“The Trial”, a novel written by Franz Kafka, has been considered to be one of the greatest novels of the 20th century. However, it has also been greatly controversial, and has gone from being burned, to being praised since its publication. Throughout The Trial, Kafka had created a surrealistic atmosphere, which is not only evident by the events in the book, but also by the characters. Particularly, the women in the novel are peculiar, and have various bizarre effects on the protagonist, Joseph K. The characterization of these women is quite complex, and varies from them having insignificant, to significant roles.
As the novel progresses, the women in the novel become increasingly important. In the beginning of “The Trial”, we are introduced to women such as Frau Grubach, who has an insignificant role in his trial, to Elsa, to Fraulein Bustner, to the washer woman, and finally Leni, who has significant information involving his trial. However, even though these women all have some humane characteristics, they also all seem to be quite surreal.
In the very beginning of the novel, the landlady, Frau Grubach is introduced. K. mentions her in the first paragraph when he is describing her, and his breakfast’s absence. We are told that Frau Grubach regards K. highly, and he is her favorite border, however she seems to lack interest, and avoids involvement with K.’s case, reacting in ways that make K. think to himself “She seems to think it not quite right that I should mention it. All the more need for me to do so. I could not mention it to anyone but this old woman.” This not only reveals that K. believes she is acting awkwardly when he mentions the arrest, but it also reveals K.’s need for support, and how he could not have mentioned it to anyone else at the time.
It is also evident that Frau Grubach cares about K., and that she is on his side, but seems to think it unnecessary for her to know a lot about the trial, even if “it is a matter of your happiness, and I really have that at heart, more perhaps than I should, for I am only your landlady”. This shows that even though she cares, she knows her position, and tries not to cross the line of having K. be nothing more to him than a border.
Subsequently in the novel, we are introduced to Elsa, who works as a waitress in a wine restaurant. He mentions her when contemplating about whether or not to visit her that night or not. It is quite clear that they are on good terms; otherwise he would not go to visit her so late in the night. However, she is not mentioned further in the book, so it is likely that she and K. are just having a sexual relationship. This is a possibility because of her absence throughout K.’s trial, thus making the reader believe she is not important to him, yet they are also friendly enough for him to pay her visits late at night.
The following woman present in the book is Fraulein Burstner. Fraulein Bustner is a resident at the same house. K. was earlier told by Frau Grubach that Fraulein Bustner comes home late at nights, and that she has seen her with various men. This is an indication that she has something more than a friendship with these men. As Fraulein Grubach described, “…she should have more pride, should keep herself more to herself. This very month I have met her twice already on outlying streets, and each time with a different gentlemen.” When K. was told this, he had a “sudden fury”, which warns her not to speak this way about Fraulein Bustner again. This shows that K. has a certain liking to Fraulein Bustner, and that he regards her quite highly.
When K. waits for Fraulein Bustner to come back, it is late and she is tired, but she insists on talking with her. However, their conversation loses its confidentiality, when it is obvious that the neighbor is listening in. In order to calm her down, K. kissed her in order to avoid her from losing control, and waking up the other neighbors. K. eventually is forced to leave, when she becomes uneasy with the fact that he is in her room. This is very strange, because it seems as if she is more uneasy about the fact that he is in the room, rather than the fact that he kissed her. This is surely a factor as to why she does not seem real.
The next woman K. has involvement with, is the washerwoman in the court, who is married to the Court Ushers. This washerwoman gets on K. very angry during his first day in trial, due to a commotion by her and a student having physical contact with each other in the middle of his speech. This makes him furious, and so when he sees her again the following Sunday, he does not take any interest in her, until she makes a move on him. However, she is taken away once again by the following student, and he has his way with her. This is surely surreal, due to the fact that no woman would tolerate having a man have his way with her so easily and publicly if she were married. It is definitely absurd, and the fact that she believes it isn’t bad, by exclaiming “Let him alone! Oh please, let him alone!” when K. tries to save her, makes her even more absurd.
“I’ll go with you wherever you like, you can do with me what you please, I’ll be if I can only get out of here for a long time, and I wish it could be forever.” When the washerwoman says this, it is evident to K. that she is easy access for opening another sexual relationship, and is furious when he is deprived of it by another man. This also shows that she is peculiar due to the fact that she has a husband, and doesn’t even regard the bond to have any meaningfulness.
The following woman we are introduced to is the lawyers nurse, Leni. She sets up a plan in order to lure K. out from having a conversation with the lawyer, in order for her to have her way with him. She confesses what she planned, and then they get physically involved. This is extremely strange, because they hadn’t even met formally, but she had already wanted something from K. A woman of that time would have most likely not have been so open to sexual acts, especially in her masters own house. This is totally unreal, however Kafka seems to have a method of writing, which makes this all seem quite normal at the time of reading. Furthermore, it is not customary for a woman at that time to give a man she barely knows a key to her masters house. It is extremely out-of-the-ordinary.
In a patriarchal society such as the one they live in at the time, would certainly not tolerate such acts. It is as if K. is using these women in order to forget about his trial, and so it does not take over his life. However, he does not involve himself with women in high society, and just uses them as material possessions rather than people, which do not require high social status in order for his lust to be fulfilled. However, as the book progresses, the women he is involved with are more involved with the case. For example, the washerwoman and Leni have information about the case, as opposed to Fraulein Bustner or Elsa. Thus, in the end, he does benefit from these sexual relationships; however he could have probably tried to find better methods for receiving information.
They all have surreal roles throughout the novel, and are in conclusion not like real people. All five women he is involved with during the trial are peculiar, and are only involved with him so he can receive information or a sense of serenity within the course of the trial. All of the women except for Frau Grubach are thought of as having sexual activity with him, and are flirtatious. They have no opinions, feelings, or thoughts on K.’s current situation; they seem more like objects, than real people.
Courtney from Study Moose
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