The Trial

The Trial Summary and Analysis of In the Empty Conference Hall • The Student • The Offices; The Thrasher; His Uncle • Leni


Over the week following his first hearing K. waits each day to learn of a new hearing. When no word comes, he returns to the same building on Sunday and goes straight to the room. The washerwoman at the door tells him there’s no session today. He looks at the squalid, empty room and asks if he can look at the examining magistrate’s legal books on the table on the platform. She says it isn’t allowed. K. learns she and her husband, a court usher, live there rent-free on the condition they clear out for hearings.

The woman and K. discuss last week’s interruption. She says the man who held her has been after her for a long time and she and her husband must accept it; the man is a student, and likely will be very powerful one day. She says it is horrible here and asks if K. can make improvements. He says maybe he can if she shows him the books on the table. Now eager to show him, she brings him to the old, well-thumbed books. K. finds a pornographic picture in the first book, and the second is a novel called The Torments Grete Had to Suffer from Her Husband Hans. The woman sits him down and says she’ll help him. She says he has beautiful dark eyes. K. thinks that she’s offering herself to him, and that she is as depraved as all the others around there.

K. tells the woman she can help by telling the examining magistrate or anyone who likes spreading important news that he will never offer a bribe, if that’s what they are after by dragging out the trial. She says the examining magistrate last week stayed up late writing long reports about K. and then visited her at her bedside to return her lamp. He complimented how she looked sleeping, so she knows he’s courting her, and thus she’ll have influence over him. The woman notices that the student, named Bertold, is watching them. He beckons her over. She says she wants K. to take her with him; he can do whatever he wants with her, as long as he takes her away from this horrible place. K. is tempted by her; he also thinks it would be a means of exacting revenge on the examining magistrate to take away the woman, whom the examining magistrate desires himself.

The student loudly kisses the woman’s neck. K. and the student argue over which of them ought to leave. The student hoists the woman over his shoulder and begins carrying her to the examining magistrate. She confirms to K. that she doesn’t actually want to be freed, as it would be the ruin of her. Defeated, K. follows them up a staircase, at which point they disappear. K. meets the court usher, who is the woman’s wife. They commiserate with each other about their contempt for the student. The usher says his wife is so sought after because she is the most beautiful woman in the building.

The usher invites K. to the court offices, which are run down and sparsely peopled with unkempt officials, who are bent like street beggars. The usher informs him they are actually defendants, like K. K. speaks to a defendant who applied several times to have evidence produced in his case and is awaiting the result. K. feels dizzy. A young woman helps him to a chair and says it happens to everyone their first time visiting, because the air is so hot and stuffy. She introduces him to the elegantly dressed information clerk, and they both lead him outside by taking him under their arms. K. reflects that he is surprised to find his normally sound state of health so suddenly compromised. He intends to make better use of future Sunday mornings.

Soon after, while working late at his office one evening, K. hears groans from behind a storage closet door. He finds three men lit by candlelight. One of the men is dressed in black leather that doesn’t cover his arms or chest, and he holds a cane. The other two—Franz and Willem, K. now sees—say this man is making them undress and is thrashing them because K. complained about them to the examining magistrate; their careers have been ruined. K. says he didn’t know his complaints would lead to them being beaten and offers a bribe to the thrasher to spare them, since K.’s real quarrel is with the system that employs the guards and the senior officials who run the system. The thrasher declines and the guards cry out as they are beaten. The next day K. opens the lumber-room again to discover the exact scene from the previous day about to begin again. Almost in tears, he slams the door shut and tells a few of the bank messengers in his employ that they ought to clear out that old lumber-room. K. goes home feeling weary and with his mind a blank.

K.’s Uncle Karl visits from the countryside, arriving at the bank. They sit in private and Uncle Karl expresses concern about K.’s trial; he reads a letter from K.’s seventeen-year-old cousin Erna detailing how she dropped by the bank one day and learned from a bank messenger about the trial. Uncle Karl is flustered by K.’s calm attitude toward the criminal case against him. K. is concerned about people listening to them, so they leave the bank. On the street, Uncle Karl pulls K. into a taxi to see a lawyer named Huld who Uncle Karl knows from school. Leni, a nurse, brings them to Huld’s bedside; he is ill and withered looking. K. is confused to learn that the lawyer is familiar with K.’s trial, having heard about it through people he knows at the court. K. notices an old man sitting in the dark. The man struggles to his feet and Huld introduces him as the head of administration.

The man takes control of the conversation, but Leni breaks a china plate outside the room, hoping the sound will draw K. out, which it does. Leni leads him to the lawyer’s office and they discuss how they were both interested in each other when their eyes first met. K. sees an exaggerated portrait on the wall of an examining magistrate on a throne. He draws Leni to him in the dark and she leans against his chest. She says she knows the examining magistrate but refuses to give K. his name. She tells him his mistake is that he is being too intransigent: no one can resist the court, so he just has to confess if he wants to escape. Leni offers to help him, but only if he confesses. K. reflects that he has been enlisting women helpers. Leni asks if he has a lover. He lies, but then admits he does and shows her a photo of Elsa dancing.

Leni insults Elsa and insists he wouldn’t mind trading her out for a lover such as herself. She shows K. what she calls her physical defect: the skin between two fingers is connected. K. is enthralled by the trick of nature, which he refers to as a pretty claw. He kisses her hand. She clambers around so she is kneeling on his lap and bites and kisses his neck and hair. They fall to the floor kissing and she says now he belongs to her. When they part, she gives him a door key and tells him to come whenever he likes.

K. goes outside in a light rain, where his uncle is waiting in a taxi. Uncle Karl says he damaged his case by leaving the conversation to disappear for hours with a grubby little tart whom he believes is the lawyer’s mistress. The three men sat in silence, waiting to resume talking about the case and seeing how they could help K. The head of administration eventually left and Huld couldn’t speak by the time Uncle Karl left. He accuses K. of having hastened the death of a man he is dependent on, and he tells K. he left his uncle to wait for hours in the rain.


The mismanaged and inscrutable court fails to inform K. of when his next hearing might be, keeping him preoccupied in a state of agitation and ignorance. He assumes that on the following week he should return to the same court, but when he does he discovers that no hearing is taking place that day. The theme of lust returns as the washerwoman explains how the legal student from the previous week has been after her, and she feels she can’t resist him because he will be very powerful one day.

The woman seems to find K. attractive, and she wonders if he can make improvements to the court. In exchange, she breaks the court’s rules and allows him to see the magistrate’s books. In an instance of situational irony, the legal reference books the examining magistrate consulted during K.’s hearing turn out to be pornography and a novel seemingly about a woman with an abusive husband. As the woman compliments K., he thinks that she is as depraved as everyone else involved in the court. His suspicion is answered when the student comes to take her from K. and she admits that she doesn’t actually want K. to free her from the court.

The woman’s husband, a court usher, arrives to give K. a tour of the court offices. Similarly to the courtroom, the offices are unkempt and oppressively stuffy. K. finds it filled with baffled and broken-down defendants calmly waiting for results in their cases, as though they are in a prison running down their sentences or patients confined to an asylum. The oppressive atmosphere and the compliant, hopeless defendants he meets conspire to drain K. of his vitality and he needs the usher’s assistance to walk outside. The moment depicts how the court system's endless bureaucracy instills a sense of weakness and futility in the defendants.

Following the themes of distraction and of reality adhering more to the logic of a dream than reality, K.’s discovery of the leather-wearing thrasher caning Willem and Franz in a bank storage room completely disarms K. He hadn’t meant for them to be punished, but he witnesses their pain and screams as the man canes them, insisting that he must follow the court’s violent protocols. To make the incident even more dream-like and surreal, K. returns the next day to the storage closet to see the precise scene from the day before starting over again.

In the following chapter, Uncle Karl visits from the country after having learned about K.’s case. Insinuating that he was once K.’s guardian, Karl insists on intervening in the case and so introduces K. to an old friend and highly experienced lawyer. Herr Huld, however, is so ill that he stays to his bed. In another instance of K.’s reality being dream-like, the court’s head of administration happens to be already in the room, despite K. not having noticed him earlier. Kafka returns to the theme of lust when Leni draws K. away from the important discussion of his case so that she may seduce him in Huld’s office. K. succumbs to the distraction, and Uncle Karl reprimands him for further damaging his case by disrespecting the head of administration and Huld.