Skip over navigation

The Trial

Franz Kafka

Chapter 2

Chapter 1

Chapter 3

Summary

A phone call informs Joseph K. that a brief inquiry into his case is to take place the following Sunday. He is given the address where he is to go, but not the time. When the Assistant Manager of the bank, with whom he has not gotten on well, makes the overture of inviting him to join him Sunday on his yacht, K. must refuse the invitation.

Resolving to arrive at the appointed destination at nine a.m.--presumably a logical starting time for court business--K. sets out Sunday morning on foot. He does not want to involve anyone in his case, not even a taxi driver. And he does not want to lower himself before this Court of Inquiry by being too obsessively punctual. The street runs through a poor neighborhood of tenements, which on this weekend morning is alive with inhabitants, their calls, shouts, and laughter. When he reaches the building, K. is annoyed to find that it is a large one with several separate stairwells, multiple floors, and no indication of which might be the correct apartment. He chooses a stairway and ascends, maneuvering around children and pausing for their marble games. In order to gain a peek at each room, which he hopes will indicate to him where the inquiry is to take place, K. invents the ploy that he is looking for a joiner named Lanz. Door after door, floor after floor, he finds poor families who do not know Lanz but recommend other joiners or men with names similar to "Lanz." Finally, on the fifth floor, when he is exasperated to the point of giving up, a woman washing children's clothes in a basin opens the door and tells him to enter and go through to another door.

K. enters the second room--a meeting hall with a gallery, all quite packed with people. He is led by a small boy through the throng up to a crowded platform at the other end of the hall. There, a man whom he takes to be the Examining Magistrate rebukes him for being over an hour late (it is now past ten a.m.). K. gives a cool reply that he is here now, and at this half of the crowd bursts into applause. Emboldened by this, but concerned that the other half of the crowd remains stonily silent, he sets out to win over the entire audience. The Magistrate asks him if he is a house painter, to which he replies that he is the chief clerk of a large bank. K. then proceeds to dominate the meeting. He impugns the secret policy that is evidently at work here. He seizes the Magistrate's notebook and holds it up with disdain before dropping it onto the Magistrate's table. He gives a long speech describing his arrest. He sees the Magistrate apparently giving some sign to someone in the audience, and calls him to task for it. There are rumblings in the audience, then silence. Old men's eyes fix intently on him as their owners stroke their white beards. Just as he finishes condemning the entire system that has brought him here, he is interrupted by a scream from the back of the hall. The woman whom he met at the door and a man are in the corner causing some sort of commotion. The stark division that had previously existed between the two factions in the room disappears. The people move together. K. has the urge to move toward the disturbance, but hands restrain him. He leaps from the platform down into the crowd and at last perceives that all are wearing identical badges. So, these are all the corrupt officials of whom he has been speaking! They have egged him on, he declares, by pretending to be factious, when in fact they were merely amusing themselves with the declarations of an innocent man. He heads for the door, but before he can exit, the Magistrate waylays him with these words: "I merely wanted to point out that today. . . you have flung away with your own hand all the advantages which an interrogation invariably confers on an innocent man." K. claims all those who were in the audience to be "scoundrels" and heads out. The chamber comes to life behind him as the badged men begin to analyze the case.

Commentary

The interrogation scene is distinctly surreal, unfolding in a dreamlike fashion. The location itself is unreal: the top floor of a tenement, in a poor family's back room. Add to this the murmuring masses, the applause, uproar, and stony silences, the beards and badges, the secret signs, groping hands, and most glaringly K.'s own intemperate and ill-advised outburst. Are they goading him? Is his aggression a useful tactic? Does his conduct even matter? This is an alternate world of anonymous tribunals where K. does not know the rules of engagement. His initiation does not bode well. Yet he still feels it is best not to take the case too seriously.

Throughout the book, the Court is associated with dankness, dust, staleness, suffocation; K. repeatedly suffers from the lack of fresh air. Here we have the first hints of it. In the streets, in the hallways and stairwells of this poor neighborhood there is life and vitality. K. manages just fine. The moment he steps into the Court meeting hall, K. feels the air "too thick for him" and steps out again. Later K. tries to make out faces in the gallery through the "dimness, dust, and reek." If K. is not physically sickened by the atmosphere (as he will be in succeeding chapters), his judgment and faculties do seem addled, which perhaps explains the dream quality of the scene.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us