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The Trial

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The Trial is a surreal novel by Franz Kafka about a character named Josef K, who awakes one morning and, for reasons that one never discovers, is arrested and subjected to the rigours of the judicial process for an unspecified crime.

Like Kafka's other novels, The Trial was left unfinished at his death, and was never intended to be published. Its manuscript was rescued by his friend Max Brod. It was first published in German in 1925 as Der Prozess.

The Trial has been filmed by the director Orson Welles, with Anthony Perkins (as Josef K) and Romy Schneider. A more recent remake featured Kyle MacLachlan in the same role.

Plot Synopsis by Chapter

Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers.

The Arrest - Conversation with Frau Grubach then Fräulein Bürstner

On the morning of his thirtieth birthday, a junior bank manager, Josef K, who lives in lodgings, is unexpectedly arrested by two unidentified agents for an unspecified crime. The agents do not name the authority for which they are acting. He is not taken away, but left at home to await instructions from the Interrogation Commission. That evening K misses his regular visit to his girlfriend Elsa.

Frau Grubach, his landlady, tries to console Josef but unintentionally offends him by speculating that perhaps the arrest was related to an illicit relationship with Fräulein Bürstner, the tenant next door to Josef K. Josef visits the Fräulein to discuss his plight, but ends up making love to her, belatedly fulfilling the landlady's speculation. This is an early indication that Josef K is no longer in control of his own fate.

First Interrogation

He is instructed to appear at a local court, but the time of the trial is not specified. This causes him to waste his time waiting to be called. When he is finally called, he is told, confusingly, that he is late. During the interrogation he is asked a series of irrelevant and apparently pointless questions, and it seems that only the onlookers in the gallery understand what is happening.

In the Empty Interrogation Chamber - The Student - The Offices

Josef K tries to visit the Examining Magistrate, but finds only the Law-Court Attendant's wife. Looking at the Magistrate's books, he finds that they are not law books, but pornography. The woman tries to seduce him. As Josef resolves to succumb to the woman as an act of defiance against the Court, a law student appears and, after an argument with Josef, carries the woman off in his arms.

Josef accidentally wanders into the court offices, where the Attendant complains about his wife's wantonness. There are many other defendants waiting hopelessly for information about their cases. Josef realises he is lost, perhaps legally as well as geographically, and almost faints. To his shame, he has to be carried out of the court by two officials.

Fräulein Bürstner's Friend

Josef returns home to find Fräulein Montag, a lodger from another room, moving in with Fräulein Bürstner. He suspects that this is to prevent him from pursuing his affair with the latter woman. Yet another lodger, Captain Lanz, appears to be in league with Montag.

The Whipper

Later, in a store room at his own bank, Josef K discovers the two agents who arrested him being beaten by a superior. This surreal event appears to have been staged just to frighten him.

K.'s Uncle - Leni

Josef K visits his influential uncle, who by coincidence is a friend of the Clerk of the Court. The uncle is, or appears to be, distressed by Josef's predicament and is at first sympathetic, but then inexplicably turns against him.

The uncle introduces Josef K to an Advocate, who is attended by Leni, a nurse.

Advocate - Manufacturer - Painter

K visits the advocate and finds him to be a capricious and unhelpful character. K returns to his bank but finds that his colleagues are trying to undermine him.

Josef K is advised by one of his bank clients to visit Titorelli, a painter, for advice. Titorelli has no official connections, yet seems to have a deep understanding of the process. He explains: "You see, everything belongs to the Court." He sets out what K's options are, but the consequences of all of them are unpleasant. The complexity of the advice leads the reader to lose hope for Josef K.

The Commercial Traveller - Dismissal of the Advocate

Josef K decides to take control of his own destiny and visits his advocate with the intention of dismissing him. At the advocate's office he meets a downtrodden individual, Block, who appears to be a client who has been virtually enslaved by his dependence on the advocate's unpredictable advice. This experience further poisons K's opinion of his advocate, yet he knows that the advocate is his only hope.

By this time K has developed a relationship with Leni. Her presence is a consolation to him but she is unable to help with his case.

In The Cathedral

K has to show a foreign client round the Cathedral. While he waits in the Cathedral for the client, the priest shouts his name, although K has never been in the building before. The priest tells K a fable that is meant to explain his situation, but it causes only confusion, and implies that K's fate is hopeless. The gravity of the priest's words prepares the reader for an unpleasant ending.

The End

On the last day of K's thirtieth year, two men arrive to arrest Josef K. They lead him to a quarry and brutally murder him. His last words describe his own death: "Like a dog!".

Evaluation The Trial is a chilling story that maintains a constant, relentless atmosphere of unease, right up to the brutal ending. Superficially the subject matter is political, as an illustration of a totalitarian and arbitrarily harsh government. However, the power of the novel is in its description of the effect of these circumstances on the life and mind of Josef K. If it were published today (2002) it might be described as a "paranoid thriller", but it is unusually uncompromising and depressing by modern standards.

Comparisons with Other Works The novel with the most obvious resemblance to The Trial is George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948). Both tales describe the struggle of an ordinary man against a faceless bureacracy.

Published Editions Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics, ISBN 0-14-018113-X

External Links

"The Trial" movie at liketelevision.com (http://tesla.liketelevision.com/liketelevision/tuner.php?channel=240&format=movie&theme=guide)

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