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Comparing Franz Kafka with a more modern author, such as J.K. Rowling, is much like comparing Wilt Chamberlain to Kobe Bryant. It is extremely difficult to compare these two NBA stars when they played sixty years apart from one another. There are so many factors to consider including: the quality of coaching, competition, etc. Just like Chamberlain and Bryant, Kafka and any modern author are very difficult to put against one another. Kafka comes from a place and a situation that is foreign to almost everyone who reads him. How can he be compared to anyone but himself? Who is it that determines if Kafka is great or not? Even in basketball, there are statistics (points, rebounds, blocks) that can be compared, but in writing the only thing that can be compared is sales. Going by that, J.K. Rowling is in a league of her own compared to Kafka. The point that I am trying to make is that you as the reader can be the only determinant of this greatness. Yes; schools and universities do make you read the novel but the only person that can decide if it is truly a masterpiece is yourself. This essay will try to explain my opinion of why I think Franz Kafka, and more specifically The Trial, is something that has been taught and analyzed for over fifty years.
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One of the most unique aspects of this novel is that the audience is left with a huge amount of questions open for debate. I found this style by Kafka confusing and frustrating while reading because it’s something that I’m not used to. However, looking back on The Trial, I feel like that confusion has not totally disappeared but the frustration has turned into a kind of admiration. From the start, Kafka made me question if K. was truly innocent. For some reason (possibly the way he treats women) there is a lingering question if Joseph K. actually did something wrong that deserves judicial action. I think it takes extreme talent to write something that will have readers argue over so frequently in the novel. Another example of this is when K. discovers “the Whipper” whipping two men in the lumber room of the bank. K. feels terrible because his complaints are what they are getting punished for. At first I was shocked when I read this. Then, the questions poured out. “What is happening?” “Why would Kafka ever include this?” “Is this foreshadowing K.’s eventual punishment?” These were just some of the questions that were whizzing around in my head. I believe that all of these “WTF” moments at times make you wonder how crazy of a person Kafka was in real-life. However, I also think that these moments add something special to the book that is unique to Kafka.
Something that also impressed me about this book was that Joseph K.’s situation and story is similar to many recent Hollywood movie plots in the last ten years. “The Truman Show”, starring Jim Carey, is a movie about the main character coming to the realization that the world as he knew it is full of actors and actresses all based around a television show about his life. Joseph K.’s life resembles the life of the main character in the movie. Both are trapped in a place, clueless of what and why things are happening around them. However, unlike Joseph K., Jim Carey’s character eventually escapes this fake world and achieves freedom from the fake world he was literally born into. A more recent movie that can also be compared to The Trial is the box office hit “Shooter.” The movie is based around Mark Wahlberg’s character getting framed for an assassination attempt on the president and the murder of the archbishop of Ethiopia. The U.S. government that originally employed him for the job turned on him creating a nationwide manhunt. If we assume that K. is actually innocent as it says in the very first page of the book, then he is being set-up by the government just like Wahlberg’s character is in “Shooter.” However, a big difference between the two is that Joseph K.’s life is not immediately threatened nor does K. take any sort of initiative to prove his own innocence until the last third of the book. I believe these comparisons between modern Hollywood and Kafka gives some insight into why people praise Kafka’s writing. It shows that his work can be compared on different levels with different mediums.
Possibly the reason why Kafka is so popular is his strange use of law, or the lack thereof in The Trial. Joseph K. lives in a world that apparently has a distorted sense of law and order. There is no disputing that there is some type of law in K.’s world because the fact that K. is accused and taken to “court” shows some type of judicial system. However, the type of law that Joseph K. is surrounded by is foreign by most modern judicial systems. If I were to be arrested tomorrow, it is my constitutional right to have a speedy and public trial. Joseph K. was given a trial that was not exactly speedy and hardly public. K.’s trial took place in a private apartment hidden away in a building while his series of trials lasted a year up until his death. In America, it is also a law that if you are charged or arrested for a crime that you must be told what that crime is. Joseph K. was never told what he was being charged for, not even before he was executed. Kafka places Joseph K. is a world where law is obsolete and disorder thrives.
Franz Kafka is truly one of the strangest and most abstract literary artists that I have ever read. I think that is why so many scholars and intellectuals place Kafka in the category of one of the greatest modern writers. Does he deserve the hype? I believe so.