Comparing Terror in Franz Kafka's The Trial and The Man Who Disappeared

Comparing Terror in Franz Kafka's The Trial and The Man Who Disappeared

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Nature of Terror in Franz Kafka's The Trial and The Man Who Disappeared


"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" (Roosevelt 93). In Franz Kafka's The Trial and The Man Who Disappeared (Amerika), the nature of terror is exposed to the fullest extent. The main characters in both works, Josef K. and Karl Rossmann are both used as pawns in the chess game also known as society. The dramatic impact from the major turn of events would create a tremendous change in both characters. Josef K., who was arrested for no apparent reason would have his life totally dominated by the judicial system. The road that Josef K. is forced to journey on became a one-way street and he was never able to turn back. Karl Rossmann, who was also used as a scapegoat, was sent off to America for something that was not his fault. Because he was new to the country, people immediately took advantage of him and treated him as an outcast of society. The so-called "American Dream" that Karl often heard about became only an illusion. The terrifying situations that Josef K. and Karl have to go through brought the best and worse of the characters but most often weaknesses and flaws in the character are exposed. The nature of terror is based on reactions from human instinct and often cannot be controlled by mind or thought.

Fear is a part of our being that exists in our mind. "It was fear that first made gods in the world" (Statius 94). No matter what Josef K. tried to do, the fate of his case had already been decided. The judicial system had taken a chokehold on Josef K. and he was never able to get out of it. Josef K. tried his best to fight off the case because that was what his instincts inclined him to do. However, to no avail, Josef K. is killed at the end. The arrest under no accusation caused Josef K. to fight back in anyway he could because the thought of being defeated and put away for no reason was an act of injustice. "Judgement does not come suddenly; the proceedings gradually merge into the judgement" (164). Unfortunately, the final judgement is death, the dead end of the one-way street. For Karl Rossmann, going to America was a big change. He had to adapt to the new way of life and be accepted by others and that unfortunately did not happen.

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The struggle for power and inner strength for Karl is quite evident throughout the novel. No matter what he tried to do, everyone and everything would go against him. "He is fired and goes to get his things, only to be confronted by a livid Head Porter, who tries to beat him up, since he is sure Karl's a thief" (130). Whenever Karl thought his life had turned around, the situation would get worse for him. The way society had turned against him made doing anything a constant struggle. Fortunately, Karl escaped his misery by getting a job in Oklahoma but what the audience does not know is whether or not the job was just another scam or not.

"Civilization is a progress from an indefinite, incoherent homogeneity toward a definite, coherent heterogeneity" (Spencer 38). When trying to be successful, signs of weakness are considered setbacks. Being strong means having the attitude of toughness and feeling protected. Unfortunately, when one is fearful of the situation, the steps that are taken may often be the wrong steps which might cause a major fall. Josef K. put all his trust into Dr. Huld to help him fight off the case. Unfortunately, no progress was ever made while angered Josef K. because of the way Dr. Huld was handling the case. One of the major reasons why Josef K. may have stuck with Dr. Huld longer than he would have was because Huld's mistress Leni constantly lured him into sexual activity. Josef K. would often be sidetracked and have little escapades with the woman. The feeling of pleasure and lust was only a dead end and a temptation that would cost Josef K. his life. Karl's future depended on his Uncle Jacob because he was a rich man in America and would show Karl the way. Karl felt protected when he moved in with his Uncle but what Karl did not know is that his Uncle was only a selfish man looking out for himself. Karl's world is turned upside down when his Uncle kicked him out of the house. The feeling of being protected did not exist anymore and the unusual circumstances led Karl to follow the wrong crowd. Delamarche and Robinson immediately saw signs of weakness in Karl and they took advantage of Karl in many parts of the story. Not knowing what to do and distraught, Karl did not fight back. The only escape was going to Oklahoma.

When one is in fear and distraught, actions that are taken and the way of thinking are often negative. Josef K. would never see the light at the end of the tunnel because his vision was blurred by the judicial system. His control of his own life was non-existent but instead, it was in the hands of the court. Thinking that the arrest was only a joke, Josef K. went along with it only to find he had gotten himself into a big mud hole. "He protests some, demanding to see their boss, at first thinking must be a joke perpetrated on him by some people at the Bank, where he works as a chief clerk" (10). Feeling the shock from the men storming into his apartment to arrest him, human instinct would have questioned the seriousness of the men and that is why Josef K. thought it was all a big joke. Karl also had his fair share of escapades, showing that he was afraid of being alone in a foreign country. Karl did not have control of his life from the get go and he is never able to get a grasp of it until the very end. The embarrassing jobs he had to take only showed his frame of mind and his way of thinking. Thinking that he was an outcast of society, Karl degraded himself because he thought he was nothing better than the jobs he had taken. The fear that instills Karl and Josef K. has hindered the frame of mind.

"The thing that numbs the heart is this:/ That men cannot devise/ Some scheme of life to banish fear/ That lurks in most men's eyes" (Hall 93). Josef K. and Karl Rossmann were scapegoats and were often pounced on by others. The uncontrollable situations they were put into led to their uncompromising actions and thoughts. Weaknesses were seen and others saw that as their chance to get a piece of the pie. Fear had hindered all visions and the one-way street was only a path to a slow downfall. Resistance was futile and the hole got deeper and deeper. When the situation looked brimmed, things would be too good to be true and turn into more negativity. The nature of terror certainly can be very hideous and like a monster, waiting to devouring their prey.
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