by Franz Kafka
Tools of Characterization
Thoughts and Opinions
Thoughts and opinions provide our main avenue into understanding Josef K. and the rest of the characters of Kafka's The Trial. Kafka's novel has often been noted for its perspectivism, for its careful development of a character's unique perspective. With the main character, the novel sits inside K.'s mind and articulates both his insights and his blind spots as he navigates the twisted world of the courts. The other characters reveal their thoughts and opinions through dialogues with K., and the novel also plays close attention to K.'s process of interpreting what these characters say to him. We can see how K.'s perception of a character develops in the case of Block the merchant, for example: K. at first considers Block a romantic rival, but his opinion quickly changes to one of grudging respect when Block shares his intimate knowledge of court affairs. But this respect quickly gives way to disdain when Block humiliates himself before Huld.
Many characters, even prominent ones, are left unnamed, and are only referred to by their occupation – the bank vice president, the flogger, the court usher's wife, the prison chaplain, and, vaguest of all, the two men who show up to execute K. in the last chapter. Even when characters are named, their personalities are clearly defined by what they do, and what they do always has some relation to the court. Thus Leni, who appears to be a mere nurse, has enough influence as the nurse to a lawyer that she functions as a kind of gatekeeper; just as the gatekeeper in the parable of the Law controls access to the Law, Leni controls access to Huld. K. is often surprised by the court connections, as when he meets with a manufacturer, a bank customer, only to find that the manufacturer too is aware of his trial and has some connection to the court. By using occupation as a major tool of characterization, the novel highlights how expansive the court's influence is, and also how dehumanizing, as individuals are reduced to their functions within the court system.
Speech and Dialogue
Speech and dialogue is critical to our perception of characters other than K. because their words are our only access into their personalities. Frau Grubach's complacency, Huld's pomposity, the guards' unquestioning acceptance of their duty, the court usher's wife and Leni's nymphomania, and Block's desperation all come through in their conversations with K. The characters' speeches provide equally revealing glimpses into the workings of the court, and much of what we learn about the court comes through extended monologues that read more like lectures, particularly with mentor figures such as Titorelli and the prison chaplain.