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Free Study Guide: The Trial by Franz Kafka - Synopsis / Analysis

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The protagonist and the antagonist are both K. himself. Since the conflict is internalized, K'.s feelings are antagonistic.
K.'s attempts to bribe the court officials and letting himself be maneuvered by the painter, Titorelli while making use of his services, could be considered his villainy.


At the realistic level K. is the protagonist fighting the system and seeking justice. The Antagonists are the court and its arm of justice, the corrupt magistrates and finally the guards who kill K.


The climax is the scene at the Cathedral where the prison chaplain indicts K.; preaching from the pulpit, to K. as an individual, There is no gathering. The priest tries to make K. aware and sensitize him to his fall and also the Fall of Man.


The novel is a tragedy. K. loses his urge to resist. The guards kill him.


Joseph K. is staying in rooms rented out by the landlady, Frau Grubach. The story begins with the unexpected arrest of Joseph K., the bank clerk. It is a strange kind of arrest. He is told to dress in an unimpressive manner. His breakfast is served not by the housekeeper, but by the warder, Franz. Willem is another warder. K. meets the inspector and questions his manners. But K. is allowed to make telephone calls. K. constantly inquires the reason for his arrest. He is permitted to contact his lawyer, Hasterer. An old couple and a younger man with a red beard are observing the spectacle from the window across the street. He is also allowed to go to work in the bank. Three of the bank officers, clerks, subordinates of
K. are already there to accompany him. They are, the rigid Rabensteiner, the fair complexioned Kullich and Kaminer whose smile appears to be false. K. has been totally unaware of their presence all this time.

K. meets Frau Grubach, the landlady when he returns from the Bank. She is apologetic for not meeting him in the morning. She is sorry for him but K. is too arrogant to accept her apology. Next, K. wants to meet Fräulein Bürstner. Frau Grubach does not approve of Fräulein Bürstner's late homecoming. K. defends Bürstner.

Fräulein Bürstner comes in late at half past eleven. Bürstner is not interested in his arrest. But K. insists on telling her his version of the story. He also presumes that Fräulein Bürstner has no knowledge of legal matters. Bürstner says she is going to join the law office, as a clerk. There is a captain who knocks at the door. He is Captain Lanz, and Frau Grubech's nephew. K. tells her that Frau Grubach has borrowed some money from him, and he respects her. He talks to her for an hour and a half. While leaving her room he grabs her and kisses her outside the Captain's room.

K. pays a visit to the courts on Sunday. He makes his way through a maze of streets into the poorer sections of the town. He is searching for a 'joiner' official named Lanz, recollecting the Captains' name. A young woman washing clothes directs him. Finally he reaches the court of inquiry conducted by an examining Magistrate. The court is filled with a lot of bearded old men. K. is impatient, arrogant and insulting to these old men and walks out in disgust. An unusual incident takes place in the courtroom. A man drags in the washerwoman. This man forces himself on her. K. rushes to protect her and finds that the court is full of officials in disguise wearing badges. The court officials had staged the entire proceeding.

K. is never summoned to the courts in the next few weeks. One Sunday he goes to the courtroom and finds dusty, unused law books. The washerwoman is the only one there. She is the usher's wife and lives in one of the rooms. The examining magistrate uses her room to complete his work. On the pretense of expressing his gratitude to her, the magistrate presents the washerwoman with a pair of silk stockings. Suddenly the student who forced himself on her in the courtroom barges in. K. gets a sudden urge to drag the woman and keeping her as his mistress. Even though he punches the student, K. is not able to stop the student's actions. It is the examining Magistrate who has sent for the woman through the student. The woman politely declines K.'s help. He once again punches the student. He practically carriers her to the Magistrate.

K. explores the law court offices and finds that they are sparsely furnished. Here, he meets the usher whose wife has been carried away. (She is the usher's wife). The usher agrees with K. that she is equally to be blamed. He asks K. to give the student a good thrashing. K. rushes with the usher, keeping pace with him, moving upstairs while peeping into the offices. He falls. He finds officials with the same beard cut as those in the courts and possibly belonging to the upper class. K. too meets them. The clerk of inquiries is stooping with his disorderly hair. At this point K. feels sick and stumbles outside in the daylight.

Here there is a major change in the boarding house occupancy. Fräulein Bürstner has moved out. Fräulein Montage has moved in. K. does not like her. Fräulein Bürstner refuses to meet him. She clears out while Fräulein Montage keeps K. engaged. K. peeps in and finds the captain and Fräulein Montage observing him.

One evening as K. left the office late he stops at the lumber-room in the office. The warders, Franz and Willem are being shipped because K. complains of his treatment to the examining Magistrate. Franz, the younger one pleads with K. that his sweetheart is waiting outside the Bank. K. rejects the thought of bribing the officials. The men shriek with the flogging. K. closes the door. The clerks in the office are unaware of the happenings. The situation is just the same the next day. K. orders the clerks to clear the lumber-room and goes home.

K.'s uncle suddenly finds out about his case through K.'s cousin Erna. K. comes from a good family. The uncle takes him to a very senior lawyer - Dr. Huld, a good friend of his. Here he meets the lawyer to take up his case. While the uncle waits for the lawyer to take up his case Joseph K. has a great time with Leni. The uncle is ashamed and reprimands him. Leni gives him the key to the house. His ease drags on. There is no solution at sight. K. considers dismissing the lawyer and writing his own defense. Dr. Huld has not even got the petition ready.

At this point K. meets a manufacturer in his office. The manufacturer introduces him to Titorelli, the painter who is well acquainted with most of the judges, since he paints their portraits. While he is busy with the case the assistant manager has already stepped into his shoes taking up his duties.

K. visits Tittorelli and learns about the different kinds of acquittal, seeking a solution. Next he proceeds to Dr. Huld's house. There Leni is entertaining Block, the tradesman who is treated and brainwashed like a dog by Dr. Huld. K. is disgusted and in spite of the lawyers veiled threats withdraws his case. He is back to his old routine in the bank. One day an Italian architect visits him and he proceeds to the Cathedral on an official appointment. The Italian architect does not turn up. But he meets the prison chaplain. The Chaplain delivers a sermon to him warning him of his impending 'fall'. The story ends with K.'s slaying by two men at a stone quarry on his thirty-first birthday. Life has come full circle.

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