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The Trial

Franz Kafka

Chapter 3

Chapter 2

Chapter 4

Summary

K. awaits a second summons but does not hear from the mysterious Court. He returns to the address on Sunday morning. The same young woman opens the door, but informs him that there is no sitting today. Indeed, the meeting hall/courtroom is empty save for a few curious books left on the table.

K. learns that the young woman (who cleans) and her husband (an usher for the court) live in the room without charge in exchange for their labor. The woman explains that the disturbance last week was caused by a certain law student who is always after her. But she entered the courtroom in the first place because she took an interest in K. She is clearly attracted to him, and offers to help him. He is doubtful that she can, and does not want her to jeopardize her job merely to influence a sentencing that he ultimately intends to laugh off. But, she offers, perhaps she can sway the Examining Magistrate in some way, since that man has recently begun to notice her.

Just then the bandy-legged, scraggly-bearded law student enters the courtroom and motions for the woman. She excuses herself to K., says she must go to him briefly, but will return soon, and then K. can have his way with her. As the woman and the student speak in hushed tones at the window, K. reflects that he would very much like to possess her--both for the obvious reason and for the measure of revenge it would extract from the Magistrate.

K. grows impatient as the conversation wears on and the student kisses the woman. He and the student exchange words. The student lifts up the woman and begins to carry her off. K. offers to free her--which he could easily do, as the scrawny student is no match for him--but she declines. She says the Magistrate has sent for her--she is obviously not in much distress. The student labors at carrying her up a narrow flight of stairs that would seem to lead to a garret. K. watches furiously. He has been defeated, but only because he entered into a fight. The key, he realizes, is to go about his own affairs and so to remain above all this.

This resolution does not last long. The woman's husband, the usher, returns. This man complains to K. about his wife and the law student. The usher cannot throttle the student as he would like to, for fear of losing his job. But perhaps a man like K. could do him the favor. K. points out that the student might be in a position to influence the outcome of his case. Usually, says the usher, the cases are foregone conclusions.

The usher is heading upstairs, to the Law Offices, and he invites K. to accompany him. K. hesitates, but, curious to see the workings of the Court, agrees to go. They climb the stairs and enter a long, narrow lobby where various accused men wait. K. tries to have a conversation with one of them but the man is confused, demoralized, and uncomfortable. K. grows impatient with this pitiable individual. As he and the usher walk on, K. suddenly begins to feel very tired. He asks the usher to lead him out, but the usher is reluctant to do so. K.'s raised voice attracts the attention of a woman in a nearby office, who asks his business. K. feels faint and is unable to respond. The woman offers him a chair and assures him that the stuffy air similarly affects many people on their first visit to the offices. K.'s swoon intensifies to a near-paralysis. The woman suggests to a smartly-dressed man who shares her office--and who turns out to be the Clerk of Inquiries--that they take K. to the sick room. K. manages to request that they instead help him to the door. He is scarcely able to walk, even with the two officials half carrying him. He is ashamed as they pass before the accused man with whom he had been impatient before. That man meekly makes excuses for his presence to the Chief of Inquiries.

At last, K. is at the threshold of the offices. The air from outside revives him. He shakes hands with the man and woman who assisted him until he notices that the fresh air seems to have on them the debilitating effect that the office air had on him. Rejuvenated but bewildered by his body's betrayal, K. bounds down the stairs and resolves to find a better use for his Sunday mornings.

Commentary

In keeping with the disjointedness of the narrative, the washer woman, apropos of nothing, throws herself at K. and then disappears from the novel. She apparently sets the behavior pattern for young, working-class women when in K.'s presence (Leni will act similarly, and the lawyer will later give an explanation of her actions). She also manages, indirectly, to induce K. to ascend to the Law Offices, and perhaps this is her purpose. K.'s calculations of sexual conquest--as a tool of power against the magistrate and thus the Court--lead to his first admitted defeat in this mental chess match in which he sees himself and the Court engaged. His second defeat must then be his debility in the Law Offices.

Stale, suffocating air is once more the hallmark of the Court and all its doings. While at the interrogation the atmosphere may have affected K.'s judgment, in the Offices it physically incapacitates him. He is rendered speechless and powerless, utterly at the mercy of the Court. How far does this association go? Is the Court like bad air in a closed room? The two seem ineffably linked; perhaps they are interchangeable. Like the air, the court seems to be everywhere, invisible, insidious, known by its effects.

There is a slight parallel between the final scene of this chapter and Chapter Ten that should be pointed out. In both cases, K. is lead away by Court functionaries who hold him by the arms. In this chapter, K. requests the escort and the support. In the last chapter, K. cannot escape it.

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