The Trial | Study Guide

Franz Kafka

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The Trial | Chapter 6 : K.'s Uncle—Leni | Summary

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Summary

One day while Josef K. is working at the bank, his Uncle Karl shows up. Karl lives in the country where he owns some land. Josef K. had somehow been expecting a visit from his uncle, who had also been his guardian. K., therefore, feels obligated to be his host when he visits the city, even though the visits make K. feel like he's "haunted by a ghost from the country."

Uncle Karl insists that he must speak to K. in private. K. has his subordinates leave, and he closes the door to his office. As K. had expected, his uncle is very upset about K.'s trial. K.'s half-sister, Erna, had written a letter to Uncle Karl about the case. The uncle can't believe it, but K. admits it's true. In her letter, Erna states she's sure the case is some mistake and "all will turn out for the best ... [though] in the meantime things do not look good at all." When K. admits it's a criminal trial, Uncle Karl is very upset. Yet it's clear that most of his concern is for the reputation of the family. Uncle Karl assures K. that his trial is "much worse" than a normal courtroom proceeding. They leave the bank discussing the case that, Karl states, must have been "developing a long time beforehand." Karl suggests that K. take a holiday in the country, but K. explains that that might be interpreted as flight and an admission of guilt.

Uncle Karl remembers his old friend, the lawyer Dr. Huld. He insists that K. accompany him to see the lawyer immediately. Dr. Huld will represent K. in court and see that his case is resolved favorably. Huld's residence/law office is in the same suburb as the court. Uncle Karl pounds on the door but is told that Dr. Huld is ill and cannot see anyone. But then the woman at the door—Leni—relents, opens it, and lets them inside. She reiterates that Dr. Huld is ill with heart trouble. K. is transfixed by Leni's good looks.

Leni leads them into Dr. Huld's huge, dark bedroom, where he is laid up in bed. When Huld is told that his old friend has come, he rouses himself a bit from the bedclothes. As Karl and Huld talk, Leni stares at K. Leni fluffs up Huld's pillows and seems to be stroking his hand, but he asks her to leave. He has legal business to discuss with Karl and K. Karl is glad she's gone as he thought of her as a "witch." As Karl and Huld talk, it becomes clear that Huld is already familiar with K.'s case—which is of great interest to him. Huld tells K. that he knows many higher-ups in the court and that is how he knows about K.'s trial. He also states that it's who he knows in the court that is far more important to the outcome than any facts about the case. Influence with the court seems to be the most important factor in a trial.

When K.'s uncle raises a candle, he and K. notice an old man sitting in a dark corner. The man rises, and Huld introduces him as the office director of the court. The office director takes part in the conversation, but everyone seems to have forgotten K., who is ignored. K. thinks he may have seen the office director at the court offices or at his hearing, but he's not sure. Josef K. is unaware of the power and influence the office director can wield.

When the sound of breaking porcelain shatters the conversation, K. offers to go see what happened. He leaves the bedroom slowly, "as if giving the others a chance to stop him." But no one does.

When K. steps out of the bedroom, Leni takes him by the hand and leads him into Huld's formal legal office. Leni says she broke a plate to get K.'s attention. K. sits down, and Leni sits close beside him. Leni flirts with K., who embraces her. As part of her seduction, Leni tries to get K. to stop thinking about his trial. However, she does tell him that the best way to terminate the proceedings is for him to confess his guilt. K. protests that he'll never do that because he's not guilty of anything. As she speaks, Leni presses herself against K., then sits on his lap and wraps her arms around his neck. She claims that if he doesn't freely confess, there is nothing she can do to help him.

Leni gets K. to admit that the closest thing he has to a lover is Elsa, the waitress and possible prostitute. Leni coquettishly asks if K. would dump Elsa and take her as a lover. Leni speaks of bodily defects and shows K. her webbed fingers, which he finds fascinating. K. kisses them, and Leni straddles him and kisses his neck. She pretends to fall and pulls K. down to the floor on top of her. "Now you're mine," she says. It's likely, though not stated, that they have sex. As K. leaves her, Leni gives him a key to the house so he can come and go anytime.

When K. reaches the street, his uncle is there, hopping mad. He demands to know where K. disappeared to when he was supposed to be discussing his trial with Dr. Huld. He yells at K. for fooling around with Leni who is "obviously the lawyer's beloved." Despairing of K.'s return, the office director had left—and he might have been very helpful in K.'s case. Further, K. made no attempt to win the lawyer over to his side. Uncle Karl is beside himself with rage at K.'s behavior. Uncle Karl is further bewildered by K.'s seeming indifference to his own trial. He is also angry that he's been standing out in the rain and is now soaking wet.

Analysis

Transactional relationships, especially sexual ones, dominate this chapter. Status and reputation are at play, as is the theme of guilt and innocence.

Josef K.'s relationship with his Uncle Karl seems to lack true affection. The attention K. gives to his uncle arises more from a sense of obligation than true feeling. K. says his uncle "haunts him like a ghost." This is not the statement of a loving relative. Karl, too, is undemonstrative in his behavior toward K. It's clear that he's visiting K. because he's heard about his trial. Although Karl professes to be worried about K.'s case, his greatest concern is for status. "Think about your family, think about our good name," the uncle says. By taking K. to see the lawyer who may resolve his case, Uncle Karl is more interested in ensuring that his family's position is not harmed than in proving K.'s innocence.

K.'s involvement with Leni is purely transactional (though more than a bit lustful). As she seduces him, K. thinks, "I'm accumulating women to help me" with his case. K. wants her to help him, but his attraction to and lust for her overcome his self-interest. Leni, however, seems to seduce him to further the interests of the court. She appears to be an agent of the court or controlled by it. Thus, her seduction of K. seems intended to deflect him from what he should be doing—seeing Huld to further his case.

The motif of hierarchy and the symbol of the attic are also used in this chapter. K. assumes that the lawyer is powerful and has influence in court because he "work[s] in the High Court, not that court in the attic." The attic courts are at a far lower level than those above that really matter.

The omnipresence of the court also factors into Karl's visit. It's unclear how K.'s half-sister, Erna, heard about K.'s case. It's also curious that, unlike K. himself, she knows that "things do not look at all good" for K. It seems as if everyone but K. knows more about his case than he does. But how do they know? Why does he not know? Is the answer to the latter question that K. is deliberately deceiving himself? Or is he purposely kept in the dark by the court?

Uncle Karl provides what may be an insight into K.'s predicament and possible guilt. He says, "Things like this [the indictment and trial] don't come all of a sudden, they start developing a long time beforehand, there must have been warning signs of it." Here, Karl refers to the theme of guilt and innocence. He implies that K.'s guilt has arisen from his lifelong behavior. It's the accumulation of the many small things that a person does that, like K.'s behavior toward Miss Montag, accumulate until the guilt cannot be ignored. The implication is that the court may be omniscient, recording every action people under its jurisdiction take. Or the statement may refer to an omniscient God's judgment of all human actions. Yet the relationship, if any, between the court and God is not clarified.

K. seems "indifferent" to his case, so he acquiesces to his uncle's demand that they go see a lawyer. Uncle Karl tells K. that the lawyer has a good reputation, even when "working with the poor." K.'s perpetual attention to status is clear when he thinks, "It was not very encouraging ... to be taken to a lawyer for poor people." But they go together to the lawyer's house, which is in the neighborhood of the court. This proximity may imply that the lawyer may be closely aligned with the court. He may be more concerned with the court than being an advocate for the accused.

The motif of deformity—and illness—is important in this chapter. When they gain entry to the house, Karl and K. are told that the lawyer is unwell. He has "trouble with his heart." As the reader soon learns, Dr. Huld is so ill that he's never shown leaving his bed. It's possible that dealing for so long and so closely with the malignant court has sickened Dr. Huld. That he has a heart condition may reflect the effect the court has had on him. It may be that dealing with the sinister machinations of the court system has damaged the organ associated with empathy and forgiveness. Later on in the chapter, the reader is told that Leni, too, is deformed. She has webbed fingers. Leni works for Dr. Huld and may be his lover. She may also work for the court system itself. Her closeness to the lawyer and the court may be associated with her deformity. The pernicious court system seems to deform many of those who become closely involved with it. However, during her seduction of him, K. finds her deformity strangely attractive. "What a freak of nature," he says, and then he kisses the webbing.

K. sits out of the way as his uncle and the lawyer chat as friends. K. seems detached; he "looked on calmly" as they conversed. He was "glad [his uncle's enthusiasm] had now been distracted without his [K.'s] having to do anything about it." K. still doesn't take his case seriously, so convinced is he of his innocence. However, K. is surprised that the lawyer already knows about his case and finds it "interesting." K. remains uninvolved in the discussion, even as the office director of the court reveals himself and joins the conversation. K. pays so little attention, he's oblivious to the amount of power this official has at the court. Instead of engaging with the lawyer and the magistrate to help his case, K. is glad to be distracted by Leni.

While the men speak together, Leni attends to the lawyer, gently stroking his hand. Leni may be Huld's lover, but she is also a powerful seductress. She stares fixedly at K. as soon as he enters the house. She breaks some porcelain to attract K.'s attention, and he leaves the other three men to go find her. As he steps out of the lawyer's bedroom, Leni grabs his hand. K. admits that he "was thinking about [her] too." Leni presses against K. and then leads him into the lawyer's office. As she leans into him, Leni tells K. that she can help him only if he confesses his guilt. This seems to indicate that she's working for the court in some way. Otherwise, why would she care about his plea and not believe in his innocence? She may understand that proving innocence is impossible, and this further implicates her as an agent of the court. That she distracted K. from discussing his case with the lawyer and the office director reinforces the notion that she's a creature of the court. She does the court's bidding by trying to elicit a confession of guilt from the accused and by taking him away from those who might help him.

Leni seduces K. and likely has sex with him. "Now you're mine," she says, perhaps meaning that by succumbing to her seduction, K. has now succumbed to the court. He is under her spell and thus irretrievably ensnared in the court system. The text implies that K. and Leni have sex for hours.

When K. finally leaves the house, his Uncle Karl is waiting for him. Karl is furious that K. had disappeared with "some dirty little thing" instead of attending to his case. K. allowed himself to be seduced and deflected from his purpose. The lawyer and especially the powerful office director were baffled by K.'s behavior and the indifference to his case his absence demonstrated. K. allowed himself to be irremediably damaged by a seduction that was likely orchestrated by the court. His indifference and desire—his total lack of control over his actions and his life—are destroying K.'s case and sealing his fate.

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