the bank building in which K. works. In one of the most unusual scenes in the novel, K. confronts a functionary of the court in the process of punishing the same two court guards who earlier had informed him of his arrest. The method of administering punishment, in this case by flogging, and the location of the punishment in a junk room of a bank building, augment the irrational quality of K.’s trial.

Huld’s house

Huld’s house. Home of a lawyer whose counsel K. seeks on the advice of his uncle, an old friend of Huld. Huld receives K. in his bedroom, where he is bedridden by illness. Just as the court meets in the attics of apartment buildings, so lawyers hold office hours in their bedrooms, further complicating the nature of the judicial proceedings throughout the novel and adding an increasing surreality to the events of the narrative.

Titorelli’s bedroom

Titorelli’s bedroom. Small, oddly furnished attic bedroom in which Titorelli, a painter, lives and works–another example of the prominent role bedrooms play in the novel. Titorelli’s bed stands in front of a door leading out of his bedroom. Titorelli explains to K. that through his doorway, officials of the court enter, often while he is sleeping. Titorelli, like many characters in the novel, lives at the mercy of the court.

Cathedral

Cathedral. Large, ornate church in the city where K. meets a priest who tells him a parable about the law. Rather than providing some measure of comfort for K., the priest complicates matters further by giving him only a cryptic description of the court and its procedures. K.’s discussion with the priest adds a metaphysical quality to his efforts to justify himself against the allegations of the court. Just as those to whom he turns throughout the novel for assistance can provide no substantive help, so the church can provide only parables, whose meanings are open to indistinct and conflicting interpretations.

Stone quarry

Stone quarry. Located outside the city, the quarry is K.’s final destination, the site of his execution. The quarry provides an appropriate setting for K.’s execution, lending a sacrificial quality to the event. Executioners position him on a rectangular stone block, and their behavior during and after the execution resembles a religious ritual, as they stare into K.’s eyes at the moment of his death.

BibliographyFlores, Angel, ed. The Kafka Problem. New York: New Directions, 1946. An important and relatively early collection of essays, three of which deal specifically with The Trial.Flores, Angel, and Homer Swander, eds. Franz Kafka Today. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1958. Two essays treat the structure and meaning of The Trial, respectively; useful as a companion volume to the previous Flores collection. Includes a long bibliography.Gray, Ronald, ed. Kafka: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1962. Fifteen excellent essays on general themes in Kafka, two dealing with The Trial in particular and several dealing with it in part. Almost all of the contributors are well-known critics. Also contains an introduction, a chronology of important dates, and a survey of recent Kafka criticism.Rolleston, James, ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of “The Trial.” Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1976. Ten essays with an introduction, “On Interpreting The Trial,” offer a wide sampling of critical responses to the work’s “opaqueness.” Presents Kafka’s relationships to psychoanalysis and other modern modes of interpretation. Extensive critical bibliography.Tauber, Herbert. Franz Kafka: An Interpretation of His Works. Translated by G. Humphreys Roberts and Roger Senhouse. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1948. Places The Trial in the context of literary analysis of Kafka’s major works. Chapter 7 compares the book to The Castle in terms of both themes and execution. Should be read in conjunction with Max Brod’s seminal Biography of Franz Kafka (1937) for interesting comparison.
Categories: Places