Kafka – A Critique of Justice

The Trial is a book published posthumously in 1925, written by Kafka.

I. The absurdity of justice

Kafka’s book is certainly complex and subtle, and the authors who have tried to grasp all its thought have not exhausted the work’s full scope.

However, the most direct aspect that this work reveals is a criticism of the judiciary, of the bureaucracy that surrounds it, finally giving the book its name: The Trial.

Indeed, it is about a man called “Joseph K.” who is accused and summoned to court, for an unknown reason.

Why should I be arrested? And in this way, to make matters worse?

—There you go again!” said the inspector, dipping a piece of buttered bread into the little honey pot. We do not answer such questions

Chapter I, The Trial – Kafka

Throughout the book, Joseph K. must defend himself for a trial he does not know the cause of. Speaking of the judicial system:

And now the meaning, gentlemen, of this great organization? It is to have innocent people arrested and put on trial for no reason and, most of the time too – as in my case – without result.

Chapter III, The Trial – Kafka

But to have this trial, without even knowing why, would already be the recognition of guilt.

“Looking at you, one would almost believe [that you want to verify] the proverb: “To have such a trial is already to have lost it.”

Chapter VI, The Trial – Kafka

II. The irresponsible and incompetent justice

This absurdity is coupled with passages on the heaviness of the bureaucracy. For example, during his first interrogation, the examining magistrate makes a mistake when talking about the accused:

Let us see,” says the examining magistrate, turning the leaves of the register and addressing K. in a tone of observation; “you are a house painter?

No,” said K., “I am the attorney of a large bank.

Chapter III, The Trial – Kafka

The men of justice are also represented as completely disinterested in their function, irresponsible. Thus Joseph K. is astonished when he consults the books used by the judge during his trial:

“K. did not leaf through any more; he merely opened the second book to the title page; tisse was a noël entitled Tourments que Marguerite eut à souffrir de son mari.

“So,” said K., “these are the law books we study here! These are the people by whom I must be judged!”

Chapter IV, The Trial – Kafka

III. The Meaning of Justice and Freedom

The book constantly invites us to question the meaning of justice, as does the abbot who appears in Chapter IX:

I belong, then, to justice, says the abbot. Therefore, what could I want from you? Justice wants nothing from you. It takes you when you come and leave you when you go.

Chapter IX, The Trial – Kafka

Thus, while preparing for the trial, Joseph K. is left at liberty; this liberty finally reveals itself as a sentence in itself.

And he had to work for the bank! He looked at his desk. He had to bring in clients and talk to them now? While his trial was going on, while upstairs in the attic, the employees of the justice system were bent over the file of this trial, he had to settle the affairs of the department? Wasn’t this a kind of torture approved by the court as an addition to the trial?

Chapter VII, The Trial – Kafka

General Knowledge: justice