Like K himself, we find ourselves looking for clues in every utterance, every expository sentence that moves the narrative onward. Looking for an out or a loophole in the dream logic that will allow Josef K to somehow triumph and exit the maze. But after a while, you just know that irrespective of K’s attitude and actions, he is utterly powerless, and that any initiative he takes will not affect the ultimate outcome. That he tacitly acknowledges the legitimacy of the process, submitting to its inscrutable working out, only makes us fear the worst for him. Polite, respectful subservience to the iron boot of cruelty being a typical psychological ploy of the oppressed and desperate, who hope thereby to receive leniency. Laugh or cry, take your pick. From Stalin’s accused in their thousands who confessed in the dock to non-existent crimes and earned themselves 25 years in the gulags, to the Python parody of the tortured prisoner in the dungeon who so admires his captors, “Lovely people, the Romans.” When the ingenu does stand up for himself, he earns censure of a greater severity from those who judge him.
The spell of Kafka’s storytelling (and it would not work without the beauty of his prose) lies in eliciting our empathy for an antihero whom we root for, even as we know that to think in terms of a rational resolution is to commit the same error as the hapless K. In The Trial, as elsewhere in Kafka’s writings, there is a tragicomic element to citizen K’s attempts to stand on his dignity or manage situations, not excluding sexual stumblings that show up his naivety.
Kafka’s protagonists share the paradoxical delusion of the western mind which insists on searching the labyrinths of the intellect for a solution that is not of the intellect. Seeking to still thought by thinking, with Josef K we are drawn ever further in, and that way perdition lies.