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The Trial | Symbols


The Court: Tenement and Attic

The court offices are not, as in most modern cities, located in magisterial buildings—often the largest and most impressive building in town. Instead, Franz Kafka sites the court in a run-down, almost derelict tenement on the outskirts of the city. The tenement is decrepit and depressing, symbolizing the lowly status of the accused and lower-level court officials. The tenement's disrepair also represents the neglect of the supplicants by the true governors of the law, who exist in some higher, unreachable realm. The tenement is described as being cobbled together with rotting planks of wood that are not even aligned. This slapdash construction reflects the contempt the court has for its supplicants, the accused. The court is indifferent because the level of the law as carried out in the tenement is so far beneath the actual law, which is hidden.

The attic is mentioned in several places in the novel. Most often it refers to the status of various groups of people. The accused sit around in the lower level of the attic. The lower-level judges are found above them, in an upper level of the attic. Thus, the attic symbolizes status and the hierarchy of the court system. It is implied in the novel that the "higher" court officials exists either in the upper levels of the attic or in another, higher realm altogether.

Oppressive Air

When K. visits the court building, he is often overcome by the fetid, foul air in the building. The heavy, noxious air represents the oppression of the accused by the court system. Sometimes the air is so awful, K. almost passes out. He is overcome by the oppression of the court, or legal system. The oppressive air in the court building may also represent its insularity. The court, though lowly, deals with laws that are secret and hidden—that are confined and surrounded by protective ambiguity. To keep the law protected and secret, it must be isolated from the open air. K. feels better once he's outside and can breathe fresh air again. Fresh air is life, and in the novel the law thrives not on life but on an irrational tyranny that is inimical to life.

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