After reading the first sentence, I distrusted the narrator.
Third-person narrators tell the story but are rarely expected to think; express their own ideas and reasoning capabilities. They possess omniscient and omnipresent characteristics but should have no agency to answer conundrums. The narrator of The Trial immediately considers the possible reasons for K’s arrest and informs the reader of his conclusion. This automatically beckons the reader to question whether the narrator is correct in his reasoning. And if the reader questions the narrator’s conclusion, then the possibility of the narrator’s error is all too prevalent. For this I distrust him. No other agency within the narrative hierarchy offers a sense of absolute, trustworthy constancy; as if truth itself unwittingly allowed its own corruption.
After reading the rest of the book, I distrusted Joseph K.
The elements of his story struck me with such a peculiarity that I questioned everything about K’s world. But Joseph K. barely flinched at these oddities. Of course, the case entirely consumed his presence of mind resulting in a blindness to all things irrelevant to himself or his case. He was completely self-indulgent, arrogant and personally destructive. If someone could not help him, they had no value. And he treated those who tried to help him as house servants, condescending and cold. And his Reason, the God of western civilization, defended his behavior. So I did not trust anything about his reality as the narrator only expressed it in terms of K’s existence and because certain elements of that reality would strike any reasonable person as strange, I could not imagine K as reasonable, or sane, despite the narrator’s ability to articulate complex thought processes and court procedures.
Did K suffer from guilt? Was the court, described separately from the traditional legal rights courts and only as a court for “cases like these”, even real or was it imagined? Or was Kafka simply describing a metaphorical court for those who society means to purge? Did the washer woman, the priest, the usher, the painter, etc even exist or were they figments of his imagination? Was Fraulein Burstner the only person who saw K for what he really was?
Another possibility resounds sonorously throughout the story. Is K’s trial his own deranged mental coping with either the imminent presence of his own death, from a terminal illness perhaps, or with the idea of Man’s mortality? Is he simply asking why such an event, outside the bounds of conscious reason, contrary to our experiences of existence, can happen? Why do men deserve death? Why must we meet such an end?
I imagine philosophy students, formal and informal, sparkling with excitement from the uncertainties contrived from this book. Unfortunately, I can only confidently say that The Trial exalts the fragility of the human psyche and giggles at the thought of coupling it with its own potent strength to alter one’s physical outcome simply by manipulating reason and perceptions. Like K, how is the reader to know if they perceive an absolute reality? From a literary perspective, if we can’t trust the narrator, how can we to know a reality of any kind actually exists?
Stylistically, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book so pleasurable and fluid but leads only to lots of questions with no offering of answers. Yet The Trial, as a contribution to literary form, pioneers amazing possibilities!