Volume 16, Issue 1, Spring 2002
Judith Chelius Stark
The Arrest in Kafka and Solzhenitsyn
The twentieth century was unprecedented in the scope and enormity of the terrible deeds that human beings perpetrated against their fellows. Oftentimes, the unjust detention, imprisonment, tortures, and executions were set in motion by the event of the arrest. This paper examines the phenomenon of the arrest as it is depicted in two of the century’s literary giants -- Franz Kafka and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Uncanny correspondences can be detected particularly between Kafka’s novel The Trial and Solzhenitsyn’s memoir The Gulag Archipelago. Moreover, through Kafka’s powerful literary imagination, he created works containing many features that were later to stand at the heart of the terror of totalitarian regimes. This paper analyzes and explores the arrest and, as a result, a philosophical typology of the arrest emerges. Due to the power and scope of Kafka’s genius, his work both prefigures and expresses many of the essential characteristics of totalitarian regimes that come to be enacted in flesh and blood later in the century. In The Trial, the arrest may be seen as an eerie and surreal foreshadowing of the millions of morally outrageous and legally spurious arrests that were to come in the twentieth century.