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The Atmosphere of Mystery in The Trial 

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While researching this novel I came across an excerpt, in which someone who was close to Franz Kafka, had managed to make Kafka mad by referring to Edgar Allen Poe’s work to have been written under the influence of alcohol. This presumably angered Kafka because that would denote all his work to the smallest form rather then for what it is; a gruesome form of mystery. Kafka had then said this about Poe: ‘ (Poe) was a poor devil who had no defenses against the world…. He wrote tales of mystery to make himself at home in the world.’ The way Kafka went out to describe the genre of mystery was by romantasing it in a way. At the very least, Kafka’s view of what the genre of mystery was varied drastically from what the rest of the world believed it to be; something that was very dark and obsessed with punishment. After coming across this quote, it led me to wonder, in what way could and individual believe that this form of writing; mystery, make someone ‘feel at home in the world’? However the mystery components in Kafka’s The Trial add to fundamentally the same environment. They are a piece of Kafka’s conjured up universe, woven into the most recognizable settings. Which not only resonate with Kafka but can make the average reader feel ‘at home’ in a world which is full of crime and unjustifiable crime at that.

In spite of the fact that The Trial was left in an incomplete state, Kafka tries to make up for this by offering a conclusion to the work with an emotional last scene. However even toward the end, Joseph K. is pondering where the justice system was or rather the lack of it’s presence within the arrest case of Joseph K. Throughout the novel despite having the physical manifestation of the justice system in the form of officials missing, it doesn’t hit the audience until the very last scene where K is about to be executed and up until that point he has yet to know where justice and law was. For a book that settled the wrongdoing and caught the criminal at the start, immense questions remain after the story’s end. Present irregularities in the plot and drafts of incomplete parts add to the atmosphere of mystery surrounding the last work, yet these scarcely take away from Kafka’s work as a whole. In the case of The Trial many speculate that Kafka intentionally leaves certain strings loose at the end, and fails to acknowledge some of the questions left up in the air. By looking at this work through the lense of simply mystery, are we in a sense missing the point all together which Kafka has intended to make with The Trial? We have no reason to not believe that Kafka view his novel in such a light.

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In the very beginning of the novel the first scene that the readers are introduced with is when Joseph K. gets up one morning, he is visited by someone who he does not know, and someone who we as the readers dont know as well, who lets him know: ‘You can’t go out, you are under arrest.’ ‘So it appears. In any case, what for.’ ‘We are not authorized to tell you that’ This is the conversation that this man has with our lead, Joseph K. Normally in the genre of mystery the act of punishment, or arrest tends to be a concluding scene. But strangely, The Trial starts off with Joseph supposedly being arrested for a crime. Generic Mystery novels consist of simulating an atmosphere which provokes the readers to wonder who might be the offender or who it is we are looking for throughout the novel. Yet Kafka does the opposite of this in The Trial, by having the so called criminal known from the start of the novel. By having Joseph K. being announced as the ‘criminal’ and having him arrested, Kafka is able to create an atmosphere that challenges our perception of the mystery genre from the get go. But one thing we as the audience, as well as the main character are unsure of is the crime which they have been arrested for. This again is an inversion of how a mystery genre is set up. Usually the crime is what the audience is given to follow and it’s consequences, and towards the end it is finally revealed who or what caused those consequences, and crime. A third major difference we are given between traditional mystery tropes and what we are shown in The Trial is the way the so called criminal reacts to being caught. Traditionally criminals will do their very best to avoid being caught and avoid authority in general. But in the case of The Trail, Joseph K.’s first move is to confront the justice and legal system about his alleged wrongdoings.

As the story progresses many questions arise, yet none of these questions are fitting of a traditional mold set for mystery novels. Who are the people making the charges against Joseph K? What is the proof for his arrest? How will they tell if he is innocent or guilty? A glaring question that is out of the ordinary is seen from the very arrest of Joseph K. Despite allegedly being arrested we don’t see any authority figures take him to jail. So, because of the lack of action we as the audience begin to judge the significance of Joseph K’s very arrest. Kafka does everything conceivable to stress the quotidian characteristics of his story. He adamant on reminding the audience that ‘Joseph K lived in a nation with a lawful constitution’. Kafka puts and emphasis on the fact that despite being ‘arrested’ Joseph K went about mundane tasks as he would if he were not arrested. Joseph still goes to work, he still has interaction with family and friends, all of that has not come to a halt, which one would expect under given circumstances. Despite all of this being seemingly normal, there were aspects within the novel that seemed eery. Much of that coming from the way the law and justice system plays into the novel. Much of the strange factors of this can be seen through the environment and settings in which scenes play out. The very areas where they occur—in an attic, or a ladies room, or a bank— end up creating an atmosphere which audiences are not used to seeing matters of law take place in. By doing this Kafka is able to establish a world in which judgments in law take place within areas which generically crime would take place in. This creates a sort of back drop that is opposite to what readers are used to in the mystery genre.

This gives way to interpreting The Trial, as well as Kafka’s other works with a different perspective then we do with other novels supposedly in the same mystery genre. He takes Mystery to a greater degree. One in which all the traditional aspects of crime and mystery such as arrest, evidence, environment, and punishment not only are sustained in the world of the novel, but also breech into our world of reality. The way the story is presented not only phases the main character, Joseph K, but also us as the readers. Who live in a somewhat parallel world to that of The Trial. We presumably have blind faith in our legal systems, or are told we should. And we expect the justice system to know wrong from right. As is seen in the Trial when Joseph K. is somewhat laid back and acting casual despite being arrested because he has faith the justice system and the courts will know what is right and what is wrong. It is not far fetched to believe after all that Kafka beliefs mystery novels and genre to bleed into the world of reality and make its reader feel as if they have a place in that world, because in the end it is in fact implied that this trial is not only of Joseph K’s but our own.

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