The Trial

The Trial Summary and Analysis of A Conversation with Frau Grubach Then Fräulein Bürstner; The First Hearing


The narrator comments that before his arrest, K. usually stayed at his office until nine o’clock and then went for a walk alone or with friends. He would normally sit with mostly older men at an inn until eleven. Once a week he visited Elsa, a young woman who served long nights at a wine bar and during the daytime only receives visitors from her bed. The day of his arrest, K. works hard and receives birthday wishes from many people. Hoping to set the disruption straight at Frau Grubach’s, he goes home straight after work and finds Frau Grubach darning stockings. K. mentions the men from the morning and he thinks she seems surprised to hear him talk about the incident. She says he mustn’t take it to heart; it’s his happiness that’s at stake. She overheard the guards, and while she knows he has been arrested, it wasn’t like a thief’s arrest. She says his arrest sounded like “something very learned that [she] can’t understand, but which one doesn’t have to understand.” K. says he considers it not to be something learned but to be nothing at all. He gives excuses for his surprised behavior that morning and says he should have acted sensibly and nothing would have been different. He asks to shake her hand to seal that they are agreed in their opinions. She rises and tells him again not to take it to heart, her voice filled with tears. She doesn’t shake his hand.

Giving up on gaining Frau Grubach’s assent, K. asks if Fräulein Bürstner is home so he can apologize. Frau Grubach says she’s been out all day and her room is back in order, so she’ll have no idea it was used as the supervisor’s interrogation room that morning. Frau Grubach says she’s seen Fräulein Bürstner with different men on out-of-the-way streets and worries about her purity. She says she’ll talk to her about the issue, which angers K. He says he knows Fräulein Bürstner and none of that is true. He slams his door shut and mocks Frau Grubach’s desire to keep her guesthouse pure. K. smokes a cigar in his room as he waits for Fräulein Bürstner to arrive home so he can have a word with her.

Fräulein Bürstner comes in close to midnight and invites K. to speak with her in her room so as not to wake anyone. He apologizes for people having been in her room, but is reluctant to explain the full context. She notices her disordered photos and K. admits there was a commission of inquiry. She is incredulous at first, but after some discussion says she’ll maybe be able to help, as she is starting a job as a legal secretary next month. But then, as K. can tell her so little about the case against him, he worries she doesn’t believe him. Growing frustrated, he insists on moving her table to show her what the room was like. He illustrates the morning’s scene. Immersed in the role, he shouts his own name.

Fräulein Bürstner warns him to be quiet. There is a knock on the door. She says that Frau Grubach’s nephew, who is a captain, has been sleeping in the living room and can hear them. Fräulein Bürstner is upset that he shouted. They talk it over and Fräulein Bürstner says he should leave, it’s already been half an hour. At the door K. kisses her mouth, all over her face, and her neck, “like a thirsty animal furiously lapping at the water of the spring it has found at last.” She returns to her room with drooping shoulders. K. goes to bed thinking about how he behaved; he is satisfied with his behavior, but nonetheless concerned for Fräulein Bürstner because of what the captain might say to Frau Grubach.

Over the phone, K. learns he will have a hearing next Sunday, and that these short hearings would proceed at regular intervals: a rapid succession of short hearings. The voice on the phone gives him an address in a lower-class district where K. has never been. K. hangs up and resolves to make his first trial his last. On the way to the courthouse on Sunday morning, K. sees Rabensteiner, Kullich, and Kaminer out in the city. He arrives in an area filled with grey tenement buildings that house mostly poor people. He is angry to realize that no one told him what room to go to. He knocks on doors of rooms where poor people live and pretends to be asking if a carpenter called Lanz lives there as a means of figuring out if the inquiry commission was in the room. Eventually a woman says yes and tells him to enter a door, saying she has to close it after him because no one else is allowed in.

The courtroom is small and crammed full of furniture. Most people have their backs to him. They wear long black coats that hang loosely. K. is led to a table where a small fat man is laughing. He tells K. he should have been there an hour and five minutes ago. People mutter as they sit cramped up in the smoky, dusty area on the left and right sides of the room. When K. says he is late but he’s here now, there is much applause from the right side and only isolated applause from the left. He wonders what he could do to win them over, as their calm attitude makes them seem important.

The magistrate calls K. forward onto a platform. He consults a small notebook and asks if K. is a painter and decorator. K. says he is a senior accountant at a large bank. There is hearty laughter from the right. K. tells the examining magistrate that the misinformation is suggestive of the entire case, which he calls a mess. The spectators are silent. K. picks up the magistrate’s book with two fingers and drops it on the table to humiliate him. The magistrate picks it up and reads. As he does, K. explains to the assembled people what happened with his arrest, complaining about the poor handling of it and the disruption it caused.

The magistrate appears to nod at someone in the crowd; K. assumes he is signaling people in the assembly to react. K. says there’s no doubt a large organization is at work behind the court’s every operation. K. and the crowd’s attention are drawn to a man screeching in the corner of the room as he holds a woman close to him. K. jumps down off the platform and is eye-to-eye with the throng of people. He notices the crowd, comprising mostly old men with white beards, wear badges on their collars that seem to suggest belonging to two parties. K. sees the same badges on the magistrate’s collar and he exclaims that he sees the crowd members are all the officials he was inveighing against. He says they pretended to be two parties to test him. He picks up his hat and elbows his way to the exit amid silence.

K. finds the magistrate somehow was faster and got to the door before him. The magistrate informs K. that today he forfeited the benefit a man who has been arrested can derive from a hearing. K. opens the door and hurries down the stairs. Behind him he hears the meeting coming to life, the men discussing the events in the way students do.


The themes of inscrutable authority, compliance, and futility return in K.’s conversation with Frau Grubach on the night of his arrest. Having learned from the supervisor that his arrest does not necessitate incarceration, K. is eager to dismiss his arrest as “nothing at all.” However, he finds his attitude is undermined by Frau Grubach’s concern that he will take the case to heart, as she has accepted the authority of the arresting guards, while K. hasn’t.

Although Frau Grubach doesn’t know the nature of K.’s alleged crime, she assumes that her incomprehension is her own fault, and that the cryptic language with which she overheard the guards discussing K.’s case must be the result of the case being of a “learned” nature. Her impulse is to comply with the arrest, assuming the details and reason for it are simply beyond her comprehension. In this way, the court’s inscrutability ensures its authority over the public. K. grows frustrated when he is unable to convince Frau Grubach that the case amount to nothing at all. His frustration is compounded when the subject turns to Fräulein Bürstner, whom Frau Grubach suspects of being a mistress to multiple men, and that she needs more self-respect. The futility of speaking with Frau Grubach leads him to explode in anger and slam the door of his room.

During K.’s conversation with Fräulein Bürstner, Kafka introduces the theme of lust. Despite K.’s many reassurances that he simply wants to speak with her, K. suddenly barrages her with kisses on her face and neck as he leaves. He seems not to notice Fräulein Bürstner’s indifference to his sexual advances, as K. returns to his room and considers how he acted, concluding that he is satisfied. His satisfaction is only marred because Frau Grubach’s nephew knocked on Fräulein Bürstner’s door. K. staying late in her room may have had the consequence that Frau Grubach’s nephew will tell Frau Grubach, and Fräulein Bürstner’s reputation in the landlady’s eyes will fall further.

K. learns over the phone that his trial will begin Sunday and continue in a rapid succession of short hearings. Taking the attitude that the trial is nothing at all, K. hopes to make the first hearing his last, dispatching quickly with the whole business. Kafka continues to render K.’s reality in a dream-like fashion, as the courtroom is located in the attic of a run-down tenement building in a poor area of the city. Kafka’s choice creates an instance of situational irony, as K. and most readers would expect a court to be housed in an ornate and prestigious building.

In the smoky, cramped court, the success of K.’s hearing is compromised by multiple distractions. K. seeks to impress the crowd, only to learn that the crowd is composed entirely of members of the court who are merely pretending to be a public split into two factions. K.’s statement is interrupted completely when a man—a legal student, it later turns out—screeches as he lusts after the washerwoman who let K. into the courtroom. In another instance of situational irony, the examining magistrate reprimands K. as he leaves for how he forfeited the benefit of his hearing, as though the court’s distractions are K.’s fault and not the court’s.