The Trial By Franz Kafka Summary and Analysis Chapter 7


More than even the previous chapter, this one reveals the hierarchy of mediators and contact people with whose aid K. aspires to free himself. What Huld and Titorelli have in common is that they point to the invisible, inaccessible, highest Court without being able to help K. In their capacity as K.'s mediators, they are accessible to him only through other contacts, such as Uncle Karl and the Manufacturer. This principle of mediation is deeply entrenched in the world of The Trial: an entire staff will be instrumental in bringing about the meeting between K. and the priest (they are the Bank Director, an Italian visitor, Leni, and the Verger).

Who are the three figures after whom the chapter is named? The lawyer Huld has inside knowledge of the Court in the sense that he sees the confusion and jealousies prevailing among its members. He makes no efforts to hide these difficulties from K.; in fact, he stresses the insurmountable obstacles to a meaningful defense in this thicket of assumptions, opinions, and half-truths. He makes it clear to K. that his only chance at all lies in K.'s allegiance with him. But there is more: Huld wants nothing short of complete subservience from K. (he demands and gets it also from Leni, and Leni, in turn, wants it from K.) as a sine qua non for any effort. In this connection, it is important to realize that "Huld" means "meekness" or "grace" in German. Huld dissuades K. from drawing up petitions to the higher levels himself because "defense was not actually countenanced by the Law, but only tolerated." Besides, even if one could accomplish some minor point, "any benefit arising from that would profit clients in the future only, while one's own interests would be immeasurably injured by attracting the attention of the ever vengeful officials."

Some interpretations see Huld as a divine mediator who sacrifices himself to the highest Court on behalf of his clients. If we accept this interpretation, his sickness assumes a new dimension beyond that of sloth and decadence. If he takes it upon himself to suffer for his clients, then his sickness radiates a sacrificial quality. The trouble with this argument is that, even if we accept it, the lawyer's "Huld" ("grace") turns out to be a perverted one: it is not that of religion, but that of secularized messianism. Huld reveals his true nature when he describes himself as being concerned, not with "ordinary cases," but as a lawyer who "lifts his client on his shoulders from the start and carries him bodily without once letting him down until the verdict is reached, and even beyond it." His perversion lies in the assumption that he can solve each client's case. In spite of his limits — he keeps bragging about connections, but they fail to produce results — he thinks he can "carry" others. In his scintillating back-and-forth between his presumptuousness and weakness lies his guilt. He distorts the essentially positive quality of uncompromising faith into humiliation. Huld acts like Jesus, but in a world that lacks the religious foundation for such an approach.

It is perhaps more plausible to see Huld as a representative of all those forces in our confused world that want to make life "easier" for people, thereby depriving it of its meaning. Leni is of the same kind. They both humiliate their clients — Leni by degrading them sexually and by making them believe she can help them, and Huld by insisting that he has all the answers as long as his clients are willing to give up their personalities. If we substitute "consumerism," "sexual permissiveness," or some form of political totalitarianism for their plan, we have no trouble seeing them as typical representatives of our time. Their common desire is to "help" us escape from freedom and responsibility.

The scene between the Assistant Manager and the Manufacturer reflects K.'s waning self-assurance. He even has the feeling that he is made the "object" of a business deal: "It seemed to K. as though two giants of enormous size were negotiating above his head about himself." The Assistant Manager's remark, "Thanks, I know that already," means that the Court is not the least bit interested in K.'s petition. It also shows that the world of the Bank and that of the trial cannot be separated. The reason the Court would not accept K.'s petition is simply that, even if it were perfect and arrived at the proper place (unlikely in the anonymity of the Court), it would contain only the justification of his life in retrospect. It would not, however, prove his innocence or exempt him from punishment.

Titorelli, too, is part of the Court. He is in charge of doing the portraits of the various judges. His studio is filled with the same stifling air which prevails in all other attics, and it borders on some of these judges' hideaways. Like Huld, he claims he has connections with the higher levels of the Court, but, unlike Huld, he does not soothe K. by promising him his acquittal. When he advises K., he does it as a private individual and not as his counsel of defense. As a result, K. follows his advice willingly. Titorelli's position is unique because he is neither completely outside the Court, like K., nor entrusted with a function by it, at least not as far as K.'s case goes. This sets him apart from the many officials who cannot help K. because "they are caught up in legal matters by day and night."

Titorelli is a beautiful-sounding Italian name that evokes associations with such historical painters as Tintoretto. It is also an assumed name — that is, a sort of a lie. We know this from the Manufacturer who learns about K.'s case from the painter, another indication of Titorelli's familiarity with the Court. What we also know from the Manufacturer is that "Titorelli probably also lies." This he no doubt does when he pretends not to know the reason for K.'s visit with him. He also lies when he does not reveal to K. the extent to which he is in the Court's "confidence." It is only by accident that K. discovers the only way to reach the Court, located in the attic, is to go through Titorelli's room — in fact, step over his bed. To K., who has taken it as a good omen that Titorelli's studio is located far away from all the Court offices, this comes as a shock.

None of Titorelli's portraits shows the judges the way they really look. They are all extremely vain, do not really sit on "thrones," but nevertheless insist on being portrayed like their counterparts of days long gone by. Is this a hint that, in ancient days, the visible instances of the Law were not so corrupt? Or does it mean that the discrepancy between the absolute integrity of the Law as such and its miserable human executors has always been equally wide? Again, the two views are not mutually exclusive.

Here, it is important to note that Titorelli is not allowed to paint the judges the way he wants to. Nor are the judges themselves "free": they are subject to the whims and desires of their superiors. This means that the nature of the manifestations of the Law is determined in advance and by necessity tarnished. Since flattery prevails, the portraits look alike, with only the distinctions of rank varying. Titorelli has inherited his position from his ancestors; like they, he knows how to paint the judges along "secret" guidelines.

One picture, an allegory of justice, K. cannot even recognize as such. Titorelli explains that it represents "Justice and even the goddess of Victory," which makes K. reply that it really looks like "the goddess of the Hunt." The portrait also shows a judge ready "to jump up the next moment to say something decisive or pronounce a verdict." This is a lie, for no judge of this Court will ever feel such motivation nor pass a verdict.

There are several paintings of one and the same landscape, each showing two little trees in front of a sunset. Titorelli thinks they are all different, but they are not. As he admits, "before the Law one loses artistic verve." He who has seen through the inexorable sameness of things, he who knows there can be no acquittal, can also see no individual nuances in the paintings any more.

This brings us to Titorelli's "inside knowledge." Though he does not want to know the ultimate secrets of the highest Court, unattainable for him who has not read "their books" either, he nevertheless has knowledge which he has inherited from his ancestors and acquired through experience. He knows that there has never been an acquittal ("only in legends"), and he also knows that the Court is convinced of each defendant's guilt. As opposed to Huld, he speaks his mind freely. In the fragment entitled "The House," added to the Vintage Books' edition of the novel, the Titorelli episode is continued with a most remarkable sentence: "K. was not disconcerted by Titorelli's shameless smile, directed with lifted head into empty space." He who has seen the truth, stared into the abyss of nothingness, has resigned himself to painting the same pictures over and over again.

When K. complains to Titorelli about his contradictory argumentation, the latter reminds him: "In the code of the Law . . . it is of course laid down on the one hand that the innocent shall be acquitted, but it is not stated on the other hand that the Judges are open to influence." This is a variation on Kafka's famous aphorism that "the correct understanding of a matter and the misunderstanding of the same matter do not entirely exclude each other."

Titorelli advises K. to keep postponing his case because "by keeping it from getting beyond the first stages he escapes the danger of new sudden arrests." He convinces K. of the wisdom of opting for this approach rather than "ostensible" acquittal and is quite willing to attest to his innocence (knowing, however, this would not help a bit). What Titorelli wants is that K. resign himself to what is feasible. Every other solution is impossible because, as Titorelli elaborates, "even while they are pronouncing the first acquittal, the Judges foresee the possibility of the new arrest."

The mediators Huld and Titorelli are involved with the Court, though in very different ways. The outward signs are the atmosphere of sloth and illness around Huld (disregarding the "religious" interpretation now) and one of promiscuity around Titorelli. He transcends Huld in the sense that he confronts K. with the realities of the Court and his case: What they and the Manufacturer do to K. to a mounting and plausible degree is function as a series of brakes on his self-defeating search for outside help. Expressing it differently, K.'s awareness of his situation has grown to — a point where one more piece of circumstantial evidence will make him draw the consequences. Block is about to furnish it.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

How is K. executed?