The Trial | Study Guide

Franz Kafka

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The Trial | Chapter 8 : Block, the Businessman—Dismissing the Lawyer | Summary

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Summary

Josef K. has decided to dismiss his lawyer, Dr. Huld. He goes to Huld's house to see his reaction to this news. A "small, wizened man" opens the door. As K. enters, he sees Leni running out of Huld's room in her nightshirt. K. immediately asks the old man if "he's [Leni's] lover." The old man vehemently denies it. He introduces himself as Block, a businessman and another of Huld's clients. K. treats him arrogantly because Block is "of lower standing" than himself. They go into the lawyer's office, but it's empty. K. asks where Leni is, and Block says she's probably in the kitchen. They find her there, making soup for Huld.

While stirring the soup, Leni puts an arm around K. She sneers at Block and calls him "pitiful." K. asks Leni if Block is her lover. She embraces K. and tries to kiss him, but he pushes her away. Oddly, he's consumed with jealousy. Yet Leni never really denies a relationship with Block. She hugs K. closer and invites him to spend the night with her. Leni leaves to bring Huld some soup.

K. treats Block with contempt. But when K. learns that Block's case has been ongoing for five years, they discuss the lawyer and the courts. Block has K. promise to keep an important secret. He's hired five low-level lawyers in addition to and unbeknownst to Huld to work on his case. He knows that's not allowed, but he's anxious because his case is not progressing. Block has given up everything he has to mount his case, and he is ruined. That's one reason he often lives in Huld's house. The other reason is so he can be there during the rare instances that Huld summons him. Block had seen K. at the court. Block tells K. of a ridiculous notion that an accused's fate can be detected by the shape of his lips. Block explains that there are many reasons why K.'s initial documents have not yet been filed with the court. He then says that it doesn't matter, as these documents are deemed "worthless." K. learns from Block that Huld is only a "minor lawyer," and that the "great lawyers" are beyond reach.

Leni returns, but now K. ignores her to get more information from Block. Yet Leni persists in interrupting their conversation. She says Huld is ready to see K. However, rather than taking K. to see Huld, Leni invites K. to go with her into the bedroom. He follows her, but nothing happens between them. K. returns to the kitchen with Leni and announces that he's going to dismiss Huld. Leni and Block are shocked. K. rushes from the kitchen, with Leni racing after him. He gets to the lawyer's room first, but Leni tries—and fails—to pull him out. K. locks the door to keep her out.

The bedridden Huld has K. sit by his bed, and he apologizes for Leni's "importunate" behavior. Huld explains that Leni "finds most of the accused attractive ... [and] attaches herself to each of them." K. feels that Huld is trying to confuse him. Then he forcefully announces that he's firing the lawyer. The lawyer states that they should discuss this "plan," but K. states it's not a plan, it's a firm decision he's made. K. explains that he'd wanted quicker results from Huld, who says he understands that K. is "impatient." K. contradicts himself when he denies being impatient but states that he's tired of waiting for progress on his trial. The lawyer counters by saying that "after a certain point in the proceedings ... nothing new of any importance ever happens." He says that K.'s judgment is questionable and his decision is unwise. Huld explains that he's given K.'s case more attention than most because he finds it "especially interesting." K. wonders why Huld would "humiliate" himself in this way. K. demands to know what specifically Huld will do in the near future to further his case. Huld replies by telling K. that he has so far been treated either too leniently or been too neglected. That is what has led to K.'s rash decision.

To make a point, Huld has Block called into his room. Huld rolls over in bed, turning his back on the room. He huddles under the covers as Leni brings Block in. Then she sits near K. and runs her hands through his hair and over his face. K. holds her hands to stop her. Block tiptoes into the room. He is tense and servile. Huld proceeds to humiliate Block, confusing him with irrational questions and abusing him verbally. Block kneels down by Huld's bed, "like a dog," to receive whatever news the lawyer has. K. is enraged at Block's self-humiliation and renounces him. But Block lashes out, telling K. that they are equals in their oppression by the law.

Leni leaves K. and goes over to Block, who asks her to intercede with Huld on his behalf. Leni indicates that Block should kiss Huld's hand, which he does. Leni then leans over the lawyer and strokes his hair. Huld asks Leni about Block's behavior today, and she describes how docile and conscientious Block has been. But Huld then says the judge he'd spoken to about Block's case did not "speak well of him." Huld is keeping Block servile by scaring him with bad news (or lies) about his case. But then Huld states, "What the judge said has no meaning." Huld says that he's insulted that Block doesn't trust him and that he dislikes Block's anxiety.

[Franz Kafka never finished writing this chapter.]

Analysis

Josef K.'s sexual desire, jealousy, and status open this chapter. K. goes to Huld's house to fire him. When the door to the lawyer's house opens, K. is outraged to see Leni running out of Huld's bedroom wearing only her nightshirt. K. realizes that she is probably Huld's lover. Sexual jealousy takes hold of K. But he vents his anger at the "wizened old man" who'd opened the door to him. It is the businessman, Block. All K. can think to ask him is if he's also Leni's lover, which Block denies.

To regain control over the situation, K. reverts to his feelings of superiority. K. feels more possessive and deserving of Leni's attention because he feels superior to this disheveled "little man." K. and Block talk together on their way to the kitchen. K. "felt at liberty ... [because he was] speaking with [someone] of lower standing" than himself. They find Leni making soup. She puts her arm around K., but he demands to know if Block is her lover. They go into the lawyer's office, where Leni embraces and kisses K. She never actually answers his accusation about Block, whom she says she's "helping." Back in the kitchen, Block asks K. if he's a client of Huld's. "What business of that is yours?" Josef K. fires back. Again, his contempt for those of lower status is revealed in his rude and imperious behavior.

K. becomes even more incensed and jealous when Leni tells him that Block sleeps at the lawyer's house. K. automatically assumes that Leni is sleeping with him. Leni laughs at K. for believing this, but later Huld admits that Leni is sexually attracted to accused men. Whether or not this means she's having sex with Block is not clarified. When K. is ready to go see the lawyer, Leni deflects him from his purpose (again) by showing him the closet that Block sleeps in. Here, she uses sexual jealousy, not sex itself, to deflect K. from his purpose. The incident also undermines K.'s certainty that he, K., was using her for his own benefit. Now he sees that he wasn't in control, she was. Who was benefiting from whom?

The importance of status shows up again when Block tells K. that though Huld is a good lawyer, he is a "minor lawyer." Huld is far below those the court deems "great lawyers." But, Block says, "there is probably no way of contacting" these high-ranking lawyers." Like the judges, the upper echelons of the court have a status that makes them unknowable and unreachable. Huld's relatively low status is revealed when, curiously, he pleads with K. not to fire him. K. is amazed that the lawyer would "humiliate" himself in this way. Huld's humiliation lies in the tacit admission that he's not as powerful or well connected as he pretends to be. K. even remarks that Huld "was showing no regard for the dignity of his position" when he demeans himself in trying to retain K. as a client. Huld's abasement proves his lack of status.

When Leni leaves to bring Huld his soup, K. and Block begin to talk. K. decides that Block's more extensive experience with the court system might help him. K. later admits that "the man was of some value" because Block had been of use to K. Block's case has been ongoing for five years. Here again, K.'s relationship with another person is purely transactional.

When K. describes his initial hearing, Block tells K. that his interpretation of the proceeding is completely wrong. Block had been in the crowd during K.'s hearing. Block says that rather than appearing smart, K.'s behavior seemed "stupid." Block says that regarding the court, there are "things that you just can't understand with reason alone." The irrational foundation of law and the ambiguous meaning and interpretation of its procedures are highlighted in this section. K. thought he'd been in control at his hearing and that he'd won over the crowd. But his experience of the hearing and his assessment of his position were totally incorrect. He'd had no way to know how the crowd and the judge viewed his behavior. This situation is absurd. How can the accused defend himself when he does not know how his actions will be interpreted? Block expands on the court's absurdity with a humorous description of how the shape of the accused's lips, and other superstitions, are believed to reveal guilt or innocence. When a system is absurd and irrational, resorting to superstition may be the only way to make sense of it.

The irrationality and absurdity of the court is reinforced when Block describes filing his necessary but "worthless" documents. There's humor in his statement that he actually got to read one of these vital documents, which "was very learned ... [but] it didn't actually say anything. Most of all there was lots of Latin." Block admits that he'd been expecting progress on his case, which "should have been moving on in some way according to the rules." The irony here is that Block must surely be aware, as the reader is, that there are no knowable rules by which the court operates. Block's statement about rules is absurd and simply reveals his self-delusion.

The motif of waiting is introduced by Block who says, "Waiting is not pointless ... It's only pointless if you try and interfere yourself." This statement underscores the passivity of the accused who find meaning in waiting in the court corridor only because they hope that someone will call on them to further their case. K., however, refuses to demean himself by waiting so abjectly.

When K. finally sees Huld and tells him he's fired, the motif of waiting is again used. K. says he expected "more vigor" from his defense lawyer. Huld counters that K. is "impatient." K. denies this, even though that is the reason he's dismissing Huld. K. says he was "waiting for you to do something, getting more and more tense, but you did nothing." But K. has been waiting for results that the lawyer says are unrealistic: "After a certain point ... nothing new of any importance ever happens." K. is forced to wait for his case to proceed in the same way as the "wretches" in the court corridor must wait. But unlike the accused in the waiting room, K. has not yet given in to passivity and hopelessness. K. blames the lawyer who "would try to mislead K. with hopes that were never specified and to make him suffer with threats that were never clear." K. shall dismiss him "to put a stop to that" and to the pointless waiting it entailed.

Huld has been revealed to have low status in the court. He is a "minor lawyer." But he has Block brought into his bedroom to impress K. with his, Huld's, power over servile clients. Block's debasement and powerlessness in Huld's presence mirror the accused's humiliation by the court system. Huld turns his back on Block. He uses irrational and contradictory statements to undermine Block, as when he says, "You were summoned ... but you have still come at a bad time." Huld has him kneel at his bedside, kiss his hand, and stroke his blankets. Block's humiliation attracts Leni, who goes to him. Block begs her to intercede on his behalf with the lawyer. "He [is] the lawyer's dog," K. thinks, disgusted by the scene. The lawyer then speaks to Block but is almost certainly lying to him. He toys with Block to frighten him with contradictory information. Huld tells Block that the judge "did not speak well of him at all." Then Huld nearly crushes Block by insisting that the same judge scorns Block's efforts to further his case because "his trial still hasn't begun." Block has devoted the last five years of his life to the case, only to hear this. Block is clearly shaken, so Huld tries to calm him by saying, "What the judge said has no meaning for you ... you needn't be frightened at every word. If you do it again, I won't tell you anything else at all." The tale the lawyer has spun has shaken Block to the core. Although it is likely untrue, it reveals that Huld is probably an inveterate liar when it comes to his clients' demands for information about their case. It seems likely that Huld must lie to his clients because he, too, has no access to the upper echelons of the court where decisions are made. The lies and the contradictions are further indications of the court's irrationality and ambiguity. It cannot be known by anyone, even a supposedly well-respected lawyer.

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