Law and Kafka’s outlaw

Joseph K’s ‘only hope’ fails to give him any but he tries till the very end to clear his name. Just like the author, K is made an outsider

Published: 13th June 2017 10:07 PM  |   Last Updated: 14th June 2017 05:28 AM   |  A+A-

Johnny Herford (Josef K), Nicholas Folwell (Priest) enacting The Trial as an opera

Express News Service

BENGALURU: Franz Kafka's masterpiece The Trial begins with his protagonist, Joseph K mysteriously getting charged with an unknown crime by the court. The charge, we soon find out, is unknown to K and remains unknown to the readers as well. But K is soon plagued with distress to clear his name from this unknown charge that the law has found against him. However, his only options are deferment and dallying.
Through moments of weakness and brief sexual releases, K worsens his case until he meets a lawyer —his only option, he is told —who fails to give him any hope. Whiling away time is his best friend, he is advised by his only hope.

In the inner-most crevices of his mind, K recognises this conundrum as the divine challenge of man that finds him in a tussle with the law. The law is always attracted to guilt and man needs law. Perhaps what Kafka wanted to convey all along through K's nameless plight and persecution is that man can never get away from law and will always be on its wrong side intrinsically.

K is an outlaw like Kafka, who was made to feel like an 'outsider' in Prague as a German-speaking Jew.  But K is everything that the normal 'I-don't-want-any-nonsense' kind of people look for. He holds a top post at a bank, which makes him a white collar as they come and put him farthest from the James Dean kind of rebels without a cause.

However, it is exactly this that makes K one of us and also not one of us. He tries till the very end to clear his name. But for all his grandstanding, he does not do much apart from procrastination. His affairs with the women in the novel lack depth and appreciation, perhaps a picture of mankind headed away from emotions. In fact, as the novel progresses, K is reduced to a mere spectre of his emotions.

His encounter with the priest is the climax of the novel. The priest asks him to introspect after separating himself from the corruption that surrounds him. The priest also fails to give him any real hope of freedom from the trial as K's end was inevitable. The lamp that the priest gives K symbolically goes out at the ends, signifying the light of the world going out for K.

K's execution in the last scene signifies his disillusionment, which he chooses over the way to the light that the priest shows him. His reference to a dog signifies his surrender to his canine consciousness as he loses his court case — the call for divine justice.

Thus with K's execution, Kafka ends yet another of his works with abject man surrendering to his fate. Man, like K, seldom succeeds in giving up temptation, passing the divine's call for justice and not negating his own self.


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