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Franz Kafka - Ithaca Reads The Trial - A Cornell/Community Collaboration



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"Ithaca Reads The Trial" graphic by Carla DeMello, IRIS Design Team, Cornell University Library.


Cornell Study Questions

Some Suggested Study Questions supplied by Cornell University.

1. Would it be fair to say that Josef K is not only incapable of obtaining justice for himself, he is also incapable of exposing injustice without harming others? What is the terrible implication of the chapter in which the guards are flogged?

2. In the novel, there is a continual undercurrent of the unsavory detritus of urban life in which the administration of justice is inseparably placed. Washerwomen invade committee meetings, halls of justice are situated ha rickety attics of crowded apartment buildings, and justice is administered in "junk rooms" of office buildings. What effects do these placements have on our images of justice? What effects do these placements have on our image of ordinary life?

3. Critics have said that The Trial is an odyssey into our dream life. In what sense do any of the narrative moments ha this story take on the quality of dream or, if you prefer, of nightmare?

4. Much of The Trial narrates Josef K's confrontation with the apparatus of the law, an omnipresent system of the administration of justice in which he stands accused. Certainly this system of justice seems ha violation of elementary standards of fairness. How would you describe the principles of justice that are violated in K's trial?

5. Kafka's story, written before fascist tyrannies changed the shape of the 20th century, is said to be eerily prescient of the failure of democracy that followed. Yet perhaps it narrows the focus of Kafka's remarkable tale to imagine he was wholly preoccupied with the law as a legal system. Some critics suggest that themes of psychological guilt are as important in The Trial as the more overt concern with legal guilt. In what sense may Josef K be said to be oppressed by laws that are not legal, oppressed by guilt that is not about an infraction of state law?

6. The parable of the doorkeeper, told by the priest, feels layered with meaning. Moreover, this parable is Josef K's last revelation, before the brutal ending of his quest for justice. What do you make of this strange story within a story?

7. The Trial is a story of a man being judged by men; yet throughout the tale women make sudden and vivid appearances, often leading to sexual encounters. The priest cautions Josef K to seek less help from women, a caution that Josef K rejects. What do you make of the priest's warning and of the place of sexuality in the narrative?

8. Josef K never faces his accusers or is able to discover the highest court that will judge him. As K only uncovers layer after layer of legal bureaucracy in a maze of urban attics and endless office corridors, some readers suggest it is the character of modernity itself that The Trial evokes. Almost a century has passed since Kafka wrote his story. How apt is this description of the modern?

9. This novel has endured as one of the great literary works of the 20th century. What do you think accounts for its perpetual appeal?

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