Study Guide

The Trial Writing Style

By Franz Kafka

Writing Style

Quasi-philosophical, Allegorical, Matter-of-fact, Absurd

We've stuck a "quasi" in front of "philosophical" to describe Kafka's style here, because while The Trial certainly has many extended monologues that sound awfully smart, they aren't actually very logical or rational at all. Huld's string of explanations about his own procrastination, Block's discussion of the different types of lawyers, Titorelli's discussion of judicial tactics are all monologues that involve descriptions of complicated, but irrational, legal and bureaucratic systems. In fact, it's because these systems are so irrational that they are so terrifying: there's no way that you can defy a system that you can't comprehend, that doesn't work according to common sense or logic, that only operates according to its own incomprehensible and contradictory rules. And that's how many of the anecdotes in the novel work, the most outstanding example of which is the parable of the Law in Chapter 9. Many critics have noted the reference to religious parables here, but, unlike Biblical allegories, these mini-stories do little to offer up spiritual truth or enlightenment.

And yet Kafka's style is undeniably humorous, making its moves through understatement rather than through extreme or excessive language. The presentation of extraordinary situations through matter-of-fact language – as if these extraordinary situations were quite ordinary ones – paradoxically magnifies the absurdity of the situation. We find ourselves laughing at horrible scenes such as the flogger in the junk closet. Sure, we feel bad for being awful human beings, just as we might feel bad at laughing at somebody who trips and falls, instead of considerately asking them if they need any help. But laughter serves an important function in helping us to maintain our critical attitude toward the events of the novels. Unlike K. or any of the other characters, we have the luxury of laughing at the trial in all of its absurdities, even while we shudder at the images of persecution that hit a little too close to home when we consider humanity's long history of cruelty.

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