Kafka: Gender, Class, and Race in the Letters and Fictions

By Elizabeth Boa | Go to book overview

7
The Decaying Law Discourses of Gender, Class, and Race in The Trial

Kafka began writing The Trial immediately following the breaking off of his engagement with Felice Bauer and its writing coincided with the beginning of the First World War, but there is little sign of the larger public context, and clues to the private trauma are hermetic. Connections with family relations are remoter than in The Judgment or The Metamorphosis: the father has shrunk to an uncle; the son has moved out into bachelor's lodgings; an undeveloped fragment apart, maternal functions have been transferred to a landlady; the sister has dwindled to an offstage cousin. Nor do literary models provide any simple key. The subtle travesty of the crime story, reminiscent of Dostoevsky, blocks identification, whether with the forces of law against the criminal or with the outlaw against injustice, as we oscillate between judging Josef K., judging his judges, and losing faith in all basis of judgement.1 Increasingly unable to identify with K.'s moral and emotional responses, we are largely limited to his perceptions and knowledge. Although the reader can see, as K. does not, how his mixed aggression and servility parallel the behaviour of others, both in the ordinary world of the lodging-house, the bank, or the slums and in the precincts of the court, such blurring between the psychic, the social, and the metaphysical corresponds to generic blurring between fantasy, realism, and symbolism so that the reader is left uncertain of how to read. This is the first issue I want to address.

____________________
1
William Dodd, Kafka: Der Prozefβ, Glasgow Introductory Guides to German Literature, 8 ( Glasgow, 1991), 33-45, lucidly surveys these issues.

-181-

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