The Trial is considered by many to be a dystopic, or negative, view of modern society. The novel shows the dysfunctional consequences of the forces of modernization on society. Instead of celebrating the city as a beacon of modern living, we get the city as an impoverished and sordid place, where the poor live in cramped and inhumane conditions. Instead of a society where individuals can pursue their own desires, we get a society that is a force of conformity and ordinariness, all the more effective because of the high concentration of people in cities. In Kafka's modern world, traditional social ties such as interpersonal relationships (such as that between K. and his family) deteriorate, leaving only relations of persecution and exploitation perpetrated by the court. By setting the court in one of the city's poorest districts, the novel emphasizes how the court enforces social conformity by quashing individual free will.
Questions About Society and Class
What are the different social positions of the characters in the novel – lower class, upper class? How do you see their class position influencing the way they interact with each other or the way they look at the world? It might be helpful to look at characters from different classes, contrasting Frau Gruber with Josef K., for example.
What is the effect of leaving so many of the characters unnamed – the prison chaplain, the bank vice president, the court usher, just to name a few? Do they feel like whole and complete people to you, or do they seem flat and one-dimensional? How does their anonymity affect the way we understand their personalities, their motivations, and their social roles?
Take a look at the different settings in the novel – the lodging house, the bank, the cathedral, and the courts, for example. How are these settings described? How do you think the settings connect to the theme of society and class in the novel? For example, why do you think the courts are set in such an impoverished neighborhood?
Chew on This
The Trial decries a society where the overwhelming pressure to conform reduces the individual to a mere drone.
The different urban spaces represented in The Trial highlight modernization's erosion of traditional social relationships.