The Trial | Study Guide

Franz Kafka

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The Trial | Chapter 4 : Miss Bürstner's Friend | Summary

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Summary

Josef K. has been trying, with little success, to speak with Miss Bürstner. Somehow, she always finds a way to avoid him. He gets up an hour early to meet her before she leaves for work. He writes her letters. But nothing elicits a response from her. K. wants to apologize for his behavior the night of his initial arrest. He writes Miss Bürstner that the next Sunday he'll stay in his room all day waiting for her.

That Sunday, instead of seeing Miss Bürstner, K. meets the small, pale French teacher, Miss Montag. K. learns that Miss Montag is moving in to Miss Bürstner's room as her roommate. K. has not spoken to Mrs. Grubach in several days because he's angry that she insulted Miss Bürstner. When Mrs. Grubach brings K. his breakfast, she asserts that she did not mean what she had said about Miss Bürstner's behavior. Mrs. Grubach even cries about K. having taken offense. However, they soon forgive each other and make up.

Miss Montag requests a meeting with K. in the dining room. Miss Montag wants to speak with K. about Miss Bürstner, who she says is unwell. Miss Montag says that Miss Bürstner believes a meeting with K. is unnecessary and would be of no benefit either to herself or to K.

K. gets up to leave, but as he opens the door Captain Lanz walks in. Lanz is a large, middle-aged man. He bows to K. and Miss Montag, even kissing her hand. K. notes that Lanz's courtesy contrasts sharply with his own less-than-polite treatment of Miss Montag. She tries to introduce Lanz to K., but K. haughtily declines the introduction. He's determined to show no friendliness to either of them, as he's intent only on his pursuit of Miss Bürstner.

K. thinks that Miss Montag has exaggerated the importance of his request to speak to Miss Bürstner. He haughtily thinks that he couldn't have thought it important because, after all, "Miss Bürstner was [just] a little typist." While Lanz and Miss Montag converse, K. knocks on Miss Bürstner's door. There is no answer, so he knocks again, harder. K. then just opens her door and goes in. He finds the room empty. Yet the furniture is completely rearranged to accommodate Miss Montag. As he leaves Miss Bürstner's room, he's sure that Lanz and Miss Montag are watching him. He retreats to his room.

Analysis

The motifs of hierarchy, status, and transactional relationships drive most of the action in this chapter. The concept of guilt is also explored.

Mrs. Grubach abjectly apologizes to Josef K. for having thought badly of Miss Bürstner. K. takes his time but comes around to forgiving Mrs. Grubach. Throughout their conversation, K. seems to be acting magnanimously in his forgiveness. However, he forgives Mrs. Grubach because he feels so far superior to her and her "dumb helplessness." She even begins to weep at his generosity, saying, "Do you really think I'd want to make an enemy of you for the sake of a girl?" K. allows Mrs. Grubach to run on, letting her "feel superfluous." He is described as being almost "contemptuous" of her.

K. meets Miss Montag, Miss Bürstner's new roommate, in the lodging house dining room. She says she speaks for Miss Bürstner who feels that a face-to-face meeting with K. would "be of no benefit to anyone" and that his request for a meeting was "futile." Here again, relationships are transactional.

K. is barely polite to Miss Montag. Then Lanz enters the dining room and shows tremendous courtesy to Miss Montag, kissing her hand and bowing to her. K. notes the sharp contrast between his impolite and Lanz's courteous behavior toward Miss Montag. K. bolsters his self-importance. Clearly, K. thinks that his impoliteness and disrespect display his higher status than these others. K. acts as if he believes that he need not be respectful to those of lower status.

K. decides to sneak into Miss Bürstner's room. The pointlessness of this action harkens back to his pointless hearing and the court. The impropriety of his action points to what might be considered a justification for his indictment. K. is acting immorally by sneaking into Miss Bürstner's room. It is perhaps selfish and unjustified actions, such as this, that he is guilty of. When K. sees that no one is in the rearranged room, he rushes back to his own room. He scuttles past Miss Montag and Lanz, hoping they have not caught him in this improper invasion. In some ways, then, K. is flawed. He understands on some level that he is guilty of some things. He cannot know what the court thinks he's guilty of, but the absolute innocence he proclaims for himself is clearly disproven in this incident.

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