Franz Kafka


Summary The TRIAL by Franz Kafka

This is a dark story in which a young bank clerk named Josef K. is arrested one morning on his thirtieth birthday and informed that a COURT TRIAL has been initiated against him. He is aware that he hasn't done anything wrong and persistently tries to find out what kind of trial is being conducted against him and who is leading it. Instead, he faces a complicated and incomprehensible legal and judicial bureaucracy. Even worse, everyone around him is familiar with his TRIAL, they all know something but don't tell him, everything is so surreal and nightmarish.
The courtroom for this trial is not located in the courthouse building, but everywhere, in the neighboring room, in the attics of residential buildings, in the bank, in the painter's studio, in the cathedral... while all the characters around him, in some way, work for the court. Courtrooms and law offices are stuffy and cramped spaces with little light, and much of the action takes place under the glow of candles and gas lamps. The main character encounters investigating judges everywhere, but never meets the main judges of the trial. Time is against him as the deadline for the verdict approaches and he fails to overturn the significant and dreadful indictment. And while we wait for the end of the trial to see what fate awaits Mr. K., we will realize that the same kind of trial is being conducted over our lives.
This bitterly absurd novel is impossible to understand without the key to understanding. The key to understanding is the TRIAL, which the court of destiny conducts against every born person. We are all accused before destiny, against which we cannot defend ourselves. There is only one liberating and unjust solution: to yield and admit guilt!
Some have interpreted the meaning of this novel simply as a paradox of the bureaucratic judiciary of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in which Kafka lived at the time, but the inspiration for the novel is connected to his sad life and his struggle against the inevitable fate. In Kafka's life, many things were fated to fail and perish, including his illness of tuberculosis, from which he dies prematurely. The main character in the novel, Josef, has a surname starting with K, which is a pseudonym for Kafka.


  • The novel begins with the sentence: "Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything wrong, he was arrested."
    Josef K., a bank clerk, wakes up on his thirtieth birthday to a knocking on the door. Unknown people enter his rented room and introduce themselves as an investigating committee. They inform him that a legal trial has been initiated against him, but they refuse to disclose the reasons for the trial, which makes everything seem like a joke to Josef. He agrees to be interrogated by the supervisor, which takes place in the neighboring room, belonging to Fraulein Burstner, who tells him that he has been arrested but is free to go to work until the trial begins.

  • Feeling obligated to apologize to the landlady, Frau Grubach, who was in charge of renting rooms to him and other tenants, Josef explains that it was all a misunderstanding, and she immediately understands him completely. He also wants to do the same with Fraulein Burstner, a typist from the neighboring room, whom the court officials occupied that morning to conduct an interrogation. When Miss Burstner returns from the city, he apologizes to her as well, vividly explaining what happened. In the end, due to her attractiveness, he showers her with kisses.

  • A phone call informs Josef K. that the investigation of his case is scheduled for Sunday. Although they did not give him the time over the phone, they gave him the address, so Josef assumes that the hearing starts at nine in the morning. He goes alone, not even wanting to involve a taxi driver in all of this. When he arrives in front of the building, he is confused by the fact that it is a huge structure with many separate staircases and floors, and he doesn't know which one is the correct apartment. He chooses one staircase and, as he climbs, he peeks into each room to recognize the one he is looking for. All he sees are many poor families, for whom he has the excuse of looking for a joiner named Lanz. On the fifth floor, he passes by a woman washing children's clothes, who directs him to a certain door.

  • He enters a room that could be a courtroom, and a man who looks like a judge tells him that he is five minutes late. The audience in the courtroom alternately greets him with applause and silence. Soon, the presiding judge begins asking questions, including asking Josef if he is a painter. Josef protests to the judge about the outrageous and insolent behavior of the officials who burst into his and the neighboring room that morning, rummaged through his things, ate his breakfast, and tried to deceive him to gain his property. He emphasizes his innocence, which is obvious, but he is angry about the way corrupt judicial institutions treat innocent citizens and speaks on their behalf. At one point, he had to interrupt his speech because a man at the other end of the courtroom was vulgarly harassing a woman, which drew the attention of everyone present. This disgusted Josef even more with the court, and he soon realized that everyone in the courtroom had some kind of badge, so he thought they were all corrupt court officials. He started to leave, and on that move, the judge warned him that he had just jeopardized all the advantages he could have had as an innocent man. Josef called them scoundrels and left. He heard voices from the audience discussing his case behind him.

  • The following week, Josef decided to appear in court again on his own initiative. He was met by the same woman who was washing clothes, and in conversation with her, he learned that she was the wife of a court attendant and that they lived there without compensation in exchange for their work. The woman said that his case had become the main topic of the court and offered him her help because the investigating judge was courting her. In return, she wanted Josef to take her away from that place forever. She also told him about an ugly, crooked law student who could have her whenever he wanted because of his position. Just then, a law student interrupted Josef and approached the woman, kissed her, and lifted her to take her to the investigating judge. Josef struck him once and chased him, but the student escaped with his prize. Her husband, who was a court attendant, arrived shortly after and complained to Josef about his wife and the student but said he was afraid to lose his job. He told Josef that there would be no court hearing this week but took him to show him the court offices.

  • They climbed high stairs, entered the hallway where frightened defendants were sitting. Josef told them that he was not afraid at all and walked down the hallway. All the court offices seemed miserable and dark to him, and due to the stuffiness, weakness overwhelmed him. A girl and a court messenger came out of a neighboring office and placed him in a chair. They assured him that it was quite common for the first visit, that all defendants are oversensitive at the beginning of the trial, and that it becomes easier after subsequent times. He asked them to help and support him as he leaves the court. As he stepped out into the fresh air, as if he felt freedom, Josef immediately recovered but noticed that the girl and the messenger were worse off than him, so they hurried to close the door behind them.

  • A few days K. is trying to schedule a meeting with Fraulein Burstner. First, he waited late for her to return from the city, and woke up an hour earlier in the morning to see her before going to work but was unsuccessful. Then he tried to schedule a meeting with her through a written message but did not receive a response. Finally, he encounters Miss Montag, a French language teacher, who was moving into Fraulein Burstner's room and told him that she does not want any meeting with him because she suspects his intentions. K. was disappointed because he clearly liked her.

  • One evening, at the bank, in the study room, which was located behind his office, K. heard some sounds. He entered that abandoned room and saw three men. Two of them were officials who, that morning, during the arrest, entered his room, and the third one was a thug. The thug was given the task of whipping the two officials because K. complained about them to the judge. Both of them begged K. for help. K. persuades the thug to let them go, even tries to bribe him with money, but he remains firm. K. walks away from the room, while he hears the thug whipping them behind him. The next day, after finishing his work in the office, K. opens the same study room again and finds the same scene with the thug whipping the officials. Inside the bank, besides K., no one notices that something unusual is happening.

  • Josef's uncle Karl visits him, who is worried about K.'s case because his shame could harm the whole family. Therefore, he persuades him to go to his friend, lawyer Huld, to represent him. When they arrive at the lawyer's office, they are surprised that he is already familiar with the case. Also, an important director from the court office was already there. Lawyer Huld was in a sickbed, and he was taken care of by a nurse named Leni. She takes Josef to another room, and the two of them engage in a passionate love affair. Leni, who, as an observer, was familiar with many court cases, tells Josef that he is too uncompromising and advises him that the only way to be acquitted is by CONFESSING his guilt. Since he was absent for several hours, Uncle Karl reproaches Josef for leaving the lawyer and the director waiting, and also because the girl might be the lawyer's mistress. He tells him that he has harmed his case, which could have gone in a good direction before that.

  • Josef is increasingly preoccupied with heavy thoughts about his case. He visits the lawyer several times and listens to his speeches, but it seems to him that the lawyer only praises his abilities, while, in fact, he has never had a big case like his. The only thing he liked was that he could then see Leni, who gave him the key to her room.

  • A certain industrialist, who was a client of Josef's bank, also knew about his case and advised him to visit the painter Titorelli. He painted portraits of judges and might be able to help him. Josef K. goes to the painter, who had a studio in the attic, in a very poor part of the city. The painter offers his help through connections in the court and explains to him the possible outcomes of the case. He tells him that real acquittal in court only exists in stories whose truth is unknown. There are only two types of outcomes: temporary acquittal and procrastination.

  • Temporary acquittal, K. can get if the painter, through his acquaintance, persuades a judge to acquit him. When that happens, K. will be free until his case falls into the hands of another judge. Then everything needs to be repeated with another judge, and when that is done, he will be free until his case is taken over by a third judge, and so on.

  • The second outcome, procrastination, consists of the painter obtaining a delay in the investigation from the judges, and it never progresses beyond the beginning. And for that, the painter's constant engagement with the judges will be needed. Both outcomes had in common that they prevented the accused from being convicted. Josef, from his story, realizes that the matter of acquittal is futile and without stating which option he wants, tells the painter that they will see each other later. Since the painter lived poorly and expected compensation for his services, he buys all his worthless paintings and leaves. The painter directs him outside, through the hallway with the court offices (because this attic, like all others, also had court offices) where he already felt so uncomfortable. K., accompanied by a court usher, whom the painter ordered to carry the paintings, leaves the building.

  • Joseph decides to take the case into his own hands and goes to see a lawyer to terminate their cooperation. While waiting for the lawyer to see him, he meets a merchant named Block, whose trial has been going on for five years and hasn't progressed since the beginning. Block has completely devoted himself to the trial, neglecting his business affairs. He secretly hired five more lawyers to represent him and has already negotiated with a sixth one. While waiting for the lawyer's favor to see him, Block even moved in with him and slept in Lenin's maiden room. K. appears before the lawyer and revokes his power of attorney to represent him in court. The lawyer accuses him of impatience, but K. still terminates their cooperation. To demonstrate his importance, the lawyer summons Block and deliberately humiliates him in front of K. Block, like a dog, kneels humbly before the lawyer and begs for his support in front of the judges. (This chapter of the novel is not written to the end).

  • One day at work, K. is assigned the task of showing the cathedral to an important Italian business partner of the bank. Although the client doesn't show up, K. enters the cathedral alone and meets a priest who was expecting him because he had requested his presence. The priest was already familiar with his case and knew that the case was going badly because they believed Joseph's guilt had already been proven. He advises him to rely less on others' help in his trial and to avoid women. He then narrates a story to him, the meaning of which is incomprehensible, about a man from the countryside and a gatekeeper:

  • "A man from the countryside came to the gate of the law and asked the gatekeeper to let him in. The gatekeeper says that he cannot let him in right now, it's possible that he'll be able to enter later. The man wonders why the law is not accessible to him and decides to wait. The gatekeeper brings him a chair to sit on. The man sits and waits there for days and years, but he is still not allowed to enter. He waits until his death and then, with his last bit of strength, he asks the gatekeeper why no one else had tried to enter there besides him. The gatekeeper replies: 'This gate was meant only for you. And now, I am going to close it.'"

  • K. concludes that it is very unfair to the man, but the priest tells him that it is written that way in the legal documents. That man could freely go wherever he wanted, only his access to the law, which he desired, was forbidden. It seemed like the gatekeeper deceived the man, but he was just doing his duty and was the one who couldn't go anywhere. The priest also visits him and reveals that he is a prison chaplain, so he is also part of the court. Outside, in the middle of the day, it became so dark that nothing could be distinguished inside the cathedral. K. asks the priest to show him the way out and leaves.

  • Just as the story began on Joseph's 30th birthday, it ends on his 31st birthday. Two men in black suits come for him. K. receives them completely prepared, knowing the sentence that was passed without a judicial announcement and that it is the harshest one. He offers no resistance and allows them to lead him to the quarry. A painful scene of his execution follows. They place his head on a stone, and one of them pulls out a knife from his coat. Finally, he stabs Joseph in the heart and kills him. His last words were: Like a dog!
    It seemed to him that he would outlive the shame (of the trial).

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