Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The Trial was begun in July, 1914, when Kafka turned thirty-one. He had just broken off his first engagement to Felice Bauer. He had also been unable to write any literature for more than a year, and he was feeling simultaneously frustrated by this writer’s block and guilty for having been unfair to either Bauer or himself (depending on how one looked at it). Out of this inner turmoil arose The Trial, which was completed within six months.
Like all Kafka’s writing, The Trial achieves a fine balance between the real and the imagistic, containing enough references to everyday life that the reader is initially tempted to confront the content of the surface story with logical argumentation. Were this a standard crime story, one would say that K., who was a banker by profession, misses three excellent opportunities to save himself. At the beginning of the novel, when arrested without being told why, K. neglects to contact his friend the public prosecutor. In the middle of the novel, when it would help to get away for a while, K. turns down his uncle’s invitation to stay with him in the country. At the end of the novel, K. avoids the policeman, who clearly wants to intervene.
The premise of fantasy, though, is that it details inner reality. Kafka was involved in coming to terms with himself, and he presents the reader with strong evidence that K. and the court are one and the same. Names are always significant in...
(The entire section is 708 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Perhaps someone has been slandering Joseph K., because one morning, without having done anything wrong, he is arrested. Each morning around eight o’clock the landlady’s cook usually brings K., as he is called, his breakfast, and the old woman who lives across the way from him usually stares at him with a curiosity unusual even for her.
This morning, the old woman fails to stare at him, so K. begins to ring her but first hears a knock on his door. Without waiting for a response, a man dressed like a traveler and whom K. does not recognize enters the room. When K. hears a short burst of laughter from another room, he jumps out of bed to investigate. The stranger asks Josef if he would not rather stay in his room, but K. answers that he has no wish to stay in the room nor to be addressed by the stranger, whose name turns out to be Franz. In the next room, K. sees another strange man, whose name is Willem, sitting in front of a window and reading a book. When K. asks to see Frau Grubach, his landlady, Willem puts down his book and informs K. that he is being detained.
Bewildered, K. asks many questions of Franz and his companion, only to find that they can tell him very little about his case. They cannot tell him the reason why he is being held, for they themselves do not know the reason. K. shows these strangers, now his guards, his identification papers. They tell him that they cannot settle his case and that they have been sent to guard...
(The entire section is 2029 words.)
At the start of The Trial, Joseph K. awakes on the morning of his thirtieth birthday. He is greeted by two warders, Franz and Willem, who tell him he’s under arrest, and introduce him to the Inspector. He refuses to tell K. why he has been arrested. Confused, K. is surprised when they let him go with orders to come back for his trial. After work that evening, K. talks with his landlady, Frau Grubach, who is sympathetic to his plight. K. likes Fraülein Bürstner, whose room the Inspector had commandeered. When she returns late at night, K. insists on talking to her about his day, and then makes a grab for her.
K. is told to present himself for a brief inquiry into his case. He goes to the address, only to find that it’s a tenement house. A woman doing laundry directs him to the Court of Inquiry. The Court is sitting in a stuffy room, packed with bearded men in black. K. addresses the audience about the stupidity of the court. He is cut off by a man grabbing the laundry woman and shrieking.
K. returns to the offices the following Sunday, but no one is there except the laundry woman. She is the wife of the Usher, and explains that the man who had grabbed her was a law student, Bertold, who has been chasing her. K. examines the books left on the table, only to find that they are pornography. The Usher’s wife tells him about...
(The entire section is 1037 words.)