The Trial: chapter 2

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Chapter 2

Joseph K. receives a phone call at work informing him that he is to come for a “small hearing” the following Sunday. He is told where to go but neglects to ask the time so he decides on nine o’clock, the hour Court proceedings normally begin. The Deputy Director of the bank invites him to join him on his boat on Sunday morning and K. regretfully refuses the invitation because it reflects K.’s importance and because he has not gotten along well with this particular superior.

K. wakes up late on Sunday morning because he has been out drinking the night before. Deciding not to be precisely punctual, he goes on foot to the meeting. On the way, he passes the same three men who were witnesses in Miss Burstner’s room, Rabensteiner, Kullich and Kaminer, and is humiliated that they see him running. He finds himself in a poor neighborhood crowded with masses of children and people leaning out of tenement windows shouting at one another. Expecting to find a proper Court house, K. instead finds a tenement with several staircases. In an effort to find the hearing room, he knocks on doors asking whether a joiner named Lanz (Mrs. Grubach’s nephew) lives within.   He makes his way upstairs through swarms of children and finally locates the room on the fifth floor.  At first it appears to be an apartment similar to the others but inside a young woman washing clothes directs him to the hearing room.

K. enters a meeting hall so crowded with people that he can barely fit inside. At the end of the hall waits the Examining Magistrate who argues with K. “you should have been here one hour and five minutes ago” (19). K., however, is not shaken and insists that he is there now.  At this point, the crowd breaks into loud applause. K. basks in half the crowd’s approval but realizes he will have to work to gain the other half. 

When the Magistrate asks whether K. is a housepainter, he haughtily announces that he is the Chief Clerk of a bank and begins to tell off the Magistrate. Seizing the Magistrate’s notebook, he decries the whole procedure as outrageous and complains loudly about the treatment he received at the hands of the arresting officers and the Inspector ten days ago: "what has happened to me is not just an isolated case.  If it were it would not be of much importance as it's not of much importance to me, but it is a symptom of proceedings which are carried out against many.  It's on behalf of them that I stand here now, not for myself alone" (21). He accuses the Magistrate of sending signals to the audience to control their reactions. K. finds the front row of the audience, which is made up of white-bearded old men wearing formal frock coats, particularly unsettling.

A scream from the back of the room brings his speech to a halt. A man has pressed himself lewdly up against the washerwoman from the adjoining room. K. wants to run towards her but he is restrained.  At this point, he comes to realize that the crowd are all Court officials—the very officials whom he has spent his time denigrating. Before he can leave, the Magistrate warns him: “you have robbed yourself of the advantages that a hearing of this sort always gives to someone who is under arrest" (24).


By chapter two, the reader begins to experience the claustrophobic, surreal atmosphere for which the author Kafka is renowned. Indeed, the adjective Kafkaesque, which means illogical, bizarre or nightmarish, has entered many languages. Joseph K.’s nightmare is in full force and the dreamlike quality of the novel intensifies the reader’s response. It is natural to feel puzzled. This feeling will increase.

Until this juncture in his life, K. has never questioned the Law.  However, for some unknown reason, he finds himself, thrown into the legal machine, as it were, and the Law as an entity becomes a character.  In his first encounter, the Law invades his private life by entering his bedroom. The representatives of the Law are a pair of crooked functionary buffoons who attempt to steal his clothes and do in fact steal his breakfast. His first encounter with the Court is in a surreal, crowded, dank and dirty interrogation room in a poor part of town. The Examining Magistrate, or judge, is laughable, as are the very strange observers watching the proceedings against K. as if it were a sporting event. Indeed, the atmosphere has a carnival or circus quality about it: “he stood pressed closely against the table, the press of the crowd behind him was so great that he had to press back against it if he did not want to push the judge's desk down off the podium and perhaps the judge along with it” (20).

There is no reason for K. to acknowledge this Law.  Consider, no one forced him to do anything or to even attend the cross-examination.  Indeed, he could just decide to ignore the whole unpleasant affair.  However, on some level K. feels guilty and this is central to the novel. He doesn’t want anyone to see him make an appearance in Court so he doesn’t even take a bus. What provokes his guilt?  Some literary critics argue that K.’s trial is used to illustrate the eternal guilt of every human being in the eyes of any bureaucracy.  It doesn’t matter whether K is guilty or innocent. In this, Kafka argues that the Courts treat all men as if they were guilty.

At this point, it is interesting to observe K.'s ongoing interaction with women.  In chapter one, the attractive Miss Burstner makes an appearance.  Here, the man pressing himself up against the washerwoman casts her into a sexual light. 

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