The Trial Themes

The Trial Themes

Original Sin

Josef K. finds himself on trial for committing a crime without being informed of what that crime is. He is found guilty and sentenced to execution. The thematic foundation here is that everyone is born guilty by virtue of the concept of Original Sin and everyone is sentenced to die. That there is no real clear understanding of exactly why everyone should be guilty of the sins of Adam and Eve by anyone at any time underscores the ignorance of Josef of the charges against him.

Identity v. Bureaucracy

Josef K. doesn’t even get the dignity of a full last name. Anyone who has ever tried to battle with any bureaucratic organization that caused trouble by getting them confused with someone else can appreciate the horror of The Trial to a certain degree. The real tragedy of the story is not so much that Josef is doomed to execution, but that well before the verdict he already become submissive to the machine defined by its very absurdism; the mere fact that he submits to jumping through such ridiculous hoops makes his battle against it seem as pointless as the system itself.

Communication and Understanding

Josef K. is also a bureaucrat and he is fully at home in the world of financial number crunching. Outside that world, however, his understanding and ability to communicate breaks down. He literally has trouble communicating with the client speaking in an Italian dialect with which he is unfamiliar. On a more figurative level, he fails to understand the meaning communicated by Titorelli’s painting. The entire novel is a metaphor for the trouble that people get themselves into because their understanding of consequences is misdirected by a failure of communication.

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