The Trial

The Trial Summary and Analysis of The Lawyer • The Factory-Owner • The Painter


On a snowy day, K. is feeling tired at his office, unable to get his case out of his mind. He folds facedown on his desk and considers submitting a statement in his defense. He reflects on how Huld hasn’t been helpful. In their past meetings, the lawyer delivered to K. useless and boring speeches while reassuring K. of his experience with such cases. K. learned from Huld that the court merely tolerated defense attorneys, and wants to eliminate defense counsels entirely, and so the court sets aside a decrepit room for them at the courthouse tenement; their feet often go through a hole in the floor. In general, the court keeps proceedings secret from both the public and the accused. This is why Huld’s contacts with senior officials are so important.

K. recalls Huld’s explanation of the elaborate bureaucracy involved in the “great legal organism.” Huld advised him not to attract attention or try to change the organism, which remains eternally in balance. Huld likened the officials to easily offended and vindictive children and says that K. had already harmed his case with his behavior at his first hearing and when he neglected the administrator. Huld always concluded these interminable speeches by reassuring K. that progress had been made in preliminary conversations with officials, but Huld refused to disclose what, exactly, this progress consisted of. During his meetings with Huld, K. had been distracted by Leni coming in to serve the lawyer his tea and surreptitiously squeeze K.’s hand.

On this winter morning, K. is convinced that he must take the case into his own hands. He knows he would be able to ignore the trial if he were alone in the world, but his family is involved, and he has noticed Fräulein Bürstner’s attitude to him fluctuates according to how well the trial is going, so he is in the middle of it and must put up a fight. He decides he will dismiss the lawyer and put unremitting efforts toward having the officials study his submission; he will stand up for his rights, unlike the dispirited defendants to which the court is accustomed. K. decides his submission will have to describe his whole life in detail, and that he’ll have to write it at night, as he is so busy at work, climbing the ladder to positions of greater authority.

K. realizes he has lost two hours daydreaming and two important bank customers have been waiting to see him. He meets with a factory owner but fails to listen to what he is saying. The deputy manager intervenes and cuts K. out of the conversation before he and the factory owner leave K.’s office. Glad to be alone, K. watches snow falling outside the window without knowing what is worrying him. After some time he realizes that taking over his case will be an obstruction to his career; he considers asking for time off. The factory owner returns and informs K. that he has heard about the trial from a painter named Titorelli who paints portraits for the court. The factory owner suggests the painter could be of assistance and hands K. a letter of recommendation.

As K. sees the factory owner out, K. sees that three men have been waiting. He apologizes and says he must be leaving, but maybe they would like to return tomorrow. The astonished men stare at each other in silence and K. buttons his coat. The deputy manager comes into the hall and offers to see the gentlemen if K. is unable to. K. accepts that he can’t keep up with the deputy manager at the moment. K. takes a cab to see the painter, who lives in an even poorer area than where the court offices are. In the chaotic and rundown building K. encounters a hunchbacked teenage girl who leads him to the painter’s room in the attic. The painter says she and the other girls are always bothering him. K. hopes not to stay long in Titorelli’s miserable little studio.

K. strikes up a conversation about a pastel portrait on the easel that depicts a judge. Titorelli says even though the judge is painted as a senior official, he is in fact not a high-court judge, he is merely vain. When K. asks the judge’s name, Titorelli reveals that he knows K. is trying to find information about the court, and admits that he is a confidential agent of the court. Titorelli is not displeased: he knew K. would come to see him. Titorelli asks if K. is innocent; K. is relieved to say he is. Titorelli says that the judges never change their mind, and that K. would have better luck trying to convince the portraits of judges on the canvasses. The girls outside the door shout through the door and Titorelli apologizes. He says the girls also belong to the court, but then everything belongs to the court. Titorelli says he can get K. free, and that although the judges are impervious to arguments brought before the court, they can be persuaded behind the back of the public court—in his studio, for example.

Titorelli says there are three types of release: genuine acquittal, apparent acquittal, and protraction of the proceedings. Titorelli has never heard of genuine acquittal being reached. In the hopes of achieving an apparent acquittal, Titorelli offers to write a statement affirming K.’s innocence, and says he will deliver the statement to the judges he knows, some of whom may believe him. Apparent acquittal means that at any point in the future an official may order K. to be arrested again, but in that case K. could obtain another apparent acquittal. K. is evidently displeased at the prospect of successive arrests and apparent acquittals. Titorelli next explains "protraction of proceedings," which involves the case being kept permanently at its lowest stage. This would require K. keeping in constant contact with the judge overseeing his case and keeping the man favorably disposed toward him. It would save K. the terror of sudden arrests, but in either case he will never be free.

K. stands to leave. Titorelli concludes that both methods prevent the accused from being sentenced, and K. adds that both also prevent him from being really acquitted. Before leaving K. buys a collection of dusty old landscape paintings under Titorelli’s bed, feeling he owes Titorelli something for his help. On his way out through a different door that avoids him having to deal with the pestering girls, K. sees court offices. Titorelli is surprised that K. is so surprised: doesn’t he know there are court offices in almost every attic? A court usher helps deliver the paintings, traveling with K. in a cab back to the bank. K. puts the paintings in the bottom drawer of his desk, where they will be safe from the eyes of the deputy manager.


After several visits to Huld’s bedside, K. reasons that he is unlikely to attain any advantage by having Huld on his case. Having years of experience and an insider relationship to court officials does not mean Huld knows how to thwart the system, but rather that Huld is completely compliant with the court’s oppressive bureaucracy. In this way, Huld simply becomes another time-wasting, energy-draining distraction for K.

As other characters have told K., Huld believes that it would be futile for K. to resist the court’s inscrutable authority. Huld suggests that if defendants were allowed to see the documents pertaining to their cases, they wouldn’t be able to comprehend them anyway; with this statement, Huld betrays his condescending attitude toward defendants, and further demonstrates his complicity with the judges who refuse to reveal the vital details of cases. Huld likens the court system to a great organism that maintains a delicate and sensitive balance. The comparison suggests the court is an entity unto itself, rather than a system created and upheld by humans who would have the capacity to change it. In this way, Huld reinforces the notion that it is futile to resist the court, as even the people who run it have no power to alter its functioning.

While Huld ascribes to the court an almost God-like status, as though it is something humans couldn’t possibly corrupt, K. refuses to accept Huld’s interminable explanations of how the court functions. K. believes the best course of action is to take the case into his own hands and submit to the court a detailed account of his entire life. However, the prospect of having to write the report is daunting; it will mean he is further distracted from his career at the bank, which is already faltering because of K.’s preoccupation with his case. Following the theme of distraction, K.’s reverie is interrupted by one of his clients, who offers to help K. by introducing him to a court painter.

K. is so eager to meet Titorelli that he disregards his remaining clients and heads straight to the painter’s address. However, K. becomes reacquainted with the motif of would-be helpful people insisting that their knowledge of the court is limited: Titorelli says that despite having inherited the position of court painter from his father, so far he has only had success with secretive low-level officials.

Titorelli describes the judges he paints as being vain and as sensitive as children. He offers to help by insisting upon K.’s innocence to the judges he comes into contact with, but he also suggests that a genuine acquittal would be highly unlikely, if not impossible, to attain. Titorelli outlines the other options a defendant has, both of which involve being kept in a state of anxiety about whether the judges are pleased or displeased with the defendant. K. feels the same sense of futility he has encountered with other would-be helpful people who turn out to be completely submissive to the court’s inscrutable authority.