Literary Lessons: What I learned from the axe-wielding murderer, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov

The End

In a recent post, I reviewed Graham Green’s The End of the Affair, which I added to my list of “profoundly impacting novels“. A commenter on this post, one Peter Galen Massey, remarked my inclination toward rather, uhm, “unstable” characters. One such character is Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Dostoevsky’s 1866 novel, Crime and Punishment. This got me thinking—navel gazing, of course, of which I am want to do while whistling away at work—and my thoughts lingered first on why am I attracted to these more reckless characters? and, furthermore, what does this reveal about my own character?

Once I came to the conclusion that I don’t revere Raskolnikov for his axe-wielding abilities, I set out to undertake an explanation as to why nearly every other year I come back to such a large and engrossing novel, such as Crime and Punishment. But to explain this phenomenon, I have to quickly summarize C & P. Alright, here it goes.

The novel is a reverse crime novel, i.e. we know who dunnit. In fact, we are privy to the murderer’s thoughts and actions both before and after the deed is done. There are six parts of the novel, and the first part is the murder. The rest is how Raskolnikov atones for this murder. Along the way there are some amazingly beautiful characters (including the Marmeladov family—who were actually the basis for the original novel of C & P, entitled The Drunkards—, Raskolnikov’s buddy Dmitri Razumikhin, and Porfiry Petrovich, to name just a few). Raskolnikov is a poor law student, and happens to follow a bit of Nihlism that is popping up around St. Petersburg at the time—Russian Nihlism, German Nihlism‘s uglier, angrier, and drunker sibling. Raskolnikov murders a pawn broker, Alyona Ivanovna, whom he has convinced himself, after hearing a conversation in a bar, is worthless and that the world would be better without her in it.

The first portion is Rodya not only plotting the murder, but convincing himself that it is okay. Now, here’s where the book becomes something more than just a run-of-the-mill, mystery-thriller-dime-store-novel stuff. CSI does this stuff to death, right? (excuse the pun): someone is murdered, and they have to find not only the killer, but his/her motive as well. Well, here’s the deal with Dostoevsky: we get to actually watch and imagine Rodya justifying murder—an act no normal individual can reasonably justify. Yes, murders are everywhere. Go ahead, turn on CNN, I’ll wait… but being inside the thoughts of someone who is convincing himself that murder is permissible is absolutely insane. It is raw, ugly existentialism.

Stuttgart StrasseSo, what I learned from Raskolnikov is that one must justify ones actions to two sets of peoples. First there is yourself. You simply must justify yourself each and every day you exist. And most of you, and me, have a preexisting justification for our daily lives. For example, why we eat bacon, why we wear jeans, why we take 10 minute showers, etc. The next set of peoples are the society in which you live. There are laws, both subtle and pronounced, for which each of is responsible for the sake of a peaceful existence. Such as, Thou shalt not steal, murder, worship false idols, and stopping at red lights, paying taxes for wars we protest, pirating music, etc. The weird (and beautiful) part is that both of these conditional clauses are dependent upon environment. In example, let’s say, in Germany, jaywalking is a huge no-no, but it is mostly enforced by social conditions. Whereas in New York, jaywalking is a part of the environment and one can and will justify their right to jaywalk with the proverbial, “Hey! I’m walkin’ here!” This response would not fly in Deutschland.

What is unique about Raskolnikov is that he overcame the most important person who kept telling him no: himself. Once he overcame that… well, that’s only the first part.

The rest of the novel is whether this “overcoming of self” is justifiable within societal norms, laws, and customs. Spoiler alert: it’s not. Rodya confesses in a populated square in the middle of St. Petersburg after an interesting scene where Sonya Marmeladov reads the story of Lazarus to him. And another scene where he confesses to the police, but they don’t believe him! (Ugh, that is a tough one to read). It should be no surprise that Christianity is impetus for Raskolnikov’s confession. It is personal guilt that eventually overcomes him, and guilt is the driving force behind Roman Catholicism, not to mention Christianity as a whole. Suffering is purposeful and personal for Raskolnikov. But atonement is not only personal, it is societal—which is why his confession is performed in a public square. Raskolnikov has overcome personal guilt to become this übermensch, or so at least he thinks (what is ultimately played out in C & P, is that the übermensch is an impossibility, if not a strict rarity, because of civilized norms).

The point is that all of this, all of this life, needs justification. It needs, nay requires, a reason. Not just breaking the law, but adhering to it as well. And it is not only oneself that one must reason into submission, it is also you and everyone reading this blog. And everyone driving on the road. And everyone on the subway staring into their new iPhone 5s. Furthermore, it is extremely difficult to explain to people that each of us justifies our lives and actions in some way, shape, or form. Most people do NOT want to hear that their actions are conditional responses based upon profound and unfathomably numerous cultural signals and cues. Most people want to hear that each and every time they do something, it is a result of a choice. A rational choice plucked from the blooming flower of infallible logic. But that was Dostoevsky’s point! He thought that man was irrational! Such was the basis for existentialism. In fact, Notes from the Underground, Dostoevsky’s 1864 novella, is a philosophical response in favor of irrationality against Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s 1863 novel, What is to be Done?

Boston CrowdI read Crime and Punishment and understand millionaires. I understand their wanting more. I understand crooked criminals. I understand the bribers and the bribed. I understand the takers and the givers, the makers and the destroyers. Because each and every one of them has justified their existence and their actions. Whether it be purchasing sliced bread or a new bed, each and every single one of us justifies our actions so that we can sleep at night—with full stomachs and on soft sheets.

I hope that I am not misunderstood in this post. And I hope that we can all learn something “good” from Raskolnikov. What we should learn is that we are all here for one another. No one exists alone. Not even Raskolnikov, not even the übermensch, not even the genius or the tyrant, the hero or the villain, the thief or the prosecutor. We are all responsible for the well being of one another. So, thank you for my well being, dear readers. I am truly thankful for yours.

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The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene

The End of the AffairThe End of the Affair by Graham Greene

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There have been two novels I have read over the past decade that have significantly impacted my life. The first was Fyodor Dostoyevsky‘s Crime and Punishment, and the second was Jack Kerouac‘s On the Road. These two novels affected me more than many of the people I have met in my life because they, in the case of Dostoevsky, illuminated a grand and immeasurable philosophical quandary, or, in the case of Kerouac, identified a lasting inspiration within me. Now, I add Graham Greene‘s The End of the Affair to that list of profoundly impacting novels.

And for now, a ‘why’ is in order.

I was searching for this novel. And, perhaps, I’d like to think, it was searching for me. In that regard, I was looking for something to solve a mystery in my life; to, perhaps, better explain my feelings than I was able. And I drew it near me. To be clear: I was searching for a way to explain the end of a personal affair. I was searching for a work of art to explain an emotion that I could not yet apprehend due to broken ties across an ocean, and this novel did more than explain. It inspired.

The opening lines took me by surprise: “A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead” (7). This line expresses a notion that I had been considering for some time, after I decidedly picked up Friedrich Nietzsche and read his words: “There is no such thing as moral phenomena, but only a moral interpretation of phenomena”. Greene echoes this in literary form, and thus begins a much more writerly text than I first supposed.

What I mean by writerly (a term used by Roland Barthes)is that Greene is not providing mere entertainment. One can feel his working of the novel’s breadth before him. The fact that the narrator injects musings on his daily writing habits and his nagging inability to bring to life a character or two, inform the reader that he or she is reading a book by an author. Also these notions hint to the reader that these characters may or may not be fictional, and that there is a thin line dividing the realm of fiction and fact when one relies on one’s “chosen” memories and “moral” interpretations. A writerly text seeks to elucidate this discrepancy. Writerly is Literature for writers, with writers in mind who want to demystify the artifice that is superficial entertainment. Writerly announces that this is Literature, this is a story you are reading, I am an author and a narrator, which is one reason why I often found this text so inspiring.

All stories are constructed to help us get through the day. To help us live. To help us wake up and go to work. To help us get through an emotion. This is the inevitable notion forever stimulating Art and Literature. Great Art is supposed to be cathartic. It is supposed to help you construct a social understanding when the your limited social world cannot aid you. There was no person, no friend, no relative, to empathize with me at the end of my affair (I use the term purposefully, even though there was no love triangle). What Art does is it gives you time to ruminate on a moment. Art provides a space for you to take the time to construct your personal empathetic understanding, when all life wants you to do is shut up and move on. Wake up. Get over it. Although, inevitably, it helps you do just that.

I can’t imagine this review does Greene’s novel justice. Inevitably, I waxed philosophical during my review and omitted much of the content of the novel, which is what initially forged my personal connection to it. Well, such is life. It is a novel I will be reading again soon with a pencil by my side to underline passages and quotations. And, so I hope it is one that I will revisit and possibly review again. After all, the most justice I think I can do for this novel is to mimic it, and with that, secure it the highest compliment of all.

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Daisy Miller, by Henry James

Daisy Miller (Penguin Popular Classics)Daisy Miller by Henry James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Flirting is a purely American custom; it doesn’t exist here” (69).

I thoroughly enjoyed Henry James’ novella. My previous exposure to James’ work was through The Bostonians, another text that I enjoyed, and I was not at all hesitant to pick up this quick read from my gf’s bookshelf.

I won’t summarize the length of the story, but will remark that it concerns a rich, American family traveling through Switzerland and Italy—sans Father, which should, psychoanalytically, speak for the uncouth behavior of the protagonist, Miss Daisy Miller. What I most enjoyed were the brief witticisms used by James to depict Miss Miller, and, thus, this uniquely American behavior of flirtation and childish, light of air quality of person. While Daisy often refers to the narrator, Mr. Winterbourne, as “stiff,” he is, up until the end, mystified by Daisy’ and while regarding her as “uncultured” he is absolutely fascinated by her ‘devil-may-care’ attitude. It is for Mr. Winterbourne her very, to borrow the phrase, The Unbearable Lightness of Being that makes her so attractive.

As an American who frequents month long visits to Germany, and is in a relationship with a European, I can understand this relation quite well. It still rings true today, albeit often in far more vulgar behavior, that Americans are, well, “childish” (in a positive light) and “uncultured” (in a negative light). And, from this American’s perspective, the adjective “stiff” used by Daisy Miller could not more resemble the truth when regarding the European standard of behavior (68). (No offense to all those good, up-standing Europeans eating  with their tines down; or those hearty Germans organizing party games in order to coerce socialization out of their fellow “stiff” citizens.)

This little novella also spoke to the romance of Rome. After having lived in Rome for some six months, albeit over ten years ago, the propensity for Italian men to both attract and relentlessly court American girls has survived these 100 years. In other words, the myth of Giovanelli and Miss Daisy Miller is still alive for the American girl studying abroad. I recall many a fond night sitting on the Spanish Steps watching helpless, young, blonde American girls attract flocks of Italian men & boys—but it is unfair to pronounce them helpless, no?

So, yes, as you might have guessed, I sympathize with Miss Miller’s behavior—even her obstinate hold upon her cultural norms. And I think the greatest revelation of her and many—although they may not want to admit it—American characters & personages is contained in the following exclamation: “‘That’s all I want — a little fuss!’ and the young girl began to laugh again” (38).
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Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

Sense and SensibilitySense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Ugh, what a dreadfully boring novel. Now that I’ve written that bold statement, allow me to continue.

This is my third Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice and Emma being the first two novels many years ago, and I trudged through the last 50 pages of Sense and Sensibility. So, I’ll begin at that point of the exegesis with a spoiler: after the elder Dashwood sisters retreat to Cleveland estate before going home to Barton Cottage, Marianne becomes deathly ill, and Austen writes in five chapters what could have been written in two sentences. (I can hear the drum of Philistinism being beaten outside my door at this very moment!). I do realize the point of a novel is to do just that: explain in five chapters what could have been rendered the same in two sentences, but it is painfully obvious with this novel, and, perhaps, with Austen in general. But more on that later…

For the plot: this portion of the novel is always my least favorite of Austen’s and the “comedy of errors” genre—save for William Shakespeare. Specifically the portion of the plot where there is a lulling dramatic moment to induce fervent sympathy and regard for the romantic character, e.g. Marianne’s sickness. It is then that a character or characters is given the ability—through some turn of events, e.g. John Willoughby’s surprising nocturnal arrival—to explain their previous actions and thus redeem themselves. For sure this is a hackneyed, yet sincere, way to create well-rounded, believable characters; but it does not follow for my reading.

Austen is heavy, at least in Sense and Sensibility, with deus ex machina; which, when rendered absurd, is entertainable, but when used and treated as exegesis and a sincere moral motive for a character feels completely false due to its conspicuous nature. In other words, when used within the realm of realism, the deus ex machina appears out of place; discordant with my expectations as a reader. If other character absurdities and plot oddities are present, then the machina seems natural; but when used as a device to surprise the reader—again, e.g., Willoughby’s nocturnal arrival, or even Colonel Brandon’s  announcing in London against Marianne’s expectations (Chapter XXVII), which is nearly entirely forgivable as a plot device—it seems unnatural.

As per a discussion that followed the reading of this novel, I made the all too obvious sexist remark that Austen’s writing is noticeably feminine. I even hated to make the remark due its cliché nature, but it had to be done. (I backtracked and stated that women rave about Austen the way men rave about Hemingway.) So, why is this remark true for me? Why is it even a cliché, i.e. an oft-repeated cultural observation? This interests me a great deal. I think it is rightly attributed to the very nature of the elongated exegesis, and the way Austen can pinpoint emotions. Austen’s use of emotions is sacrosanct. Her study of human character and human folly in general is immaculate; and here it seems as though I am contradicting myself, but I am not.

I will argue here that her precision of human emotion does not oft-align with the necessary absurd plot intervention of the comedy of errors. The gossiping Mrs. Jennings, the Palmer’s, the Steele’s, these characters are gorgeous; but the comedy of errors requires them, not the sincerity of Colonel Brandon, Edward Ferrars, or even Miss Elinor Dashwood. I was informed that Austen’s early novels revolve around this comedy of errors plot device, which is easy enough to notice in the three novels I have read, but that a later novel of hers, like Mansfield Park, is much richer; and lacks the deus ex machina of the “comedy of errors” genre.

Finally, we watched the 1995 film of Sense and Sensibility, and I must add that I thoroughly enjoyed each character. Perhaps it is my own sensibility that is lacking, but I prefer a comedy on stage or on film, and a tragedy, history, historo-tragedy, etc. in solitude. I even enjoyed the stuttering ineptitude of, ugh, the ineffectual Hugh Grant as Edward Ferrars. Alan Rickman, “Snape, Snape, Severus Snape…“, as Colonel Brandon is phenomenal in his solemn love of Marianne; and Emma Thompson is wonderful in her quiet expressions as Elinor Dashwood.

I do not quite think I am done with Jane Austen, or does my critique of Sense and Sensibility keep me from reading her other novels. But, I think I shall approach her under new auspices. One that seeks her writing instead of picking a novel up at random—for that was my position for this reading.

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Ham on Rye, by Charles Bukowski

Ham on RyeHam on Rye by Charles Bukowski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is something about reading a novel within 48 hours: you fully inhabit another person’s life for a very brief period of time. It is also quite intense. 200 pages in one afternoon. That is often intense. But this seems to be the way I approach Charles Bukowski’s writing. The last of his stories that I read, and my first, was Hot Water Music. I found it on a shelf while working at a hostel in Rome, Italy over ten years ago; and I read it within 48 hours. This is not to note that I couldn’t put it down; oh no, I put it down. A few times, in fact. But I picked the book back up soon after it hit the floor.

Bukowski’s writing possesses a strange allure for me. I can’t quite decide what it is that attracts me to his writing, but I do know that my liking is only for a brief period. And while I do not think one should imbibe too much Bukowski—it is like being drunk on 150-proof misanthrope—a little from time to time is good. He creates well-reasoned and well-observed notions about America’s class system. And there is not a fear about his masculinity. I like that. I think that particular trait of an author or protagonist is hard to find in our postmodern writing.

Many of our (American) male authors find it difficult to write about sex, love, or basic attraction from a patriarchal, masculine, what-have-you standpoint. It is an understandable fear. But it seems that one must smoke Marlboro’s, possess numerous acne scars, and have an abusive childhood in order to make such patriarchal observations. Without these boorishly virile traits in an author, quite often, reading a male protagonist’s coming of age novel that does not include allusions to a burgeoning interest in masturbation in all its illusions, fears and fantasies is false at its very core.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not incredibly interested in reading about Holden Caulfield‘s discovery of his erect penis, but after reading Bukowski, all those existential fantasies Caulfield imagines seem so false and pretentious. But, again, too much of either seems dangerous to me.

There is a lot of hate in this novel. And this is why I strongly recommend not reading a lot of Bukowski’s work. Too much of that can turn one’s outlook. I only write that because of something unique in Bukowski’s writing: I do not feel any pity for his protagonist, Henry Chinaski. And that profoundly bemuses me. Why is that? He is beaten severely—of which we are given great detail. He is ostracized by all his classmates and on a daily basis is forced to fight or be beaten. He is beaten at home, in school, by the kids, by the teachers; his friends are beaten at home, in school, etc. and yet, I end up feeling very little sympathy for him. Is it because it is not real enough? I don’t think so. I think because it is too real. And mostly because the reader gets the feeling that Chinaski (and Bukowski, if I may extend myself) doesn’t need or want your sympathy.

So then, why write?

I think it is because Bukowski is so unflinchingly honest in his writing—even in his fiction, even in his lies. Maybe because that is where he can finally tell an honest story in an audaciously bold and benevolently destructive manner. And people listen to him. Maybe that is the only place people do listen to him. Yeah, maybe.

I always picture Bukowski as the guy at the end of the bar whose loud and lewd stories possess grit, danger, and a bit of magic; only, you don’t want to get to close to him because you are afraid you could smell the years of whiskey on his breath and in his sweat. The difficult part is that you will never be him, but you want to be that tough, that gritty, that courageous, that ballsy. And the other difficult part is that you hate him for being that way in the first place; for surviving that punishing life for so long.

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Tom SawyerThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is my sincere declaration that Tom Sawyer, if he were to be found in our modern age, would be diagnosed with ADHD. He would be given pills and treatment to correct his behavior. It is for this reason that I state: Tom Sawyer does not exist in our culture; we have cured him.

As Marx adroitly asks in his work, The Grundrisse, “is Achilles possible with powder and lead? Or the Illiad with the printing press…?” (The Marx-Engels Reader 246). The answer is a resounding, No. So then, neither is Tom Sawyer possible in our modern age. His behavior is erratic. The boy cannot concentrate in either church or school—Chapter V is completely devoted to a singular church distraction: a beetle, or “pinch bug”! Tom constantly misbehaves, much to the torment of his tenacious Aunt Polly, and runs away whenever he has the chance. Tom also has a terrible work ethic—consider the infamous whitewashing chapter. He even fakes his own death! It is obvious from this example that Tom cares little for the concern of others; or, in other words, he lacks sympathy, empathy, and is unfeeling and uncaring.

“Now wait,” you may say, “Tom does some great things!” Agreed. Tom exhibits what I would like to consider as a “CEO quality”. Tom is what we often refer to as a natural born leader: he is persuasive, adventurous, opportunistic, and intrepid. And he also possesses integrity—consider the moment in school when he “lies” about the tear in the headmaster’s book to protect his love interest, Becky Thatcher. But, I contend that Tom Sawyer would never have the opportunity to perform these acts and thus redeem himself. Our culture would only highlight the bad—the misbehavior, the disobedience, the fidgeting, the inability to focus—and ignore any opportunity that Tom may happen upon to use these natural qualities to better himself and his community.

This is an obvious exaggeration, and Tom is obviously a fictional character; so, my argument is an odd one. Mostly because Tom Sawyer is, admittedly by Mark Twain, an amalgam of boys he knew and stories he either partook in or heard from someone—although he does account them all as true in the Preface. What I mean to state is that Tom Sawyer cannot occur as a fictional character in our modern era; there isn’t room for him. He is no longer an adequate representation that reflects our youth; again: we have cured him of his fidgeting, his restlessness, his distractions. Any character created on Tom Sawyer is created against Tom Sawyer; he is created both in his absence and his shadow. If a wayward youth arises in our fictional arsenal he is indebted to Tom Sawyer, but he is not him.

This is not nostalgia. As Marx rhetorically states: we can only create characters that reflect our epoch. So to read Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer is to read about a time in our nation’s history where values were considerably altered. We should not want to harken back those times any more than we are able. But texts like these should serve as a reminder; no, not to the “better, more simpler times” [blaah], but to a time when our lives presented different values, morals, challenges, and opportunities for children and adults alike. To consider that some of the same opportunities and challenges in Twain’s world could occur in ours is far-fetched due to a great deal of modernity; but on the other hand, the reason this text are still read, printed, mass-produced, anthologized, and remembered is because we come so close to reflecting Twain’s world. Tom Sawyer should tell us as much about us as he does about himself.

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The Trial, by Franz Kafka

The TrialThe Trial by Franz Kafka

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While I don’t think my opinion of Franz Kafka’s The Trial is unique, I think it offers a different approach then the traditional “man vs. modernity” synopsis. Let me be clear: I think this struggle is a prominent feature of Kafka’s work, and it is meant to be noticed by the reader; but, for me, the event of Josef K.’s trial is far too fantastic to be a theatrical polemic against the coarse, lifelessness of bureaucracy. I think Kafka trickier than that.

My analysis begins here: I do not think that Josef K. is in direct conflict with a bureaucracy or those who represent the bureaucracy (the thugs, the judges, the lawyers, etc.). What I mean to state is that Josef K. has invented his trial. It is not real.

While I usually refrain from a Psychoanalytic approach to texts, my reading of The Trial begins with that this thought: Josef K. is dreaming. (Phew, now I can commence a more sensible, e.g. Marxist, reading of the text). Josef K. is an overworked, overstressed, unappreciated, undersexed, lonely, and paranoid CFO. His shadows in life are Dostevsky’s Underground Man (Notes from Underground), Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin (The Overcoat), and more recently, Tyler Durden—not to mention many others that I do not have at hand.

The first time I recognized the dreaming was during the second of two shrieks that K. hears during his court proceedings. The second is on page 71. Kafka writes:

“K. was now approached by a guard, who could be recognized chiefly by a saber whose scabbard, to judge by its color, was made of aluminum. K. was amazed by this and even reached out toward it.”.

While the shrieks are not odd as an event, their peculiarity is derived from their abruptness and seemingly unnecessary nature. In the first, we never find out what happens to the screaming man; in fact, most everyone at the trial ignores the couple as though it never occurred. For the latter, the guard leaves with an intent to examine the scream himself. What caught my attention was K.’s motion to grab the saber. What an odd detail. And it is only with curiosity that K. attempts this maneuver. He does not wish to escape or attack the guard; he is like a child exploring every oddity he encounters. He is a man grasping for meaning; for reality; like a pinch for the dreaming man who discovers the guard’s scabbard is aluminum, only then to suddenly wake up.

Now, once I had made a decision to venture down this “dream” path, I noticed it everywhere. For instance, in the beginning of the chapter featuring the Painter. It begins, “K. was sitting in his office, already thoroughly fatigued in spite of the early hour” (111). It is my contention that K. often falls asleep and dreams these fanciful events. The visit to the Painter is surreal: the heat, the paranoia concerning his jacket, and finally the escape through the rabbit hole just above the Painter’s bed that, of course, leads to the court halls. Or in the chapter with Block, the Merchant. Kafka writes: “This resolution drained K. of a great deal of energy… he worked at unusually slow pace, stayed late at the office” (166). And again, in the chapter featuring the Flogger, Kafka takes note that K. is “almost the last to leave [the office] that night;” indicating that K. may have fallen asleep and dreams the absolutely absurd scene featuring Franz and Willem (80). And of course, “the next day… he had difficulty concentrating on his work, and in order to finish up he had to stay at the office slightly longer then he had the day before” (86). K. is almost disappointed that Franz and Willem are not being flogged that night as well, and in a rage makes his assistants clean out the junk room.

Each chapter of The Trial could exist on its own. There is very little narrative continuation between the chapters, i.e. the characters appear and disappear just as easily and are rarely mentioned again, and the plot does not require any cohesiveness. They are episodic and farcical; as a man trying to piece together a dream in an attempt to make sense of it all. But this dreamlike state does not erase the “man vs. modernity” aspect. All it does is make it an indirect conflict. It is not K., the physical character of the novel who is overworked and paranoid, it is his dream that confronts the bureaucracy—mainly because K.’s position does not allow him freedom to confront it. He is it. He is at the top of the bureaucratic food chain (so to speak), and he knows there is absolutely NO way out. The trial is his invention. It is his psychosomatic illusion wrestling with his position and his responsibility as CFO. The trial is his way out.

Lastly, I have to add that the priest’s story of the doorkeeper is perhaps one of my favorite moments of this text. There is so much to draw from it as an allegory or metaphor. And the literary criticism of a text within a text is an astounding feat for any author. Not to mention that it is positioned as the initial conception of the Law. I think it is K. that waits at the metaphorical door. He does not realize he is free, which is exactly why he believes that the doorman deceives the man; because K. believes he has been deceived by the grandiose promise of life, steady employment, trust in the system, etc., and now that he has ascended to his coveted position any chance to be truly free is over. After all, “Worker bees can leave. / Even drones can fly away. / The queen is their slave” (Durden).

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