The Role Guilt Plays in Franz Kafka's The Trial Essay

The Role Guilt Plays in Franz Kafka's The Trial Essay

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What is guilt? Is Josef K. guilty? What is he guilty of? All of these questions come to mind when you read The Trial by Franz Kafka, but they are not easily answered. The question of guilt is a theme that runs through the entire novel, and it serves to enlighten the reader as to what, I believe, Kafka is trying to say. So what is Kafka trying to say? If one looks at the opening sentence, in the light of the rest of the novel, I believe that it helps to clue us into Kafka's message. The fact that K. believes he has not done "anything truly wrong" (3) harkens back to the question of guilt. So because K. feels he is not fully guilty of anything, why is he hounded by the law? This is where the main theme of the book comes into play in my opinion. Kafka wants us to recognize, with the help of the opening sentence, that K. has done something wrong: he has lived an unexamined life dominated by routine, normalcy, and other people. This is what K. is guilty of.

Is living an unexamined life "truly wrong?" I think that Kafka is arguing that it is wrong because by leading that type of life one is merely walking through life blind and not reaching our full potential. The first inkling of the fact that K. lives his life with blinders on, focused merely on the day to day, is his lack of recognition about a number of things. He does not know if he might have committed some minor infraction for which he is now being arrested. He does not realize that the guards are men that work at the bank with him. Later on his way to the court for the first time he makes the realization that he noticed something he normally would not have. All these things point to the fact that K. just goes about his business and day to day affairs with out care for his su...


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...comes quite evident. Kafka is calling for all of humanity to stand up and take control of their own lives. Through self-examination, Kafka believes, that we can come to terms with some personal truth that gives this life meaning. For years people have looked to worldly and spiritual vehicles to find meaning, Kafka is urging that we instead turn inside to within and find something in our own humanity that gives this life meaning. Much like Goethe, Kafka believes our free will is what makes us human, and the exercise of free will is what makes or lives truly meaningful. So, do not rely on the whims of the governing or even the church; make your own decisions. Kafka urges to decide every day how you are going to live your life and then do it because you never know when the Day of Judgment may come.

Works Cited
Kafka, Franz. The Trial. New York: Schocken Books, 1998.

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