2024/06/12 - 20:46

The Nature of Man and Joseph K.

Taylor Klingensmith

The true nature of every last soul that inhabits Earth lends itself to one overriding theme, that of reproduction and insuring the survival of the human species. This can in no way be denied, as people’s own biochemistry forces them to desire sex and accept a certain responsibility for fulfilling the obligation of creating yet another generation of people to pursue these same goals. Joseph K. falls prey to this inevitable obligation despite the most certainly unique aspects surrounding his life as a whole, and he seems to take to this obligation with a zeal few rarely express. His outstanding circumstances in Franz Kafka’s The Trail fail to restrict Joseph K. in the slightest from being a sexually active person thanks to some abstract attraction all women apparently feel compelled to experience toward him. However, Joseph K. not only utilizes this attraction women feel toward to satisfy his sexual desires, but also makes a keen use of his abilities to attain information and other such convenient things from those he can. This leads one to an issue that remains central to the character of Joseph K. throughout the entire novel, the fact that he uses every woman he comes into contact with in order to further his own ambitions and needs in some fashion, perhaps even to the point of abusing the women in several forms. Yet Joseph K. does not hold the slightest sense of remorse for his actions, acknowledging them, "’I recruit women helpers', he thought, almost amazed 'first Fraulein Burstner, then the court usher's wife, and now this little nurse who seems to have an inexplicable desire for me’"(Kafka 107), but failing to alter his dealings with these women in the slightest way.

In order for one to completely and fully comprehend Joseph K.’s nature of intimacy, human desire and eroticism, one must first grasp the never ceasing theme of servitude and bondage that runs rampant through the subtext of Kafka’s novel. The persistent images depicted by Kafka and the consistent treatment of women by Joseph K. as inferior beings that need to be manipulated to be of any real use demonstrates the theme of bondage in the classic master and slave sense. "Without this undercurrent of power and servitude, it is impossible to pin down Joseph K.'s apparent need or desire to become involved (whether intimately or socially) with women such as Fraulein Burstner, Fraulein Grubach, Leni, and the washwoman at the Court" (Stout 1). The reader sees the nature of Joseph K. to be almost evil in his attempt to accomplish his goals with the constant use of means that undermine the women he is involved with. Also, one should take note of the fact that the entirety of the novel takes place within a rather dream like fantasy, without which the fetish nature of Joseph K. could never come full circle. "The works of Franz Kafka are like dreams in their mixture of fantasy and realism"(Kaiser 147).

The first relationship of Joseph K. that the reader witnesses belongs to Fraulein Grubach, his landlady. Although the two have apparently never been involved with one another in any intimate sense, the fact remains that they both hold an extremely high regard for one another’s person and act as though they share a bond unique to two individuals exceptionally comfortable in the presence of each other. This automatically leads the reader to infer that Joseph K. has inhabited his bland room in the boarding house for quite some time if he was able to develop a relationship such as this with a person who’s profession is typically characterized as relentlessly greedy and indifferent to their tenants difficulties in life. However, despite the stereotype, Fraulein Grubach appears to the reader as a rather industrious and reliable person. The reader also should get the idea that Fraulein Grubach feels affection for Joseph K. in a sense that maybe hard to explain in terms of landlady and tenant. "He could visit her anytime, he was her best and dearest boarder, as he well knew" (Kafka 5). Later in the novel, the reader discovers the true nature of their unique relationship and why they share some of the things they do when Joseph K. tells Fraulein Burstner "she's beholden to me since she's borrowed a large sum from me" (Kafka 21). This newfound layer of complexity takes away from the initial conversation in which it appears that Fraulein Grubach is simply a sweet and caring landlady who wishes for Joseph K.’s happiness and manages to add a dynamic that throws off the reader’s previous impressions.

The new impressions reflect the theme of master and slave as Fraulein Grubach now appears weaker and much more dependant upon her "master" solely for the fact that she has managed to incur what must be a large amount of debt from Joseph K. All through the remainder of the novel Fraulein Grubach has no other option than to faithfully serve Joseph K. during any and every proceeding he experiences with the court and even after accepting his retribution for certain actions she commits. Joseph K. reveals something about his nature as well, that he has an utter lack of concern for the feelings of Fraulein Grubach. This indifference to how he forces someone to feel causes a strange reversal in the role of how one typically in visions the relationship practiced by a landlady and her tenant and cause the reader to feel slightly distant from Joseph K. as a person. A prime example for Joseph K.’s indifference toward Fraulein Grubach can be found when verbally lashes out and demeans her due to the fact that she mentioned a few negative attributes that belong to Fraulein Burstner. "This punisher role that K. takes on is stated on page 26 when K. ‘thought for a moment of punishing Frau Grubach by talking Fraulein Burstner into joining him in giving notice’" (Stout 3). Thusly Joseph K. evidently does not feel the need to physically punish Fraulein Grubach, for it would appear he has enough problems with the law, however he does not hesitate to punish Fraulein Grubach in a conniving fashion. Within the novel, Joseph K. continually plays little mind games with those he feels superior to, just as the master feels superior to his servant, Fraulein Grubach.

Quite naturally, Joseph K. appears to have a slight problem in his nature concerning a superiority complex that may or may not be warranted. This part of his personality is unfortunately a rather large part of him, and when he enters the presence of a person he deems to be on a lower level than himself he acts rather standoffish and refined in a sense that he believes he can conquer them in every single way feasible to man. Joseph K.’s interaction with Fraulein Grubach helps to prove this point, as he does not take note of how his actions are being received and, to the reader, it may look as though Joseph K. has no concern as to the outcome of his perhaps overblown actions and statements. For the remainder of the novel, Fraulein Grubach fades to the background and does not function within the primary plot, rather moving to a position in which she becomes less likeable. This transformation occurs not only within the mind of the reader, but also with the mind o Joseph K. as well. She becomes less attractive to him in many aspects despite the fact that she still functions as a go between for information as she knows all the happenings, the ins and outs of the boarding house. Again, toward the end of the novel after Fraulein Grubach becomes accused of spreading malevolent information about Joseph K. to the authorities and he has not spoken to her for several days, the reader once again sees that Joseph K. still holds his master position over his servant despite her lessening role in the plot. After Joseph K. begins speaking to her once more her immediate reaction is to break down into tears and say "...you don't know how I've suffered the last few days! That I would slander my boarders! And you thought, Herr K.!" (Kafka 236). Also, the reader again gets to witness Joseph K.’s indifference as he plainly asks her to end the foolish crying while he pays absolutely not the slightest amount of attention toward the poor struggling woman and thinks of another topic entirely. Fraulein Grubach comes across as deplorable and a slight bit too obsessive at this point. Her character evolves from the beginning of the novel to its current state in a way "that causes her to become alienated"(Klingensmith 4) from the reader and Joseph K.

The one person that Joseph K. will not allow himself to be alienated from happens to be Fraulein Burstner. The reasons for this give the impression of being rather difficult to pin point, but she is the only woman in the novel that Joseph K. gives any serious thought toward. Based upon this, at times the reader finds Joseph K. not to be the master of this relationship, instead Fraulein Burstner manages to use her abilities to satisfy Joseph K.’s natural desires to her advantage. However, since Joseph K. only appears to be interested in taking things from women, one must accept that all he is doing is taking as much as possible from Fraulein Burstner. The things with which he indulges himself that Fraulein Burstner provides are undeniably the purely physical attraction he feels toward her as well as her ability to take his mind away from the proceedings of the court. These purposes for spending time with Fraulein Burstner coincide especially close to the reasons that Joseph K. also gives from Leni. However, he treats them both in terribly different fashions. Kafka’s language when describing and introducing Fraulein Burstner is much different than when he ever discusses Leni for the fact that he divulges into the appearance and physical movements of Fraulein Burstner in a much more sexual way than can ever be seen with Leni. "And, even though it may seem trivial, when Frl. Burstner is first introduced she appears seductive in small ways "Fraulein Burstner softly invited him again into her room""(Stout 4). The only character throughout the entire novel to be described as doing something softly is Fraulein Burstner, and when something is done softly it can often be assumed to be done in a fashion that is very seductive and fascinating in a way to arouse someone sexually. "Also, "she crossed her legs lightly", thus giving the impression of Frl. Burstner being sexy and inviting, yet pushing away K.'s advances"(Stout 4). As previously stated, Fraulein Burstner controls Joseph K. in a way that no other woman could hope to accomplish which shows just exactly why Joseph K. finds Fraulein Burstner to be so undeniable. Later in the novel, Joseph K. proves that he too, like any man, feels the need to succumb to his primitive mind from time to time as he attacks Fraulein Burstner with an uncommon zeal in his passion toward her. "'I'm coming' said K., rushed out, seized her, kissed her on the mouth, then all over her face, like a thirsty animal lapping at a spring it has found at last"(Kafka 187). The feral and Neanderthal like way in which Kafka portrays the scene yet again shows to the reader that Fraulein Burstner’s presence sends Joseph K. into a state where he becomes the servant, although his needs are continually satisfied. So too does the reader find that Joseph K. must only desire to be pleased in a sexual manner from Fraulein Burstner, as Kafka fails to mention anything save Joseph K.’s stark desire to make love to Fraulein Burstner. But upon further reading, one discovers that Joseph K. could potentially have other benefits arrive from his relationship with his devotee, who is as much enthralled to him as he is to her. Fortunately for Joseph K., Fraulein Burstner lets him know that she will soon be starting a profession in which she works for a law firm and that she will be able to provide him with legal help in his dealings with the court. Naturally, the question of whether or not Joseph stays in contact with Fraulein Burstner after he has experienced his sexual gratification is simply so that he may have access to this free legal advice arises. Despite all of this though, the true extent to which Joseph K. actually cares for Fraulein Burstner remains exceedingly difficult to ascertain from everything.

Perhaps the woman who sheds the most light onto the life and nature of Joseph K. as they pertain to women is the elusive but provocative Elsa. Definitely one of the more anonymous characters within the novel, as she only has a small number of appearances as compared to the women previously discussed, she nevertheless proves essential in demonstrating a simple truth about the protagonist. Joseph K. has yet to have any individual with whom he experiences the need to be with them for any extended period or amount of time, and because of this the reader never has the opportunity to view Joseph K. with any romantic interest, a girlfriend per say. Instead the reader only watches Joseph K. go through a series of women with whom he feels utterly devoid of any adoration toward as they only serve simple purposes, and when that purpose is complete and the use for the woman is absolved, he just as simply forgets the woman and leaves her where she stands. One acquires the feeling that every woman Joseph K. has ever been involved with has come to him, and that he lives by a rule of sorts in which he refuses to chase women, preferring her to flock to him. With Elsa, this rule of his life shatters as he uncharacteristically goes after her. In the few instances where the reader meets Elsa, one should infer that she works the nights as a bartender and that she works the days as a prostitute, being of course that she only chooses to receive visitors in bed. Once again, one comes into contact with an individual whom Joseph K. exploits in order to satisfy a singular need, and in this case that need is his natural desire to reproduce. The master and slave concept arises yet again, shortly after Joseph K. has his mild altercation with the bandy legged student. "Pictured how funny it would be, for example, to see this miserable student, this puffed-up child, this bandy-legged, bearded fellow, kneeling at Elsa's bedside, clutching his hands and begging for mercy"(Kafka 143). The reader becomes aware of Elsa as the master in the fantasy relationship above, and thusly one can assume that Elsa happens to be the master in her relationship with Joseph K. as well, despite the fact that she resembles Fraulein Grubach in several ways. This comparison becomes most notable in the fact that both women take money from Joseph K., but fulfill different services of two very different natures, which accounts for the discrepancy in the master and slave relationship. With his encounters with Fraulein Grubach, Joseph K. deals with a woman he views as less than himself, someone he believes himself to be superior too, and the same remains true with Elsa, whom Joseph K. still views as certainly lower than himself due to the nature of her work. The discrepancy of who rules in the master and slave relationship shows something more than a little peculiar about Joseph K. Possibly due to the fact that he so very often feels superior to nearly every other person, Joseph K. needs to have a place where he can let go of control and allow himself to be the sufferer. His escape from constant superiority occurs in bed, for in such a private matter only two parties have evidence that Joseph K. really prefers to play the role of servant in sex, as opposed to the master role he chooses to play through the rest of his life. Joseph K. has a need to be, sexually speaking, submissive. Further proof of this asks to be found in the obvious fact the only occasions in which Joseph K. has the urge to experience Elsa are those in which he also surrounds himself with people to whom he believes himself to be superior too. Perhaps this little insight into Joseph K.’s nature allows one to see further into his relationship with Fraulein Burstner as well, for he only uses her in the sexual sense until later in the novel and the reader finds that Joseph K. fails to establish himself as master of his bond with Fraulein Burstner. Only women who provide Joseph K. with pure sexual ecstasy function as master, as "he treats women who are already at his service with something to offer him without a care, as if he could easily do without them (Leni, Frl. Grubach, the court usher's wife, and even Frl. Montag, although K. is repulsed by her physical appearance and demeanor)"(Stout 7).

Upon first meeting Joseph K., Leni immediately sacrifices herself to his service in nearly every fashion, even with her very own husband in the room; Leni would appear to select Joseph K. over her husband in nearly every fashion as well. Despite this desire and effort to help, Kafka throws little in the way of characterizing her motives to the reader, and thusly Leni remains a rather difficult figure to pin down in her tireless quest to please her new master. In always, both physically and mentally, Leni resembles an adolescent. From the description of her facial features as "…a round doll-like face, her pale cheeks and chin forming a circle completed by her temples and forehead"(Kafka 46) to the way in which she attempts to garner Joseph K.’s attention by destroying a plate against a wall in such a manner as to alert any and all who happen to be near by, the reader understands that in the regard of Leni, Joseph K. is dealing with someone exceedingly below himself. Even Leni’s motives for wishing to be around Joseph K. are remarkably child-like in their simplicity and physical nature, for one could easily say that Leni heaves herself at Joseph K. for no other reason than he is a defendant and Leni finds herself attracted to all defendants. Thus, the reader sees Leni not only as child like in her motives, but also in how she attempts to satisfy no one but herself. Leni’s character proves to be not entirely useless to Joseph K. at all times though, as her marriage to the lawyer becomes easily exploitable by a person who’s superiority over a pathetic child remains undeniable within the context of the novel. At times Leni appears to be a willing participant in the exchange of information, while at others the fact that Joseph K. manipulates the poor ignorant woman becomes painfully clear. Therefore, one should note equally well that Joseph K.’s motives are presently as selfish as those contained by Leni, but of course by this time the reader only expects that Joseph K. will mentally abuse this woman to attain the information he so drastically needs to help him along with his court case and identifying just precisely what has happened to his life or even the nature of the crime which he supposedly committed. Joseph K. utilizes the sexual energy between the two in order to satisfy his natural needs for sex as well as his natural need to fully comprehend his surroundings. Leni also manages to provide a slight reprieve for Joseph K. in the instances where he and the lawyer discuss proceedings that Joseph K. has little in the way of knowledgeable understanding. Kafka demonstrates all of these in which Leni satisfies her master in sentences such as when he states "the only welcome interruption during these visits was Leni, who always knew how to arrange things so that she served the lawyer's tea in K.'s presence. Then she would stand behind K., apparently watching the lawyer as he bowed deeply over his cup...secretly allowed K. to grasp her hand... Leni sometimes dared to stroke K.'s hair softly"(Kafka 126). The reader finds that Leni binds herself to her newfound master in such a fashion that the theme of bondage continues to run rampant.

The possible analogies between the women of Joseph K.’s life and the court also manage to tear their way through the novel, with each woman representing a different and more dynamic function of the ghastly court. Fraulein Grubach represents the court through her ability to sit back and observe all things that happen, in this way she develops the limited form of an omnipresent being, one who knows all and sees all in reference to the boarding house. The court itself pulls of the same trick of knowing everything and being everywhere all at the same instance, the trick of being an omnipresent being. Fraulein Burstner comes across as being incredibly elusive and one finds it exceedingly difficult to locate her motives and characteristics at times, as they seemingly change at random. So naturally, the courts elusive nature reflects itself through Fraulein Burstner, as neither of the two entities have the ability to be caught and closely analyzed by the reader or Joseph K. Elsa allows a closer look at the conjunction of the master and slave relationship that runs concordantly between Joseph K. and his women as well as through Joseph K. and his court proceedings. "There are times when he is on top and powerful and times when he is lost, beaten down and can think of nothing but the Court"(Stout 5). Leni, although a slight bit less refined in her behavior than the aforementioned women, does not falter to demonstrate an aspect of the court. The conduct of Leni guides itself in a spontaneous and extremely unpredictable way, just as the court to acts spontaneously when "the ‘surprise’ attack upon Joseph K. by the authorities takes place immediately upon his waking in bed after oversleeping"(Emrich 123). The connections between his women and the court are undeniable, but Joseph K.’s nature toward women remains fundamentally sound through the entirety of the novel.

Based upon his contact with members of the opposite sex, one may fully believe that Joseph K. exists in life as a low down dirty scoundrel, especially if the reader is a woman. His abusive nature toward those he feels superior too and his inability to fully express himself emotionally to a woman in any fashion other than an apparently intense sexual desire may lend one to think of Joseph K. as deserving of his final reward, whether or not he truly commits the crime which the court charges him with. However, man’s nature never falters as a sole desire to reproduce, and a desire to stay alive in order to fulfill the first desire to its greatest extent. The fact remains that Joseph K. is unarguably only a man, a mortal person, whose nature coincides with that of all mankind. His actions with women fall into the two categories of survival and reproduction, which are mans two greatest instincts. Therefore, Joseph K. exists by no means as a low down dirty scoundrel, but rather as a prime example of all human beings in his dealings with members of the opposite sex.

Revision: 2021/01/09 - 23:40 - © Mauro Nervi

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