The ridiculous, detached worlds Franz Kafka invented in his writings have disturbed generations of readers in profound and incomprehensible ways.
And though many critics have belittled his work as the record of a neurotic’s tortured inner life, the milieu Kafka manufactured has come to illustrate twentieth-century man’s turmoil, alienation, and dread.
By demolishing the assumptions of our commonplace, trivial mode of experiencing, Kafka exposed the unintelligible chaos that renders human enterprise absurd. Throughout Kafka’s writings are disheartening images that disseminate his terrifying perception of things; consider this: “The hunting dogs are playing in the courtyard,” Kafka writes in The Trial, “but the hare will not escape them, no matter how fast it may be flying already through the woods.”
Such is the life of man.
In its entirety, The Trial is a metaphor of human existence. Joseph K. is John Doe, arrested one day for reasons that are never coherent. When he tries to obtain information about his case, he finds only impasse, inconsistencies, and enigma. Eventually he is exhausted and finally overwhelmed by a convoluted court bureaucracy, gives up trying to exonerate his name, and capitulate himself to his situation, supposing that perhaps he was guilty, after all.
Late one evening, Joseph K. is taken to an abandoned place by two court flunkies, who, in the moonlight, plunge a butcher’s knife into his heart and “turned twice.”
In a letter to his friend, Max Brod, Kafka asked that all evidence of his existence be totally annihilated:
Everything I leave behind me (in my bookcase, linen-cupboard, & my desk both at home & in the office, or anywhere else where anything may have gone to & meets your eye), in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters, (my own & others’), sketches, & so on, to be burned unread; also all writings & sketches which you or others may possess; & ask for those others for them in my name. Letters which they do not want to hand over to you, they should at least promise faithfully to burn themselves.