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The Trial | Quotes


Our authorities ... don't go out looking for guilt ... it's the guilt that draws them out.

Franz, Chapter 1

This quotation introduces the idea of Josef K.'s innate guilt. It is his guilt that has attracted the attention of the law and brought on his arrest. It is not, as he insists, that his arrest is a mistake because he is innocent.


My lord ... there are proceedings only if I acknowledge that there are.

Josef K., Chapter 2

When Josef K. makes this statement during his first hearing at court, he is revealing his arrogance and his ignorance. He assumes he is so superior, and so innocent, that he is in control of the proceedings. However, he fails to realize that he has already acknowledged the proceedings by presenting himself at the hearing and making a speech. The statement illustrates K.'s abysmal ignorance about what is happening to him.


[Its] purpose is to arrest innocent people and wage pointless prosecutions against them ... devoid of meaning.

Josef K., Chapter 2

This is another part of Josef K.'s oration to those assembled at his first hearing. In this statement, K. accuses the court of pursuing meaningless prosecutions. Here, K. is dismissive of the absurdity of the court. Yet he doesn't realize that this meaninglessness is not a criticism, but a statement of reality. He mocks the court's irrationality, but it will destroy him.


This court [tries innocent] people ... without letting them know what's going on.

Josef K., Chapter 3

Josef K. is protesting against the irrationality of the court. He keeps insisting he is innocent. He complains that he's kept in the dark about his indictment and court procedures. K. holds on to his rationality and his demand for reasons. He is still unaware of the fact that they do not exist in the court system—or will not be revealed by the law.


Was he not ... so free that he could crush the entire court whenever he wanted?

Josef K., Chapter 3

This statement reveals Josef K.'s hubris and his inflated sense of self-importance. It also shows how unaware he is of the nature of his situation. He thinks he's free and thus has power over the court. He has not yet understood how puny his existence is in the eyes of the law.


If you had a senior judge beneath your stick ... I would do nothing to stop you.

Josef K., Chapter 4

Josef K. says this to the whip-man. The statement shows K.'s complete misunderstanding of the court system. He believes its power resides in its hierarchy; that those in the lower echelon are meaningless, while real power exists higher up. However, although he constantly hears rumors of greater judges and lawyers—people with more power at higher levels—he is only ever confronted with those in the lowest levels of power. They are the ones who decide his fate.


Having a trial like that means losing a trial like that.

Uncle Karl, Chapter 5

This is presented as a cliché that Uncle Karl relates to Josef K. Uncle Karl says this to convince K. that he really does need an experienced lawyer to settle his case. The saying hints, however, at what becomes very clear later on: a person on trial is doomed to lose his case.


There's nothing you can do to defend yourself from this court, you have to confess.

Leni, Chapter 6

Leni says this to Josef K. after she has seduced him and led him away from his interview with Dr. Huld. She has deflected K. from getting the legal advice he might be able to use. In this statement, she tries to get him to confess to a guilt he rejects. The reader is uncertain if Leni demands a confession at the behest of the court or the lawyer, or if she sincerely wishes the best for K.


Everything is connected ... and will continue ... even more malevolent.

Dr. Huld, Chapter 7

Dr. Huld says this to Josef K. to convince him to retain his services as a lawyer. He is playing up the connections he has with court officials and insisting that because everything in the court is connected, he can influence K.'s case only by influencing those court officials with whom he has connections. Huld implies that if this approach is not followed, terrible things will happen to K. and his case.


The most important thing ... was to reject in advance any idea that he might be ... guilty.

Josef K., Chapter 7

Here, Josef K. reasserts his innocence. He has convinced himself that the only way to win his case is to deny any knowledge of or connection to guilt.


Was it not ... very likely ... there were ... dangers he had failed to see or ... was even running toward?

Josef K., Chapter 7

Josef K. begins to doubt his approach to his case and his thinking about it. He is coming to realize how labyrinthine and irrational the court system is. He starts to see that his human understanding may be insufficient in keeping him from doing things that will endanger his case.


[The court] reaches into some place where ... there was nothing and pulls enormous guilt out.

Titorelli, Chapter 7

Titorelli affirms that the court is always right in assuming that the accused is guilty. His statement seems not to be about ordinary guilt, for he says the court reaches into a place where there was nothing—no guilt. Yet it finds guilt in this empty, guilt-free place. He implies that the court can almost implant guilt in anyone it decides to accuse.


Provisionally, at least, your guilt is seen as proven.

Prison chaplain, Chapter 9

The prison chaplain at the cathedral reaffirms that Josef K. is assumed to be guilty. In a reversal of normal jurisprudence, the accused in K.'s situation would have to prove he is not guilty, even though he doesn't know what his guilt consists of. Just being accused is an indication of proven guilt. Can an accused man disprove proven guilt? The chaplain is telling K. that his case is hopeless.


You don't need to accept everything as true, you only have to accept it as necessary.

Prison chaplain, Chapter 9

The prison chaplain explains to Josef K. the irrationality of his situation. He's telling K. that fighting the court is pointless. The chaplain is saying that he understands why K. cannot accept the irrationality of the court and its assertion of his guilt. Yet he is telling K. that he must submit to the idea that whatever the court does is necessary or inevitable. This is another statement of the utter hopelessness of K.'s situation.


Like a dog ... as if the shame of it should outlive him.

Josef K., Chapter 10

This is the last line of the novel. Josef K. sees his death as demeaning and meaningless. He recognizes that it is shameful, perhaps because he submitted to the court and allowed himself to be executed. Kafka leaves the last line ambiguous: Why will this shame outlive K.? Is it because his eternal soul is foul? Is it because he has acted somehow in a subhuman way? It's open to interpretation.

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