The Trial

The Trial Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

The Courthouse (Symbol)

As a symbol of the court's inscrutability, Kafka situates the courthouse in a shabby, ugly, cramped, decrepit and overpopulated tenement building. While court buildings typically assert importance and prestige through architectural details such as high ceilings and marble columns, the court K. attends is confined a dark and dusty attic. This ironic reversal emphasizes the court's inscrutable nature, as K. is unable to locate the central operations of the court or the higher-up officials supposedly in charge.

Bedside Apple (Symbol)

At the beginning of the novel, K. is dismayed when Franz and Willem eat his usual breakfast, but K. is pleased to remember that he put an apple on his nightstand. The apple carries a symbolic resonance with the apple Eve takes from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The apple symbolizes a loss of innocence in the Bible, a concept which has a direct correlation in K.'s life when he eats the apple, as he has just been informed of his arrest and will from then on be presumed guilty by the court.

Totalitarianism (Allegory)

The Trial maybe be viewed as an allegory for totalitarianism. As a system of government, totalitarianism requires citizens to practice total subservience and compliance to the state. The court system that processes K. is totalitarian in its nature, as it too demands that K. and other defendants comply with the court's judgment despite that lack of transparency and inherent illogic of prosecuting a person without disclosing the alleged crime. The totalitarian court maintains power by having its members be more committed to the process than to the results of the process. As long as each person in the hierarchy performs according to his own individual mandate, what happens above or below is inconsequential.

Offers of Help (Motif)

Throughout the novel, K. meets individuals who offer to help him with his case. However, the inscrutable nature of the court system makes it impossible for anyone to be of any real help to K. Mostly, the people he enlists offer to have discussions with low-level officials while they simultaneously insist that it is futile for K. to fight against his trial. The repetition of a potential breakthrough in the case being met with a re-entrenchment of the same attitude toward the court serves to compound K.'s sense of exhaustion and hopelessness.

The Door in "Before the Law" (Symbol)

In the priest's recitation of the parable "Before the Law," the door to the Law symbolizes the futility of existence. At the end of the parable, the man who waits his entire life for entry to the Law learns from the guard that the door was made especially for the man; moreover, the guard is going to shut the gate, barring the man entry even as he dies. Among the many interpretations of the parable that exist, the door can be seen as a symbol of the knowledge of the "law" that rules existence, i.e. the meaning of life. The man expects he will gain access to this knowledge, only to discover that he will never understand his existence by gaining entry through the door, even though the door was created specifically for him.