Kafka The Metamorphosis And The Trial: Figurative Approaches And Altered Narrative Devices
Considering Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and The Trial in light of the specific techniques used in relation to the theme of time, this essay will look into a number of areas falling under the figurative approaches and altered narrative devices used found in these texts.
The Metamorphosis relates a sequence of events which are directly connected to the transmutation of Gregor into a huge insect into the rising problems of alienation, and emotional destabilisation, until the climax is reached and a better life for Gregor’s family ensues. Equally important, The Trial relates to the question of judgement having Josef K. (K.) trying to regain a sense of control battling the absurd encounters of men cornering him and women driving him to lose sight of things. The Trial which in is called Der Process in German is a never-ending ordeal until the final blow.
Indeed, in both works time is a constant and is imperative in emphasising the human condition explored through the subconscious and capitalistic state, within a thwarted daily life. In fact, they both start with an arrest in their own bedroom, in their private space, as soon as they wake up, the very first thing in the morning. For Gregor it is half-past six, he was trapped in disturbing dreams, yet his train leaves at five in the morning. He woke up late. In The Trial the word arrest is literally used, yet even Gregor finds himself seized by his physical change. They become prisoners, within a confined distorted reality effected by the clock, time and their inability to comprehend. In Orson Welles’ 1962 film The Trial, the alarm clock is prominently placed where it can be heard ominously. The characters’ reality completely changes and their actual delusion becomes their current reality. Kafka extends the metaphor of struggling against time through the characters and situations in the works. The metaphor is used in several parts, and we find it in the authoritarian references to Gregor’s boss, and the corrupt hierarchical law court system in The Trial. It is woven in a way to show the repression of power and the bureaucratic leverage used by a regime that aims to destabilise the working class, with no moral compass.
Notably, the narratives rotate into circumstances which do not improve the characters’ situations and leave them impotent and weak in relation to what is happening to them and around them. These movements can be attested by Kafka’s use of imagery and symbolism. For instance furniture is important for Gregor since it is the last link to a human existence, whereas for K. it signifies intrusion into the individual’s privacy. In addition, the very fact that Gregor and K. had long been cut off from their real selves, and with this imprisonment by external situations, their individuality is hampered. Time is dragged on and whilst Gregor spirals deeper from his inability to worry about his current state to worrying more about his sister’s needs, his commitents and his family living conditions, as a result his sense of belonging withers away. K. like Mersault in Camus’ The Stranger, he lacks stability as he is left leaping from the sexual attraction in Miss Bürstner’s room to the labyrinth-like court premises, to Leni, to his faltering commitments at the bank, and so his temporal rhythm is unsettled. According to Bergson, ‘Time, which is pure duration, is always in the course of flowing,’6 hence Gregor and K. cannot know what is in the future, and are only able to measure it is if it is converted to space and becomes measurable time. Yet the duration of time is experienced and one would have to see how to have access to it. Particularly, in a context where Kafka creates contradictions and a breathlessness (e.g. the court’s stifling air) of deeds which disrupt the normal cadence of a realist story increasing tension. He plays with realism and distorts it.
In fact, this kind of circulatory life expresses time generically such as ‘darkness’ or ‘long evenings’ in the case of The Metamorphosis and the use of diction representing facts in simple words, such as when in The Trial Titorelli states, ‘Well, everything belongs to the court,’7 or ‘I don’t think there’s anyone at all who could do anything to get an absolute acquittal’.8 Hence, we get disturbing narratives, on the one hand a painter who is well-versed in the law whilst showing how alienation is eating into the main characters who become more isolated as time goes by. Gregor is ousted by his family and particularly by his sister, who instead start taking care of the tenants, whilst K. is taken for a ride by Huld and by the Court usher’s wife, for example increasing his anxiety. In both situations they start off with having people who would offer support in absurd ways, yet as the narrative develops they are left grappling with their own unfathomable realities.
In particular, the poignancy in these narratives is also found in the tone, the irony and the linguistic use of diction in the works. The mood and the tone are dismal. Both Gregor and K. are already doomed from the start, and the narrative never pushes towards improving their situation. Their identities are hampered and are no longer of importance, until their death. In fact, similar to how Kafka portrays reality in the narratives – which is no longer as objective and representative to every detail as is usually expected – their identities and their lives through characterisation are interwoven into a linguistic misunderstanding or misinterpretation as if to gain time to suppress their needs. From the reader’s perspective, the latter identifies with an almost arranged frame-up against the characters.
Subsequently, the situational ironies found in the narratives show that despite Gregor’s interest and sacrifices towards his family, once he is a huge insect, he is no longer vital to them, he is no longer needed. They manage after many a year of his taking care of them, to now take care of themselves – his mother sewed, his father looked younger and his sister was academically improving. In K.’s case his devotion to work out how to save himself and to prove his innocence, delivers him right into nothing. In particular, the latter questions the validity of the law and the irrational system in place as well as the power it has over the individual and the power as a state. In fact The Trial exhibits traits of a totalitarian state woven into an everyday familiarity, imbued with improper imagery in the books of the law, creating an uneasy sense of untruth and corruption. Logic is taking him nowhere solid – thriving on postponing. His wanting to obtain information to defend himself, similar to Gregor, was also brought on by the fact that both of them took their immediate situation as given and accepted it as truth from the start. Kafka brings out their paranoia and paralysis similar to that of Hamlet. Their obedience in favour of what they thought was to be accepted as is, destroys their autonomy and end up without self-determination.
In addition, Kafka uses a fragmentary, multi-layered and defamiliarisation approach complimenting the nature of these modern pieces. The language provokes an unfamiliar, emphasised and exaggerated perspective of that which is said and unsaid. Aiding the extension of perpetual presence of arriving nowhere, yet always under the eye of a powerful hand – being God or the priest in Church, being the courts, or being women. The sentences and phrases in the works are not flowery or explicitly descriptive, such as those generally associated with the Romantic, Realistic or Naturalistic movement. Indeed, they are closer to the Expressionist movement similar to works by Edvard Munch or Egon Schiele since there is a focus on interiority contrasting with the external impinging world with the intention to subvert that which is natural or realistic.
Kafka’s characters are dehumanised to reflect their lost ways in a lost context gained by the turbulent use of time and prolongation. Not even religion can suffice to give them some form of reflective truth. Their ordeals are an entrapment enabled by the disappointing ability to make themselves heard and understood in a defamiliarised inescapable environment.