Look Ma! No Paragraphs!

The Twirl and Swirl of Letters

So, as a counterpoint to the light movies I’ve been watching lately, I’ve started reading Kafka’s The Trial. I’ve never read anything by Kafka, and this work is mentioned rather frequently in the research I’ve done on The Prisoner, so…reading it I am.

One thing that I’ve noticed  about the book is the lack of paragraphs. There isn’t any separation between dialogue; the end result is massive paragraphs that go on for an entire chapter. I find that I can’t skim-read; I must read each and every word to know who is saying what. Otherwise, one missed dialogue tag and I really am clueless.

I hadn’t given much consideration to the separation of dialogue by different paragraphs. It, in my eyes, was a given. A new character speaks and there is a new line.

Not so in The Trial. Lines run together, making it some times difficult to figure out who is speaking when. The result is, though, fitting for the story. The reader, much like main character Joseph K., is left confused. The story, focusing on a man who is arrested and not informed as to what his crime is, leaves the reader in a state of uncertainty. Who is this Joseph K., really? Who are his tormentors? Why has he been arrested?

The lack of separate paragraphs provide a cramped, uncomfortable, almost prisonlike in your inability to escape. The text is closed. When reading, I can’t help but want to escape the bounds of the page, no doubt just as Joseph K. longs to escape the rigid, though ill defined, justice system.

The uncertainty is killing me. But I like it.

8 thoughts on “Look Ma! No Paragraphs!

  1. I tried reading The Trial years ago, but am afraid I gave up for the reasons you mentioned. You make a good observation for why he chose to write in that cramped style.

    Makes me want to try it again one day. Glad to hear you are enjoying it.


    1. I feel like I need to reread the first chapter or two, as I wasn’t paying enough attention!
      This is actually my second attempt at reading–I started The Trial a few months ago, but put it aside as I couldn’t quite get into it.
      I’m tempted to pick up another of Kafka’s works, to see if the style changes, or if his other works are as cramped.


  2. It’s been a while since I read The Trial, though I clearly remember it being in paperback (not the best way to read Kafka), and having annoying footnotes distracting me from the text. The better editions have nice clear text, which mitigates the intimidating wall of text somewhat – not enough for me to consider it an easy read, though the challenge in absorbing Kafka’s writing is part of his appeal.

    The Metamorphosis is highly recommended, though don’t expect it to be any easier a reading experience.


  3. It’s a challenge, but I’m enjoying it. Relishing it, you could say. XD
    Fortunately, my copy doesn’t have footnotes, so at least I don’t have to worry about those. I’m not too fond of the font selection, but it could be infinitely worse.


  4. The Trial is hard work but worth it, I reckon. I suppose it depicts the frustration that a person can feel when battling against the system. Unfortunately this means that reading the novel can be pretty frustrating in itself.

    Am continuing to read your blog even if I don’t always comment. It really interesting and perceptive so thanks for that.


    1. People who say they can’t read Kafka because of the paragraph-less, cramped layout remind me of those package tourists who visit the Taj Mahal and say they didn’t enjoy it because the bus didn’t have enough leg room. Ha ha


      1. I like that analogy! I’ll have to keep it in mind some time.

        And no worries about not commenting all the time–I’m glad that you are reading and enjoying what I have to say.

        I finished The Trial a couple of weeks ago–as frustrating as it was to read, I’m glad that I did. It was well worth the few paragraphs (towards the end, there are more paragraph breaks, which caught me entirely off guard). Very thought-provoking. I hope to read more of Kafka’s soon (perhaps this summer…I have to finish Smiley’s People and Inferno).


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