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The Trial | Plot Summary

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Summary

Arrest and the Court

One morning, Josef K. is arrested in his room in Mrs. Grubach's lodging house. K. is the chief clerk in a bank, and he has never been in trouble with the law before. He is questioned by some policemen, but he can't make sense of what they're asking him. They do not tell him the nature of the "crime" that led to his arrest. That night, he visits Miss Bürstner, a fellow lodger, and kisses her.

The next Sunday as instructed, K. travels to the run-down suburb where the court is located in a dilapidated tenement. He is there to attend his first hearing. He cannot find his way to the courtroom, so he asks various tenants for directions. One woman shows him into the courtroom, which is filled with people. A judge sits at a small table. K. defends himself by making a speech that, essentially, insults the court. But he thinks he's helping assert control and his own innocence. The judge, however, tells K. that he's actually damaged his case.

Although K. is told he'll have hearings every Sunday, when he goes to the court the next week, the court is not in session. He speaks with a woman who resides in the tenement, and she flirts with him. But a pugnacious law student enters and carries her away—ostensibly to have sex with a judge. Her husband, a court usher, meets K. and says there's nothing he can do about his wife having sex with other men of the court. K. feels oppressed by the bad air in the court, and he's helped outside.

Legal Aid and Obsession

Some days later, K. hears strange sounds coming from a "junk" room at the bank. He enters the closet-sized room and finds a whip-man beating the two policemen who had arrested K. They are being punished because K. had said at his hearing that he did not like the way they had behaved when they'd arrested him. They beg him to help them avoid whipping, but K. does not want to harm his case or his reputation by aiding them.

K.'s Uncle Karl visits him at the bank. Karl knows about K.'s legal troubles. He takes K. to see Dr. Huld, a friend of his who is a well-respected lawyer. The lawyer is at home, bedridden due to some mysterious illness. Another court official is also there. The three men talk, ignoring K. Leni, Huld's nurse (a paid helper and likely his lover), is an attractive woman who flirts with K. and lures him away from the lawyer. When K. finally leaves, his uncle is outside. Karl is furious that K. spent time with Leni and did not speak with the lawyer, as this indifference harmed his case.

K. is so obsessed with his case, he has a hard time concentrating at work. When meeting with a manufacturer, K. is unable to pay attention. His boss takes over for him. But as the manufacturer leaves, he tells K. that he's aware of his case. He recommends K. visit a court painter, Titorelli. K. visits the painter at his strange studio. The painter tells K. of three options he may pursue to gain some type of acquittal in his case. Each option is illogical and absurd, and none leads to genuine acquittal. K. is surprised upon leaving to see that the painter's studio is in the court offices.

K. is so disgusted with his situation, he decides to fire his lawyer. He goes to Huld's house where he meets Block, a long-time client of Huld's. Block offers some generally useless advice about how to deal with the court system. Both Block and Leni try to prevent K. from dismissing Huld. The lawyer explains that he can help K.—even though he never seems to leave his bed—because he has connections with high officials in the court system. Huld summons Block to show how he can humiliate his clients who are still devoted to him. K. is repelled by this behavior and leaves.

A Parable and an Execution

To help out his boss at work, K. agrees to guide a visiting Italian businessman around the city's famous cathedral. The businessman never shows up. Instead, K. receives a sermon from a priest who is actually a prison chaplain and, thus, attached to the court. The chaplain relates the opening paragraphs of the written law. This section of the law is an intricate and mysterious parable (known as "Before the Law") about man's relationship to the law. The chaplain and K. discuss the many moral and philosophical meanings one can read into the parable.

Exactly one year after his arrest, two men come to K.'s room to take him away. They pin his arms but let him choose the direction he wants to walk in. K. thinks he sees Miss Bürstner and follows her for a while. But the three men end up in an abandoned quarry, where K. is seated next to a large stone. One man takes out a butcher knife and stabs K. in the heart, killing him.

The Trial Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action

Introduction

1 Josef K. is arrested at his lodgings.

Rising Action

2 Josef K. is arrogant at his trial's first hearing.

3 At the empty court, K. meets the woman and student.

4 K. learns that Miss Bürstner doesn't want to speak to him.

5 K. finds the officers and whip-man in a bank closet.

6 Uncle Karl takes K. to Dr. Huld, the lawyer.

7 Leni tries to seduce Josef K.

8 A manufacturer sends K. to the painter, Titorelli.

9 Titorelli tells K. of three types of acquittals.

10 K. speaks with Block at the lawyer's house.

Climax

11 Josef K. fires Dr. Huld; K. will handle his own case.

Falling Action

12 K. waits in the cathedral for the Italian visitor.

13 The chaplain tells K. the "Parable of the Law."

14 K. goes with the men who come to take him away.

Resolution

15 Josef K. is executed.

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