The Trial | Study Guide

Franz Kafka

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The Trial | Chapter 7 : Lawyer—Manufacturer—Painter | Summary



Josef K. is at work, but he cannot concentrate on anything. He can think of nothing but his trial. He contemplates writing a document in his own defense. That might be more effective than relying on his lawyer who doesn't seem to be actively defending him. K. considers the things his lawyer has told him about the law. Dr. Huld has told K. that he has won many similar cases. Yet K. is concerned because Huld has not completed any of the initial court documents K. needs. K. cannot be told about the progress of his case because all court documents and proceedings are secret—as is the actual indictment. Even worse, the court just "tolerates" defense lawyers, often deliberately preventing a defense from being mounted. Despite his disgust with Huld, K. realizes that he needs the lawyer's connections with higher-ups in the system to have his case resolved favorably.

K. ponders the incomprehensible intricacies of court cases. He doesn't know what he should do. K. knows that some action must be required, yet he also realizes that the accused should "never attract attention" to himself. K. is trapped in a conundrum. He can't figure out how to deal with the "enormous organism" that is the court system. If, as it seems, the accused's guilt or innocence is predetermined by the court, what's the point of doing anything? Yet Dr. Huld insists he can make progress on K.'s case. K. thinks that, above all, he must reject the idea that he is guilty of anything.

K. also worries that many people now know about his case, though he can't imagine how they found out. This widespread knowledge threatens K.'s love life (the trial is known to Miss Bürstner) and his position at the bank. K.'s work at the bank has suffered since he attempted to draw up his own trial documents. The amount of work this entails is wearing him out. And completing the documents is made much more difficult by the fact that K. does not even know what he's accused of.

K. wonders at Dr. Huld's complex and often contradictory advice about how his case should be handled. The lawyer's descriptions of the workings of the court reveal an impenetrable and irrational system. Only Huld's influence with high-level court officials can have any positive effect on K.'s case. Or so he says.

K.'s musings on his case are interrupted when he's told that some very important clients of the bank are waiting to see him. The manufacturer enters K.'s office and begins to tell K. about the business at hand. K. cannot concentrate on what the manufacturer is saying. K. is so distracted that the deputy director of the bank, who has an adjoining office, comes in to take over the business with the manufacturer. K. worries slightly about his status at work when the manufacturer leaves with the deputy director. K. wonders if the deputy director knows about the trial and if he'll use it to gain power over K. K. wanders over to sit by the window. Eventually, he decides to fire his lawyer and defend his case himself.

The manufacturer returns to K.'s office when his business with the deputy director is finished. He says there is something he must tell K. that might help with his trial. The manufacturer tells K. about the painter, Titorelli, who has connections with the court and might be able to further K.'s case. Titorelli paints portraits of judges, so he's knowledgeable about how they think and work and about the intricacies of court cases. The manufacturer gives K. a letter of recommendation and the painter's address. He says that K. should visit the painter to get his advice.

K. decides to leave and visit the painter right away. He barely acknowledges the other bank customers who have been waiting hours to see him. The deputy director comes out of his office and says he'll take over K.'s meetings with these customers. Again, K.'s career is being undermined. But he cannot delay. He must see the painter immediately.

K. locates the painter's studio in the same suburban neighborhood as the court. He enters the filthy tenement. A flirtatious young girl directs him to the studio high up in the attic. A large group of "childish, depraved" girls accompany him up the stairs. K. knocks on Titorelli's door and is invited in, though the girls are chased away. Titorelli says he gets his cramped studio for free because he paints portraits of court officials. Titorelli tells K. he never sees the judges he paints, but uses his imagination to depict them. Titorelli says he's a "trustee of the court," whatever that means. K. is bothered by the oppressive air and heat in the studio, but he asks the painter if he can help with his case. When asked, K. states with conviction that he's "totally innocent." Titorelli admits that once someone is accused, the court assumes guilt. But he says there are ways he might be able to help K.

Titorelli explains three types of "acquittal" that he might help K. achieve. "Absolute acquittal" is possible only when the accused is truly innocent, but Titorelli knows of no case of absolute acquittal. "Apparent acquittal" and "deferment" are called acquittals, but the accused is never truly acquitted, or declared innocent. With these types of "acquittal," the accused is never free of the court; thus, the assumption of guilt.

K. is feeling faint from the heat and bad air. He wants to leave but promises to return soon. He buys some paintings to stay in Titorelli's good graces. Titorelli has him leave by a door that, to K.'s surprise, leads directly into the court offices. K. staggers through the court offices, barely able to breathe. Titorelli calls out to K. not to wait too long to decide which form of acquittal he wants to pursue.


Josef K.'s musings emphasize the irrationality of the court and the impossibility of pursuing a defense. K. ponders what he's heard from his lawyer about the court. K. is so obsessed by his court case, he cannot concentrate on his work at the bank. He worries that his inefficiency may damage his status there. K. also realizes that the only reason he retains Dr. Huld is the lawyer's insistence that his status gives him influence with high-level officials at the court. Status is everything.

The absurd and irrational workings of the court take center stage in this chapter. K. goes over and over in his mind the incomprehensible and irrational procedures of the court that his lawyer has told him about. K. has "no idea what actions the lawyer was taking" but feels compelled to believe Huld's assertion that his influence is crucial. K. tries to make sense of the irrational things Huld has told him. For example: It is essential to file the initial court documents, though these are often lost or never read, and thus are useless. Because the trial is secret, K. and his lawyer never get access to any documents they or other court officials produce. Thus, the defense cannot know how to respond to the prosecution. Even worse, the court tries "to prevent any kind of defense." The defense is kept ignorant of the indictment, so cannot defend against it. Some court officials are open to sharing trial information with a lawyer. Yet "you should never trust them," as they may give contradictory information in a report. Because the report is secret, the accused has no way to refute it.

Deceit among court officials is to be expected. You should work hard at pursuing your case, but "never attract attention to yourself" for then court officials may "seek revenge." If you seem to make progress in one part of the court, the " malevolent ... enormous organism" will replace it with an obstacle somewhere else. Yet, Huld explained, "There was always some progress, but [the lawyer] could never be told what sort of progress it was." Whether you work diligently on your case or ignore it, the outcome is the same. The judgment is predetermined. Despite all the effort that the lawyer recommends, he admits that inevitably "the trial will ... enter a stage where no more help can be given."

In spite of these dire warnings, K. decides that the most important thing for him was "to reject in advance any idea that he might be in any way guilty." Although everything points to the inevitability of a guilty verdict, K. persists in asserting his innocence. Both his guilt and innocence regarding the trial are ambiguous to the point where it might not actually matter if he's innocent or guilty.

K. reflects on how the physical premises of the court "remove the dignity" of the accused. Those on trial are kept in "low-ceilinged" places in the court tenement. They wait endlessly in the lowest level of the attic, while the lawyers—who have more status—occupy the second floor of the attic. K. pictures the court officials working on his case in an attic space even higher than that of the lawyers, indicating their higher status. The attic and the interminable waiting are symbols used here to reveal the low, almost subhuman status of the accused, and even of low-level lawyers and judges. Each has his place on a floor of the attic, reflecting the hierarchy of the court. Huld tells K. that "the different ranks and hierarchies of the court are endless," so there's no possibility of truly influencing the most powerful, high-ranking court officials. Those you can deal with are so low in rank, what they say is totally unreliable. Yet they are the only access you have to the court. The infinite hierarchy of the court hints that God is the final arbiter of justice, for God is totally unreachable.

K. is worried about his status at the bank but feels there's nothing he can do about it. He is worn down by his efforts to write his own court documents, especially "because he did not know what the charge was or even what consequences it might bring." K. is paralyzed by these thoughts and distraught that they prevent him from dealing with the manufacturer client. Although K. had been musing on how pointless his efforts at the court were, he jumps at the chance that the painter, Titorelli, might be of use to him because he has close ties to the court. K. leaves his other clients waiting "pointlessly"—which diminishes them as the accused are diminished—to visit Titorelli at his studio.

K.'s experience with Titorelli is rife with ambiguity and legal irrationality. Titorelli's studio is in a rough, horrible tenement. The painter never sees the judges whose portraits he paints because they never reveal themselves. Thus, Titorelli must conjure up an image to paint. Titorelli's work is an exercise in absurdity, as a portrait depicts an individual. A painting cannot be a portrait if the individual's likeness is unknown. Titorelli's studio is in an attic, which might reflect his low status. The air in his studio is hot, rank, and nearly unbreathable—it is the oppressive air of the court. The primary information the painter has for K. regards the three forms of acquittal. Josef K. is still determined to prove his innocence, so he's eager to hear how he may be acquitted of all charges (whatever they may be). The forms of acquittal present more examples of absurdity, irrationality, and hopelessness. They are deliberately absurd and irrational because the court always assumes the accused is guilty.

"Absolute acquittal," Titorelli tells K., is when the accused is innocent—but that is never the case. The means for obtaining this type of acquittal are contradictory and irrational. There are only "legends" about absolute acquittals. Titorelli knows of no instances when an absolute acquittal actually occurred. K. remarks that, in that case, "they could replace the whole court with a single hangman." An "apparent acquittal" involves having an advocate draw up an assertion of innocence that is circulated and cosigned by numerous judges. Unfortunately, in an apparent acquittal you are only "apparently free," because you can be rearrested at any time. To call this an acquittal is irrational because the innocence attested to carries no weight and has no meaning. This is supported by the fact that court proceedings against the accused continue indefinitely and any court can order rearrest, which sets you back to step one.

The final form of acquittal is called "deferment." In this form, acquittal entails the accused's trial remaining indefinitely in its initial stages. Generally, the accused is not in danger of rearrest. But "the defendant is never free," because he must spend his life attending to the proceedings constantly underway against him. To call this an acquittal is absurd because the accused is continually fighting against his assumed guilt. The painter actually sums up the absurdity of these last two so-called acquittals: "Both have in common that they prevent the defendant being convicted ... But they also prevent his being properly acquitted." K.'s head is spinning from the oppressive air and the irrationality of the options Titorelli described. K. rejects both types of acquittal because neither supports his claim that he is innocent.

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