The Trial By Franz Kafka Summary and Analysis Chapter 2

Summary

The opening of the second chapter is ample proof that The Trial cannot be read literally as a reflection of political tyranny or even as a satire of such a system. There has never been a police state which made sure a defendant is rested before his interrogation, nor has there ever been one that has left it up to its victims to choose the time of their arrest. "If K. had no objections," he is to appear on a Sunday, not necessarily every Sunday, but so that his case can be quickly concluded. As if to prove this point, the authorities do not even specify the time K. is to appear and, as it turns out, give him only a vague description of the place he is to go to. (One might note that this is a specific suburb of Prague where Kafka went frequently). Nevertheless, he will be reprimanded for not meeting the Court's vaguely formulated demands.

K.'s first response is to abide by the summons and to make his first appearance also his last one. To get things over with, he even declines the invitation of his Assistant Manager to join a party. Without being aware of making a mistake, K. sets his own time for his first appearance — 9 A.M., since that is the time which courts usually open—and, without a fault of his own, he arrives at the place over an hour late. Nobody among the authorities has bothered to tell him details, and yet the Examining Magistrate reproaches him for being late. This pattern is clearly noticeable throughout the novel: precious little about his pending trial is ever explained, or even mentioned, to K. In fact, the reader is led to believe it is up to

K. to take the initiative. This is not altogether wrong. The trouble is that, barely has K. taken it, it turns out he has maneuvered himself into a less favorable position. What the Court wants, or pretends to want, is uttered in such an ambiguous way that, by reacting at all, he sinks into an ever deeper quagmire. Whatever steps K. takes, the Court latches on to and uses against him. In connection with this first interrogation, it is interesting to note that the German original for "interrogation" is "Verhör," a word with clear connotations of "hearing incorrectly." This is one of Kafka's great themes: if, indeed, there is a Law, a message, issued from the highest echelons, it is bound to become inaudible, unintelligible, or at least distorted by the time it reaches the common people. Applied to K.'s situation, this means that there is no rational, legal way of establishing contact, let alone rapport, with the Court.

As K. errs through the dilapidated Juliusstrasse to locate the Court offices, he recalls the words of the warder Willem that an "attraction existed between the Law and guilt, from which it followed that the Court must abut on the particular flight of stairs which K. happened to choose." Frustrated by this lack of orientation, K. takes Willem's words to heart. He decides to use the name of Captain Lanz, his neighbor at Frau Grubach's, to find the whereabouts of the Court. There is of course no man by that name anywhere, nor could the young woman whom he asks for Lanz's place possibly know the captain. Nevertheless, she directs K. to the office he is looking for and insists on his closing the door behind him because "nobody else must come in." The logic of the dream world prevails: though K. gets there through a series of absurd questions and answers, the Court seems to have assembled where he is looking for it and, what is more, apparently only to receive him. Yet nobody pays any attention to K., and when they finally do, it is only to chide him for having violated a rule they never bothered to let him know: "You should have been here an hour and five minutes ago," the judge says twice.

The impossible location, the sordid atmosphere, and the small, dog-eared law book are all signs of the complete indifference the authorities are displaying toward K. The Examining Magistrate even has K.'s profession down as that of a house painter. K. has made up his mind to keep the initiative and lets the judge know he has not really expected anything but inefficiency anyway. He is still certain, even overbearing; "It is only a trial if I recognize it as such," he says, thereby making a major mistake: he accepts the trial, even if only temporarily and out of a readiness to compromise, perhaps of sheer curiosity, basically because he does not take it seriously. He simply cannot conceive of his being guilty. His claim to fight the Court not merely for himself but also for all the others who are indicted shows that he is by no means the only one accused. To be sure, not everybody is guilty to the same degree, and not everybody will be punished alike, but perhaps Kafka's point is that to live means to become involved in evil-doing. Also, not everybody is aware of his guilt, as K. certainly proves. In all this we must not forget that the novel's major theme is not K.'s guilt but the way in which he seeks to handle the procedure he is involved in.

K.'s determination to reproach the Court for the manner in which it conducted his arrest turns into sheer anger when he notices secret signs being exchanged between the Examining Magistrate and members of the packed courtroom. His point-blank attack on the lethargy and corruption of all levels of the Court is met by more indifference. The badges K. notices on everybody present confirm his suspicion that he is facing some closed organization whose mind is already made up on the very subject they are supposed to deal with. When he seeks to escape the stifling atmosphere, he is held back by the Magistrate, who warns him, "Today you have flung away with your own hand all the advantages which an interrogation in-variably confers on an accused man."

Because he does not understand his situation, K. at first decides that "attack is the best defense." Both the women showing him the way to the office and the applause of the audience present encourage K. in his aggressiveness. He is led to believe that he can progress without having to worry about serious obstacles. His downfall is that in a superficial way he seems to make headway. It always turns out soon, however, that his thrusts lose themselves in empty space. Like a spider caught in a web, K. keeps himself from further entanglement only when he is near exhaustion.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

How is K. executed?




Quiz