Summary and Analysis Chapter 8


Huld continues to emerge as a paradoxical character: he pretends to have influence with the higher-ups and yet pleads with K. not to dismiss him. He claims he loves to help him and would truly regret it if a "misunderstanding" forced him to withdraw his help (he cannot grasp the fact that K. might want to cease relying on him for rational reasons), and yet he keeps K. enslaved. He demands submissiveness from K. and Block, and yet he tells them the Court dislikes them because of their submissiveness. He forces Block to read the same legal documents over and over again, justifying his treatment of him by saying Block does not understand them. At the same time, it is obvious that he himself does not believe in the writings: "After a certain stage in my practice nothing really new happens." Huld simply uses the documents to keep Block dependent and to demonstrate that by reading legal documents nobody can learn even a basic fact, such as whether or not his case has been opened yet.

Block's self-deprecation is a masterpiece of psychological insight into the mechanism of mutual influence between the awareness of guilt (imaginary or real) in the accused and its effect on the accuser. It is Huld who summons Block, and yet it is Block's automatic slavish compliance that causes Huld to react as if his client were intruding. He even accuses Block, who literally lives in his lawyer's house to be near him at all times, of appearing at the wrong moment. When the tradesman, overly anxious to read the lawyer's whims, meekly asks whether he should leave again, he almost forces Huld to humiliate him. Through self-doubt and a disgustingly fawning attitude, Block maneuvers himself into a position of apparent guilt. That he is really guilty (everybody is guilty to some degree in the sense that K. is guilty long before he is arrested) is another subject. The point here is that people, by acting in a self-effacing manner, drive others to treat them "like dogs." The same thing happened to K. at his arrest and then before the Examining Magistrate: by showing bewilderment and indecision at the wrong moment, he let the authorities take the initiative and believe his guilt. (The fact that he really is guilty before the highest Law is a different issue again: the arresting officials know and care nothing about that). Leni and Huld find K. attractive because he is, or, as far as they know, appears, guilty. The same psychological phenomenon operated in Fräulein Bürstner, who also found K. attractive for the same reason. The mere charge results in an awareness of guilt (real or imagined), which, in turn, tends to drive the accused into the arms of the Court. The syndrome Kafka deals with here is that which makes Raskolnikov give himself up in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. As everywhere in Kafka's writings, the boundary lines between imagined guilt, projected guilt, and actual guilt are not clear-cut.

Because his case is much older (five years as opposed to K.'s six months), Block has stooped much lower in his eagerness to gain some form of help. At first, he even treats K. as if he owed him something, only to turn against him the minute this appears opportune. Because his case is so much older, he realizes that his case is "beyond reason" and that, if help comes at all, it will come through Huld, unlikely though this is. As opposed to K., Block has neither the desire nor the strength to dismiss the lawyer.

K. is utterly repulsed by Block's fawning behavior and by Huld's attempt to impress him through treating the tradesman "like a dog." "Had he not chased him away sooner, he [Huld] would have achieved just that through this scene," the narrator says. Huld's pseudo-legal, or at least inefficient legal, actions, Block's self-effacing duplicity, and Leni's role as a mistress to everybody in the name of the Law strike K. like a continuously repeated ritual: ". . . as if K. was listening to a well rehearsed conversation that had been and would be repeated many times and which would keep its novelty only for Block."

K. is entirely justified in feeling and thinking the way he does. What he does not know yet is that nobody can really escape this subservience and entanglement completely. He, too, has prostrated himself before several women by now, is eager to sound out the contemptible Block in search of clues that might help him, and, in the end, will also be compared to a dog (as Block is here). In the parable "Before the Law," Kafka reduces K.'s and Block's behavior before the inaccessibility of the Law to its most succinct form when he shows us how the man from the country even seeks to win the sympathy of the fleas in the doorkeeper's fur coat.

The recapitulation of K.'s visit to the Court offices in Chapter 3 affords us a glimpse into the Court's arbitrariness and superstitiousness. It turns out, through Block, that the confusion which K. noticed in a defendant then (and which K. interpreted to be the result of his own aggressive behavior toward that defendant) was really the consequence of the latter's shock over K.'s doom. He claimed he could tell K.'s doom by looking at his lips — an absurd statement, but symptomatic of the arbitrary nature of top decisions.

K., too, has fallen victim to self-delusion, following even the most unlikely leads rather than focusing on his own conscience. Block makes the point that, absurd though the idea of reading a defendant's guilt from his lips may be, "if you live among these people it's difficult to escape the prevailing opinions."

The world in which K. seeks to find his bearings confounds him more with each step toward acting "reasonably." Tempting though it is, we should not jump to the conclusion from this that K. could have extricated himself from his entanglement had he actually dismissed Huld. In this chapter, K. is on the road toward doing just that, but did not finish it, quite in keeping with the notion of the "broken off radiuses." To believe that his dismissal of Huld would have altered his fate pre-supposes that K.'s case is essentially a rational and legal one that can be fought along rational and legal lines.

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