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Franz Kafka once wrote, “A book must be the axe for the sea beneath us” Essay

Franz Kafka once wrote, “A book must be the axe for the sea beneath us. ” This statement is certainly true when related to his novel, ‘The Trail’ as the novel anticipates a shift towards a totalitarian society and tells a story of a time when the individual is without control of his own destiny and effectively powerless. Despite this, there appears to be an underlying issue within the novel. The story of Joseph K and his arrest seems to have an autobiographical element and relates to Kafka’s own feelings of alienation and his personal conflict in pursuit of acceptance from others, in particular his father.

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Franz Kafka was an emotional co-dependent and was reliant on his parents. His father was a domineering patriarch whom Kafka respected but he strived to evoke pride in his father for him, yet always felt under the shadow of his father’s disappointment. This lack of acceptance and encouragement to indulge in literature and the arts, which Kafka’s father viewed as fanciful, left Kafka feeling like an outsider and this theme is common in many of his works, including ‘The Metamorphosis’, that deals with an outsider who eventually suffers the literal and symbolic transformation into an insect.

Also, ‘A Hunger Artist’ that consists of four parables regarding the artists inability to cope with an existence in the human community. ‘The Trial’ is concerned with a bank clerk, Josef K. , who is arrested and put on trial without having knowingly done anything wrong. There is a sense of a conspiracy against him in the novel as some of his friends and colleagues are also involved in his arrest and trial. K visits various influences during the novel, none of whom can save him from his inevitable death at the end of the novel. The question queries whether ‘The Trial’ anticipates the coming of a totalitarian society where autonomy is obsolete.

If this were true, the novel would include occurrances where decision usually left to the will of the individual were controlled by another power and where free thought is either a crime or is actively discouraged. Despite the comparisons between the novel and Franz Kafka’s personal life, ‘The Trial’ is, on the surface, a novel which tells the story of the terror and oppression of a totalitarian society. The first chapter, ‘Arrest- Conversation With Frau Grubach-Then Fraulein Burstner’ tells of K’s yet two warders, Franz and Willem are permitted access into his building and into his room without his consent.

K firstly considers the possibility that, as it is his thirtieth birthday, his colleagues at the bank may be playing a trick on him, but this fallacy is soon dispersed as the warders explain to Josef K, the implications of his arrest. It is at this point that the reader is informed of the society’s aversion to free thought and autonomy when Willem advises, “We advise you not to disturb yourself with useless thoughts but to pull yourself together…” The theme of the chapter so far has been K’s reluctance to accept the fact that he has been placed under arrest and the warders’ demands for apathy from K.

The warders ask repeatedly for K to simply accept the proceedings and not to question. This may give an early indication of the society and the structure in which K exists. The mere fact that K can be arrested without having knowingly done anything wrong and without being given any explanation also suggests the idea of totalitarianism. To compound this idea, at the end of the second chapter, K discovers that his legal rights have been withdrawn when the magistrate declares, “…today, although you may not be conscious of it yet, you have deprived yourself of the advantage which a hearing invariably confers on a person under arrest. This statement confirms that K no longer has any input in his case and is powerless. His destiny is now no longer in his control. This also asks another question, as when K was making his protest, the audience applauded him, and he was probably encouraged to continue as a result of this. There is a possibility that he was tricked into continuing his speech by the audience, who may have been members of the court and not impartial. As a result of this continuation, the magistrate then had an excuse to dismiss him and refuse him the advantage of a hearing.

A terrifying image of totalitarianism is within the third chapter. After his meeting in the courthouse, K is taken by a court usher to visit others in a similar situation to him. When K asks one of the men what he is waiting for, he cannot answer and is confused by the question. The text gives an explanation for this an also tells that the man was clearly embarrassed about his inability to answer K. “…he was obviously a man of the world who in other circumstances would be completely in command of himself and would not have surrendered easily the superiority he had gained over so many people. This is a definite indication that Kafka is describing a totalitarian society, as free thought is actively discouraged in this type of political regime, as those who are intelligent and discerning are seen as a threat because they are supposedly the only faction who would be capable of undermining the government. This theory may also explain why K was arrested. He may have been viewed as a potential menace because he is clearly an educated man. In the sixth chapter, ‘The Uncle-Leni’ K visits his uncle who has experienced a similar trial. This would suggest that the arrest that K endured is commonplace.

This, in turn, invites the reader to question the society and ask why if the arrests are widespread, are the people they are affecting powerless? It is possible that there is a force at work which is keeping people from appealing against their arrests, which suggests that the political system that exists in this novel is definitely one which upholds some totalitarian ethos. A successful totalitarian regime would necessitate for a common figure of hate and a common figure of love and respect to prevent the minds of the people from being diverted onto other issues and to prevent them from questioning or rebelling against the political system.

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As the novel progresses, the case appears to have completely consumed K’s life. His attraction towards Leni, the nurse and Fraulein Burstner who, since the fifth chapter, is not mentioned until the end of the novel appears to have been quashed and his main focus, is his trial. K has already been informed by the magistrate that he has been refused a hearing, but he still chooses to visit an advocate to help him gain a better understanding of his case. In a democratic society, an advocate or lawyer would have a vast array of knowledge regarding many different legal ssues at his disposal, but the advocate that K speaks to appears to be powerless and could be described as incompetent. “K did not know, but he soon became convinced his defence was not in good hands. ” There is a possibility that this could be engineered because up until this point, every measure has been taken to ensure that K has been penalised and will not receive the result that he initially anticipated. This is also another example of power being removed from the individual. In the same chapter, K visits a painter named Titorelli, who the manufacturer had recommended to him. . K queried Titorelli about his atest work and the painter revealed an image of a judge. The painter explained, “It’s Justice. ” At this juncture, it is interesting that Titorelli refers to the judge in the painting as ‘Justice’-an abstract concept. Justice is a matter of an individual’s interpretation and Titorelli, K and the person who commissioned the painting appear to have different opinions on what justice is. A fundamental property of a successful society is a collective understanding of basis principles, such as justice. This would present an obvious flaw in the society and possibly, it is presumed that the ntelligent faction of this society will see the imperfections and challenge the system which could explain why there appears to be a campaign to rid the society of its’ intelligent, including Josef K. Later in the discussion between Titorelli and K, the painter admits that K’s suspicion was correct and the court is completely impervious to proof. This would suggest that for K to prove his innocence would be practically impossible. Despite promising to relieve the K of the burden of his trial, Titorelli confirms the belief that K has no real option and is now completely t the mercy of the political machine. The painter gives K three options, actual acquittal, apparent acquittal and prolonged acquittal. Whilst clarifying K’s three options, Titorelli states that the best form of acquittal is actual acquittal, but he then adds, “I don’t believe there is any person at all who could have an influence on actual acquittal. ” This means that K, despite not having knowingly committed an offence, is now being treated as if he was guilty. The society in which the novel is set has definitely incorporated some of the ethics of totalitarianism. The ainter is inviting K to accept the fact that he is viewed by the court as guilty. This is both unjust and in a democratic society, these circumstances would not have occurred. The other two options, apparent acquittal and prolonged acquittal are probably not the solutions that K envisaged, as neither will return to him his freedom or his dignity. Titorelli explains that if K chooses the process of apparent acquittal, he will be ‘temporarily free’ whilst if K opt for prolongation, the proceedings of his trial are kept permanently in their first stages, but K will never be free with either option.

In the ninth chapter, he priest reads K a parable about a man who wishes for entry to the law through a door, which is patrolled by a guard. The guard refuses the man entry and the man waits by the door for years until he is old and frail, then the man asks why in all the years that have passed while he has been waiting, has no one else asked for admittance into the law. The Guard replies that the entrance was designed only for the man and no one else could gain admittance. K reacts to the parable by claiming that it is a story of deception, and the guard deceived the man, hilst the priest assures K that the guard was only doing his duty. Throughout the novel there has been instances of duty reigning above humanity. In the fourth chapter, the whipper is beating Franz and Willem and despite K’s attempts to make him stop, the whipper replies that he is only doing his duty. This appears to be a fundamental principle of the society. Duty seems to be of higher importance than compassion and empathy. The idea of duty being of paramount importance adheres to the totalitarian theme. A totalitarian regime would focus on functioning effectively regardless of any attempt at benevolence by people.

There is also an underlying theme of hierarchy in ‘The Trial. ‘ In the beginning of the novel, K is disrupted by Franz and Willem, who, symbolically, eat K’s breakfast. This presents the idea of two men who are of lesser intelligence than K, asserting themselves as superior. The irony at this stage is when K first makes contact with the two men, he asks, “do I have to let myself be even more confused by the twaddle of these lowest of instruments…? ” Despite thinking he is about Franz and Willem, K still believes that they are in a position of power, only to be informed that they have a supervisor ho also visits him later that day. A severe twist the theme of hierarchy is added during the fifth chapter when ‘the whipper’ is introduced and systematically beats Franz and Willem. There is also the issue of the law student, Betrold and the usher’s wife. The law student repeatedly chases the court ushers’ wife and despite the usher’s willingness to punish the student for touching his wife he declines, “But I can’t do it, and others won’t do me the favour because they’re all afraid of his power. ” This reinforces the idea that this society has a lack of humanity in many areas.

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The fact that someone in a position of power can abuse a woman at his own free will adds to the terrifying reality of the novel. Josef K meets Rudi Block in chapter 7, he also represents an issue of hierarchy as he demonstrates humility when faced with the advocate. Rudi repeatedly bows down to the advocate and this and the incident with the law student and the usher’s wife would indicate that those who are respected the most in this society are those who have some connection with the legal profession. Not every aspect of the novel focuses on the horrors of totalitarianism.

Some of the issues raised would be considered as personal issues raised by Kafka in connection to aspects of his life. There is a feeling of persecution throughout the novel, and in some instances, a feeling that there is a conspiracy occurring. In the first chapter, when K is faced with two intruders, it appears that Frau Grubach, his trusted landlady was fully aware of what was going to take place that day. Also present at his arrest were three of his colleagues from the bank, Rabensteiner, Kaminer and Kullych. This insinuates that there is a kind of conspiracy occurring and reiterates K’s feelings of ersecution. The incident in the courthouse when K is applauded for his speech, so he continues, but later regrets this as he is subsequently refused a hearing adds to the aura of conspiracy that shrouds the novel. Also, the parable of the law that the priest retells to K could possibly be symbolic. The man is refused access through the door, yet when his life is almost over and it is effectively too late, he discovers that it was his doorway from the very first instance. This idea compounds Kafka’s feelings of rejection and inadequacy. It is interesting at this juncture to otice that the first possible explanation that K mentions is that of deceit. This may reflect Kafka’s inner sentiment and his feelings of alienation. There are numerous indications and references to persecution that would suggest that the novel is a gateway to Kafka’s inner emotions and it is as narcissistic as it is political. In the final chapter, K is lead to his death by two men and it is their intention for K to drive a knife into himself a cause his own death. This could be a punishment for K’s criticism of the legal system, of his free thought or his unwillingness to accept his arrest and it’s consequences.

This incident could reflect Kafka’s relationship with his father who he possibly felt punished by as a result of his desire to pursue his love of art and literature as opposed to conforming to the identity that Kafka’s father had carved out for him. Another interpretation of certain parts of the novel is that Kafka is criticising the legal system. Kafka received a law degree in 1906 and presumably he would have been exposed to and aware of the flaws within the legal system. During the examination in the second chapter, the magistrate has incorrect information on K, who is outraged by this.

He challenges, “I’m not saying the proceedings are slapdash, but this is the expression I’d like to offer for your private consideration. ” This idea of criticism of the legal system is compounded when, whilst in conversation with Titorelli, K exhorts, “The whole court could be replaced by one executioner. ” To support the idea of criticism, K frequently mentions the flaws that he sees in the judicial system. His advocate is incompetent and K regularly alludes to this fact and there is an incident in the third chapter when whilst in the empty assembly hall, K uncovers some books belonging to he magistrate which consist of indecent pictures of men and women. These two occurrences both highlight the legal system as being farcical, and it is possible that this is part of Kafka’s intent. Kafka also uses language effectively to create the correct atmosphere for his narrative. The paragraphs in the novel are incredibly long and laborious and this helps to convey the idea of entrapment that K feels. The speech is within the text and no indentation is made when a person begins to speak. This helps to create the impression of the society obsessed with bureaucracy and often makes the novel difficult and wkward to read, possibly reflecting the issues that K faces when trying to fathom the legal system. The language used in the novel is literal, but effective in describing the surroundings, people and events. The language that Kafka uses challenges the reader throughout the novel whilst still remaining concise and lucid. The prosaic form that is uses contrasts starkly with the abstract, almost absurd subject matter in ‘The Trail’. An extract from Joan Bradshaws’ book, ‘Creating Love’ reads, “I interpret this novel as a symbolic presentation of Kafka’s awareness of the deep inner antagonisms that split his life apart. This would suggest that ‘The Trial’ is a narcissistic piece of narrative disguised as a political parable, but others would argue that function of ‘The Trial’ was a warning in anticipation of a modern totalitarian society. The real beauty of ‘The Trial’ is that it’s true intention is such an enigma that others are encouraged to create alternative interpretations and relate it to today’s society. Albert Camus encapsulated this idea when he wrote, “It is the fate and perhaps the greatness of that work that it offers everything and confirms nothing. “

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Franz Kafka once wrote, "A book must be the axe for the sea beneath us" Essay
Franz Kafka once wrote, "A book must be the axe for the sea beneath us. " This statement is certainly true when related to his novel, 'The Trail' as the novel anticipates a shift towards a totalitarian society and tells a story of a time when the individual is without control of his own destiny and effectively powerless. Despite this, there appears to be an underlying issue within the novel. The story of Joseph K and his arrest seems to have an autobiographical element and relates to Kafka's own
2021-07-12 23:45:18
Franz Kafka once wrote,
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