August 24, 2004

Students Share Thoughts on The Trial

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Raindrops speckled the pavement yesterday afternoon, as packs of freshmen streamed through the Balch arch on their way to discussion groups for Franz Kafka’s The Trial. Incorporating information from the interactive faculty presentation held in Barton Hall on Sunday into their discussions, the small groups raised questions and interpreted the text. There were 230 groups in all.

One group, which met with Christine Schelhas-Miller, associate dean for new student Programs and director of the Carol Tatkon Center, grappled with tough questions about text’s meaning and struggled to understand the complicated and sometimes vague plot of the book.

“At first I was ambivalent about it and I was just getting it done, but when I went to the lecture it began to make more and sense,” said Mary Gniadek ’08. “I liked that they had different parts: the lecture with everyone together and then the small section. It was much easier for me to interact with people and voice my own opinion in the smaller setting.”

Schelhas-Miller opened the discussion by asking each student to share information about themselves and comment on the book.

“I thought it was very interesting because it doesn’t give answers,” said Jen Rosenbaum ’06, a student facilitator, who read the book while traveling around Scandinavia with her family this summer. “It’s a tough book, but I thought it was very interesting.”

The group touched on many topics, including the dreamlike quality of some scenes, the main character Josef K.’s relationships with women, parallels between Kafka and K. and the book’s relationship to historical and current events.

“It was kind of difficult to read,” said Kaitlin Hopke ’08. “But it’s amazing how other people have such different ideas about it. I never really would have thought of some of the things other people said [about the book] so I really liked the discussion,” she said.

While some eyelids drooped toward the end of the hour-and-a half-long session, the discussion flowed naturally, though many said that they did not enjoy reading the book. “I think the program is a good idea, but I think it would make more sense to pick a book that people would enjoy,” said Jackie Lewis ’08. “I think it was just such a slow-moving book that students that are usually really scholarly had a lot of trouble reading it,” she said.

“I think even though students say they didn’t enjoy reading it so much it did prompt a lot of discussion,” Schelhas-Miller said. “Because it’s a book that raises a lot of questions and there are so many possible interpretations I think it’s a good choice.”

The deans of Cornell’s seven undergraduate colleges and Isaac Kramnick, vice provost for undergraduate education, chose the book.

“The goal of the program is to give first-year students something intellectual to talk to each other about … and to have a common intellectual experience,” Schelhas-Miller said.

After the session, the students packed up their notebooks, water bottles and identical copies of The Trial and went on to continue the rest of their orientation week activities.

Archived article by Katy Bishop
Sun Design Editor