The Trial
Franz Kafka
Contributed by Sung Miele
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Chapter 3

K. is surprised to find that no trial has been arranged for him as much as the magistrate threatened him. K. proceeds by himself and reaches through the maze of staircases and passages. But he lands in an empty room. He finds the woman who barged into the courtroom. She is busy washing clothes in a wash tub. When the court is not in session the room becomes a proper dwelling place. She is married to the usher and has been attacked by a student in the midst of a court session. A student has been forcing himself on her in spite of her husband’s protests. She hopes K. will help save her from the student’s advances. K. promises to help her if she would allow him to look into the law books. But a lot of erotic literature is strewn along with the law books. The woman also says that the court officials trouble her husband too. She tries to get close to K. The examining Magistrate would sit in her room. He sends a pair of silk stockings to show his appreciation. In the meantime the law student, Bertold comes in chasing her. He tries to get rid of K. since he is a guilty prisoner and he himself would become a court official someday. Actually he is sympathetic to K.’s cause. The student carries the woman to another room while K. imagines the student being rejected by his cabaret girl friend, Elsa. K. cannot stop the student while he carries her to the Magistrate.

K. suddenly realizes that he is economically better off in a more comfortable situation at work, than the examining Magistrate. K could not stop the woman though he punched the student. The magistrate has his offices in the rooms above the attic. The usher, who is the woman’s husband, complained, that the Magistrate had sent him away on an errand. The Magistrate did this, so that he could spend some time with the usher’s wife, while he was away on an errand! Thus she is exploited by both, the student and the Magistrate, while the usher is helpless as his job is at stake. The usher asks K. to thrash the student and that it would not affect K.’s case as the outcome has already been decided.

The usher guides K. and takes him through one of the rooms where the accused are seated. They seem to be respectable men-as seen by the cut of their beards. K. grasps one of the accused while he forgets that he is himself guilty. One of the men screams suddenly which surprises K. The usher comments that all accused men are very sensitive (K. reacts likewise later). K. is lost in the maze of offices. While he screams a guard appears with his shining sword sheathed and hung around him. It is significant that K. touches the blade feeling its texture.

The court offices have a single exit and K. is stressed out and tired. He shouts in a high pitched voice. A girl peeps out of one of the closed doors and inquires as to what he wants. K. wants to know only the date of his trial. K. concludes that the system in the courts is as corrupt as the external sitting. K. feels faint. But it seems as if the usher and the girl anticipate it as everybody invariably has an attack the first time he / she comes to court. The atmosphere is hot and suffocating. But habit helps them get used to it. K. sits down for sometime and then moves out. The usher disappears on his errand. A stylishly dressed man moves to the sick room. He is the clergy of inquires and offers to lead K. out. The officials are so poor that the other members of the staff buy his set of clothes. K. feels self-conscious and so the girl lets him know the inside story. She is the most communicative person.

He feels "sea sick" K. stumbles outside on to the street. The draught of fresh air brings him to his consciousness. He can faintly hear them saying that he is practically immobile. He picks up his hat, which is thrown across as he climbs the attic staircase and realizes the pitiable plight of the people down below. He bounces with energy and decides to spend his Sundays in a better manner.


The court officials are ill paid and corrupt. The accused and the guilty people seated there, have lost their resilience to fight. K. is repeatedly reassuring himself that he is not guilty while he goes to court. The underlying theme of the novel is also the breakdown of his resistance to fight. The metaphor of the stormy seas is used here to describe K.’s state.

The buzz of the siren sounding in his ear is nothing but the girl and the clerk talking to him. The siren is metaphor rendering the words as meaningless. The maze of staircases and closed doors makes him feel claustrophobic. K.’s reflections and those of the other characters appear like symbols of the confusion in this maze.

K.’s being summoned to court is a sign of his "sickness unto death" conscience. K.’s restlessness is symbolic of the unrest in the world and depicts our isolated and fragmented existence. There is an invisible hand behind this, which is manifest in the hand of the court, its intervention, refusal and denial and appearing "accidental".

In this court K. feels that both law and justice are inaccessible. K. feels that man cannot be responsible for his own actions in a world where there is so much of chaos and apparent injustice. Divine guidance and divine justice is seen in the distorting mirror of the human soul. The soul has itself been transformed by the changed conditions in the modern age. The courts’ strange scenes and symbols point to the man who has lost his way in a predestined world. The human spirit has no link and thus no guidance from the absolute.

Man’s entire life has been a court of justice. Man cannot live without justifying his actions. He is responsible for everything.

The entire conscious world is spurred on by man’s motivation-man who would like to linger and relax for a while. It also sums up the tenor of modern living.

There are a series of images, which give character to the courts. There is the oppressive claustrophobic stifling atmosphere and the idea of feeling giddy and seasick when K. emerges into the clean air outside, he does so with buoyancy as if he had bobbed up on the sea and reached the shore.

The other imagery is of cleanliness and laundering. Their cleanliness is disgusting. There is constant washing and cleaning going on everywhere. There are washtubs and laundry drying on clothesline. But there is also dirt piling up everywhere soot and smoke in the court offices. The earthly world of life, spilling into it, and also as the desire to cleanse itself.

The court has its double role as both theatrical comedy and reality. It is a comedy with court officials as puppets who carry out the orders of senior officials. Though Joseph K. is superior, his junior officials attack him. As the novel progresses the "theatrical comedy" leads to a negation of the reality. Hopes get diminished and truth emerges. The spiritual world is gaining ground. K. wants to cleanse himself as well. He feels innocent and guilty simultaneously.

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