The Stasis of Spaces in Kafka’s Trial

[Introductory note: this is a very old paper. It strikes me now as immensely callow in voice and construction, yet I don’t find it too embarrassing. I think this is because Kafka is very receptive to the sort of motivic analysis that I perform here, so I had a wide margin for error. So even if the conclusion and narrative are reductive, the links are still meaningful. My mistake was in trying to draw too definite a theme from them. It could just as easily have been called “The Fluidity of Spaces,” but “The Stasis of Spaces” just sounds so much better and reminded me of Georges Perec’s Species of Spaces (that would be Espèces d’espaces in the original French). I’ve resisted the temptation to make stylistic edits, so please enjoy some juvenilia. I remember, more than anything, really enjoying writing it, and maybe that redeems its faults for me now.]

The Door that Always Stands Open

In Franz Kafka’s The Trial, K. makes his way through a labyrinthine and chaotic city in dealing with his case. He is continually entering and exiting doors, going through passageways, and passing through antechambers. The ubiquitous presence of doorways is immediate and constant. Yet the doors in The Trial do not function as normal doorways; the spaces that they separate are not entirely separate. In the course of the novel, Kafka dissolves the clear delineation between the two sides of the door, and creates instead a space within the door, which is central to the entire narrative of The Trial, both in relation to the spaces of the city, and in relation to time.

In a nearly physical example of this dissolution, a door virtually disintegrates as young girls mount an attack on it, in the “Painter” section. Titorelli remarks that the girls have “had a key made for my door, and they lend it round” (144), already hurting the door’s function to keep people on one side of it. The row of girls becomes a constant force against the door. They “see into the room through the cracks in the door” (148) as they crowd around the keyhole, and they then breach the door with their words. They breach the door physically, by thrusting “a blade of straw through a crack between the planks and . . . moving it slowly up and down” (150). The painter even remarks that “the air comes in everywhere through the chinks [in the door]” (155). When the girls are once more “crowding to peer through the cracks and view the spectacle” (156), the door seems hardly there, not functioning as a physical boundary. Yet K. cannot cross it himself, as he futilely tugs at the handle of the door, “which the girls, as he could tell from the resistance, were hanging on to from outside” (162). Instead, he must take the exit to the Law Court offices. What is hardly a boundary for the girls is all too solid for him.

In the above passage, the door becomes a very tangible boundary for K., even though the girls seem to be able to penetrate it with ease. K.’s case will be examined in more depth, but even in this situation, the role of the door is difficult to completely understand. In The Trial, K. finds himself in situations where the distinction between one side of the door and the other becomes very hazy. Without this distinction, K. can neither enter nor exit. The door will cease to function as a gateway and instead will trap K, as the painter’s door does. Unable to exit, he instead takes the route through the Law Offices, ending up nonetheless back where he began. Through doors, K. embarks on a forward progression to nowhere, where both sides of the door may indeed be the same.

The opening scene presents K. with seemingly total freedom. After the warder Willem tells K. to stay put in his room, he considers that “If he were to open the door of the next room or even the door leading to the hall, perhaps the two of them would not dare to hinder him” (7). He soon finds out from the inspector that he is free to go about his business and can still lead his regular life. His freedom to exit his room is useless, however, because he will remain in the same “space” as he is in from the beginning of the novel, and he will not escape it, except possibly through death. Leaving through the doorway of his room will make no difference. His situation, however, will become more clear, as Kafka develops it throughout the novel.

[Very clear, or so I thought at the time. Look at all the stuff I’m about to quote below.]

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