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Themes

Corresponding to Kafka's vision of an all-encompassing but indifferent society in The Trial is the individual's intense feelings of isolation, alienation, and anxiety. The court stands in for a society that insists on conformity at all costs, and the individual is guilty simply for being an individual. The whole idea of a defense in this context is paradoxical. The purpose of a defense is to give the individual an opportunity to defend his innocence, but to defend his innocence is to assert himself. And to assert himself, to defend himself and his actions vocally, is by nature criminal in a society that just wants the individual to shut up and blend in. As the novel shows through its depiction of the main character and other defendants, the court infiltrates all aspects of a defendant's life. The experience of a trial leads to an all-pervasive self-consciousness on the part of the defendant accompanied by feelings of inferiority, insecurity, and paranoia.

Questions About Isolation

  1. How would you describe K.'s personality? What are some of the emotions he feels during the course of his trial? How do you see these emotions impact his actions, or vice versa?
  2. How does the fact that K. is on trial affect his personal relationships? His business relationships?
  3. Which characters seek to help K. with his trial? What are their motivations for helping him? Is their help actually helpful?
  4. Some critics believe that K.'s real crime is his refusal to submit to social conformity – the social pressure to be just like everybody else, to be ordinary, and above all, not to be different, original, or unique. Do you agree? Why or why not? If not, what are some other possibilities for K.'s unnamed crime?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

K.'s experiences of alienation during his trial only confirms the asocial tendencies that he had before his trial.

Paradoxically, K. experiences both extreme conceit and extreme shame during the course of his trial; these wild fluctuations in mood reflect his basic insecurity.

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