Students at Shimer College will only read primary source books like The Trial
So poignant that it helped coin the term “Kafkaesque,” The Trial is a haunting story about a man who is charged for a crime he isn’t aware of and never committed, while the authorities charging him remain mysterious. The term, Kafkaesque, describes an unfortunate situation filled with imminent danger and oppression, themes Franz Kafka wound into many of his stories.
At Shimer College our philosophy is built on exposing students to the primary texts of writers, so in our classroom walls you will find no textbooks, only primary accounts of story and history. Among those many texts, students will discover Franz Kafka’s The Trial.
Interested in the tragic and twisted story of The Trial and the works that it has inspired—even years after its author’s death? Read on.
The Trial’s Story and Making: From Franz Kafka to Students in Great Books College
The Trial tells the story of a man named Josef K. who is arrested by two unidentified agents on a typical and routine morning. The story accounts his struggles with an untouchable group of authorities using ambiguous laws to charge him for a crime he hasn’t committed.
Although Kafka wanted to have his writing burned upon his death, his best friend at the time denied his wishes and went on to publish his work. Several years later, Kafka’s impressive novels became acclaimed hits and he is now considered an influential contributor to 20th century storytelling. The Trial is now even included in great books college curriculums at colleges like Shimer.
The Trial Provided Great Books Foundations for Orson Welles’ Film Adaption
After reading The Trial it’s easy to recognize how the storyline’s unusual but eerie essence of realism would make for a captivating film. Throughout the decade it has inspired several filmmakers—among them Orson Welles. In 1962, he both wrote and directed a screenplay adaptation of The Trial. Proud of his adaption, Welles stated that "The Trial is the best film I have ever made." This claim was backed up by critics, with Roger Ebert calling it a masterpiece and praising the film for its scenic design and cinematography.
The Trial’s Parable “Before the Law” Inspired Scorsese
As you delve into Kakfa’s work during your great book studies, you’ll discover The Trial’s story within a story, the parable Before the Law. Before the Law outlines the tale of a man trying to access the law through an open doorway. A guard prevents him from entering the door, and out of pure desperation the man resorts to bribing the guard to no avail. Only upon his death does the man learn the door didn’t lead to an all-encompassing law, but instead to a law only meant for him.
Scorsese identified with the story Before the Law, saying it reflected the frustrations he experienced during the production process of his film The Last Temptation of the Christ. Inspired by Kafka’s work, Scorsese used Before the Law as inspiration for his 1985 film After Hours, which includes a scene where the protagonist desperately tries to enter a nightclub.
How The Trial Provided the Great Books Foundations for Harold Pinter
The Trial has also inspired the works of late playwright Harold Pinter. Not only did Pinter write a screenplay adaptation of The Trial, but he also used elements of Kafka’s work to inspire his own original plays.
For example, critics often say that Pinter’s play Moonlight, which was originally staged in 1993, contains many notable references to The Trial, such as in the line “moonlight at the end of the trial.”
The play focuses on the idea of mortality, using moonlight as a metaphor. A moonlit night is neither light nor dark; it is a suspension between the two, like the limbo between life and death. Many critics believe Pinter’s play Moonlight can be interpreted as the end of the metaphoric “trial” of life, as the protagonist of the story is suspended in a place between life and death. They even note that this suspended state is similar to how Josef K., the protagonist in Kafka’s The Trial, was suspended between the real law and invisible law.
Are you interested in reading The Trial and other works during great books studies?
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