Josef K. is the novel's protagonist and the character through whose point of view the narrative is filtered. Aged thirty, K. lives in a lodging house and holds a prominent position at the bank where he works. K.'s life is upended when he learns that he is being tried for an unspecified crime by a court he has never heard of. While initially skeptical and full of questions, K. gradually accepts the futility of claiming innocence. The novels with two men employed by the court executing K. by twisting a long, thin butcher's knife in his heart.
Frau Grubach is the owner of the house where K. lodges. Although she holds K. in high esteem, she frustrates K. when she is either unable or unwilling to tell him anything useful about the men who entered the house to arrest him.
Fräulein Bürstner lives in the same house as K. K. seeks to apologize to her after the court inquiry briefly uses her bedroom as an interrogation room. After staying late in her room, K. makes sexual advances toward Fräulein Bürstner, which she receives with exhaustion and indifference. At the end of the novel, K. glimpses a woman on the street who may be Fräulein Bürstner, right before he is executed.
Uncle Karl is K.'s uncle who visits from the country to help K. with his legal case by introducing K. to Herr Huld, whom Karl knows from his student days. Karl is displeased when K. leaves the first meeting with Huld to have sex with Leni, Huld's nurse.
Herr Huld is a dying lawyer who assists K. in his case. From his bedside, Herr delivers long-winded justifications as to why his influence with court officials is necessary to win K.'s case. K. resents Huld for suggesting progress is being made while refusing to disclose what the progress entails. K.'s anxiety over the mishandling of his case leads K. to dismiss Huld.
Willem and Franz
Willem and Franz are the two men who enter the lodging house and inform K. that he is under arrest. Employed as guards by the court, Willem and Franz claim to know nothing of the details of K.'s case but insist the arrest is not arbitrary. They are later punished with a caning after K. complains to the court about the guards' behavior during his arrest.
Leni is Herr Huld's nurse, housekeeper, and suspected mistress. Leni is attracted to K. at first sight and they become lovers. K. later learns from Huld that Leni finds not only K. but all accused men irresistibly attractive. The skin between Leni's index and middle fingers is webbed.
The examining magistrate is the lower-level judge who administers K.'s first hearing. The examining magistrate says little as K. attempts to humiliate him for the benefit of the crowd.
Titorelli is a painter employed by the court to paint portraits of judges. Having inherited his job as court painter from his father, Titorelli has spent his life familiarizing himself with the workings of the lower court. He offers to help K. with his case by telling the judges he paints that K. is innocent. In exchange for his help, K. purchases a collection of dusty landscape paintings the impoverished painter keeps under his bed.
The prison chaplain is a priest who K. meets while waiting for an important Italian bank client at a cathedral. The priest tells K. a parable (previously published separately as "Before the Law") about a man who waits his entire life to enter through a guarded gate and into the Law, only to have the guard shut the gate. K. interprets the parable in a manner sympathetic to the man, while the priest disputes the interpretation and finds sympathy with the guard.
Block, the Corn Merchant
Block is a corn merchant, fellow defendant, and possibly another of Leni's lovers. K. learns that Block has drained his savings and business fighting his case over five years. Huld treats Block with disdain, humiliating and degrading him as a show of power in front of K.
The thrasher is the man hired by the court to cane Willem and Franz after K. complains to the court about their behavior during his arrest. The thrasher wears a black leather outfit that exposes his arms.
The deputy manager works at the same bank as K. When K. loses focus on his career because of the stress of his case, the deputy manager swoops in to steal K.'s clients.
The Trial Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Trial is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.