KAFKA HAWTHORNE AND COETZEE

The protagonist of Kafka’s The Trial, Josef K, and the protagonist of Coetzee’s book share a lot in common, even if the latter book is more political than anything by Kafka. These issues, and the full power of Kafka’s The Trial, will be explored in this paper. Many might suggest that Kafka’s work has no fore-bearers and that it appeared fully formed. There is sense in this suggestion. The period and place in which his books and stories were written were historically unique. The First World War had demolished many naive beliefs about the world and the rapid industrialization of the modern world was creating difficult conditions for many people. World War II and the destruction of European Jewry lurked on the horizon. The sense of dread in Kafka’s work seemed in some way to have the power of a fortuneteller. It is truly terrifying. It is almost as if Kafka knew what was awaiting the world. If he had lived, he too may have perished in the Holocaust. Nevertheless, there were works of literature before Kafka that in someways suggest his work. One of these is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s the Scarlet Letter. In this famous novel, Hester Prynne is branded with a scarlett A, after committing adultery. She is ostracized from her community and refuses to publicly identify the father of the child that is then illegitimately born. The community has turned against her. She is removed from the community by the force of the institutions that protect public morals. This is similar to Kafka’s The Trial, but the most important distinction to be made, however, is what each authors’ real subject is. Hawthorne’s target is society’s hypocrisy and its willingness to ostracize essentially good people. But however much we may dislike the methods of the town people and their treatment of Hester Prynne, we nevertheless recognize their cruelty and hypocrisy as deeply human. We are familiar with the human hypocrisy which these people represent. Additionally, we might even understand that adultery would be a big problem in a small town in New England during that period. The treatment of Hester may be over the top, but perhaps she did deserve some sort of censure. Kafka’s work, however, is very different. There is little to be understood about the forces arrayed against his various protagonists. These forces are not really human, they seem to not even be living. In the Trial, Josef K. is accused of an unspecified crime which he did not commit. Although the institution that tries him appears to be human, it is clear that it is instead a monstrous machine at work, slowly seeking to crush him. There can be no appeal to passion or humanity, as in the Scarlet Letter. Josef K. is trapped by forces that do not feel. At first, he feels like if he just explains himself to the court they will understand: He had often wondered whether it might not be a good idea to work out a written defence and hand it in to the court. It would contain a short description of his life and explain why he had acted the way he had at each event that was in any way important, whether he now considered he had acted well or ill, and his reasons for each. There was no doubt of the advantages a written defence of this sort would have over relying on the lawyer, who was anyway without his