Essay Confronting Guilt In Franz Kafka’s The Trial

Essay Confronting Guilt In Franz Kafka’s The Trial

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In Franz Kafka’s The Trial, Josef K. is guilty; his crime is that he does not accept his own humanity. This crime is not obvious throughout the novel, but rather becomes gradually and implicitly apparent to the reader. Again and again, despite his own doubts and various shortcomings, K. denies his guilt, which is, in essence, to deny his very humanity. It is for this crime that the Law seeks him, for if he would only accept the guilt inherent in being human (and, by so doing, his humanity itself), both he and the Law could move on.
Ironically, this is in part both an existential and Christian interpretation of The Trial. The idea that to be human is to be guilty arises from both Christian and existential ideology. The Christian concept stems from a Biblical interpretation that essentially states: When Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge and fell from innocence, his sin was subsequently inherited by all of mankind from the moment they were born. This is called Original Sin, and the Christian belief is that the only way humans are redeemed from this sin and avoid Hell is, firstly, through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice of Himself and, secondly, through the adoption of Christ’s teachings. The Original Sin doctrine is important in The Trial because the story takes place in an increasingly Christian nationalist Germany, in which the prevalent Christian ideology permeated, at least on a subconscious level, nearly every aspect of everyday life and society. The idea that every human was born with Original Sin would have undoubtedly influenced K.’s and the Law’s perception of guilt in relation to his trial. K. himself even notes the ability of the court to “[pull] some profound guilt from somewhere where there was originally none at a...


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... reason the engagement should not work out happily when resumed. But, like K., though he thought he was aware of and owned up to his own faults, he was still convicted for his denial and the engagement was again broken off.
The Trial is Kafka’s exploration of the most extreme consequences of denying one’s own guilt and thus one’s own humanity. In some senses, it serves as a warning, or a sort of parable of its own, and in others it is simply an expression of anguish. The story serves to warn against thinking so highly of oneself that we only interpret infractions of the outright law as guilt. If we are to be truly innocent and humble beings, we must recognize our own innate guilt as human and accept it. If we do not, we will constantly be obsessed by our “state of apparent acquittals."

Kafka, Franz. The Trial. Trans. Breon Mitchell. New York: Schocken, 1998.

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