The The Trial Trial

The The Trial Trial

3.8 55
by Franz Kafka

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"Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., he knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he was arrested." From its gripping first sentence onward, this novel exemplifies the term ""Kafkaesque." Its darkly humorous narrative recounts a bank clerk's entrapment — based on an undisclosed charge — in a maze of nonsensical rules and bureaucratic…  See more details below


"Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., he knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he was arrested." From its gripping first sentence onward, this novel exemplifies the term ""Kafkaesque." Its darkly humorous narrative recounts a bank clerk's entrapment — based on an undisclosed charge — in a maze of nonsensical rules and bureaucratic roadblocks.
Written in 1914 and published posthumously in 1925, Kafka's engrossing parable about the human condition plunges an isolated individual into an impersonal, illogical system. Josef K.'s ordeals raise provocative, ever-relevant issues related to the role of government and the nature of justice. This inexpensive edition of one of the 20th century's most important novels features an acclaimed translation by David Wyllie.

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The Barnes & Noble Review
This classic novel by Kafka tells the terrifying tale of Joseph K., a respectable banker who is suddenly arrested and must defend his innocence against a charge about which he can get no information. The Trial stands as one of the great novels of modern times, as it rings with a chilling truth about modern bureaucracy and the mad agendas of 20th century totalitarian regimes.

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The Trial


Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2009 Dover Publications, Inc.
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ISBN: 978-0-486-11462-0


Arrest—Conversation with Mrs. Grubach—Then Miss Bürstner

SOMEONE MUST HAVE been telling lies about Josef K., he knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he was arrested. Every day at eight in the morning he was brought his breakfast by Mrs. Grubach's cook—Mrs. Grubach was his landlady—but today she didn't come. That had never happened before. K. waited a little while, looked from his pillow at the old woman who lived opposite and who was watching him with an inquisitiveness quite unusual for her, and finally, both hungry and disconcerted, rang the bell. There was immediately a knock at the door and a man entered. He had never seen the man in this house before. He was slim but firmly built, his clothes were black and close-fitting, with many folds and pockets, buckles and buttons and a belt, all of which gave the impression of being very practical but without making it very clear what they were actually for. "Who are you?" asked K., sitting half upright in his bed. The man, however, ignored the question as if his arrival simply had to be accepted, and merely replied, "You rang?" "Anna should have brought me my breakfast," said K. He tried to work out who the man actually was, first in silence, just through observation and by thinking about it, but the man didn't stay still to be looked at for very long. Instead he went over to the door, opened it slightly, and said to someone who was clearly standing immediately behind it, "He wants Anna to bring him his breakfast." There was a little laughter in the neighbouring room, it was not clear from the sound of it whether there were several people laughing. The strange man could not have learned anything from it that he hadn't known already, but now he said to K., as if making his report "It is not possible." "It would be the first time that's happened," said K., as he jumped out of bed and quickly pulled on his trousers. "I want to see who that is in the next room, and why it is that Mrs. Grubach has let me be disturbed in this way." It immediately occurred to him that he needn't have said this out loud, and that he must to some extent have acknowledged their authority by doing so, but that didn't seem important to him at the time. That, at least, is how the stranger took it, as he said, "Don't you think you'd better stay where you are?" "I want neither to stay here nor to be spoken to by you until you've introduced yourself." "I meant it for your own good," said the stranger and opened the door, this time without being asked. The next room, which K. entered more slowly than he had intended, looked at first glance exactly the same as it had the previous evening. It was Mrs. Grubach's living room, over-filled with furniture, tablecloths, porcelain and photographs. Perhaps there was a little more space in there than usual today, but if so it was not immediately obvious, especially as the main difference was the presence of a man sitting by the open window with a book from which he now looked up. "You should have stayed in your room! Didn't Franz tell you?" "And what is it you want, then?" said K., looking back and forth between this new acquaintance and the one named Franz, who had remained in the doorway. Through the open window he noticed the old woman again, who had come close to the window opposite so that she could continue to see everything. She was showing an inquisitiveness that really made it seem like she was going senile. "I want to see Mrs. Grubach ...," said K., making a movement as if tearing himself away from the two men—even though they were standing well away from him—and wanted to go. "No," said the man at the window, who threw his book down on a coffee table and stood up. "You can't go away when you're under arrest." "That's how it seems," said K. "And why am I under arrest?" he then asked. "That's something we're not allowed to tell you. Go into your room and wait there. Proceedings are underway and you'll learn about everything all in good time. It's not really part of my job to be friendly towards you like this, but I hope no-one, apart from Franz, will hear about it, and he's been more friendly towards you than he should have been, under the rules, himself. If you carry on having as much good luck as you have been with your arresting officers then you can reckon on things going well with you." K. wanted to sit down, but then he saw that, apart from the chair by the window, there was nowhere anywhere in the room where he could sit. "You'll get the chance to see for yourself how true all this is," said Franz and both men then walked up to K. They were significantly bigger than him, especially the second man, who frequently slapped him on the shoulder. The two of them felt K.'s nightshirt, and said he would now have to wear one that was of much lower quality, but that they would keep the nightshirt along with his other underclothes and return them to him if his case turned out well. "It's better for you if you give us the things than if you leave them in the storeroom," they said. "Things have a tendency to go missing in the storeroom, and after a certain amount of time they sell things off, whether the case involved has come to an end or not. And cases like this can last a long time, especially the ones that have been coming up lately. They'd give you the money they got for them, but it wouldn't be very much as it's not what they're offered for them when they sell them that counts, it's how much they get slipped on the side, and things like that lose their value anyway when they get passed on from hand to hand, year after year." K. paid hardly any attention to what they were saying, he did not place much value on what he may have still possessed or on who decided what happened to them. It was much more important to him to get a clear understanding of his position, but he could not think clearly while these people were here, the second policeman's belly—and they could only be policemen—looked friendly enough, sticking out towards him, but when K. looked up and saw his dry, boney face it did not seem to fit with the body. His strong nose twisted to one side as if ignoring K. and sharing an understanding with the other policeman. What sort of people were these? What were they talking about? What office did they belong to? K. was living in a free country, after all, everywhere was at peace, all laws were decent and were upheld, who was it who dared accost him in his own home? He was always inclined to take life as lightly as he could, to cross bridges when he came to them, pay no heed for the future, even when everything seemed under threat. But here that did not seem the right thing to do. He could have taken it all as a joke, a big joke set up by his colleagues at the bank for some unknown reason, or also perhaps because today was his thirtieth birthday, it was all possible of course, maybe all he had to do was laugh in the policemen's face in some way and they would laugh with him, maybe they were tradesmen from the corner of the street, they looked like they might be—but he was nonetheless determined, ever since he first caught sight of the one called Franz, not to lose any slight advantage he might have had over these people. There was a very slight risk that people would later say he couldn't understand a joke, but—although he wasn't normally in the habit of learning from experience—he might also have had a few unimportant occasions in mind when, unlike his more cautious friends, he had acted with no thought at all for what might follow and had been made to suffer for it. He didn't want that to happen again, not this time at least; if they were play-acting he would act along with them.

He still had time. "Allow me," he said, and hurried between the two policemen through into his room. "He seems sensible enough," he heard them say behind him. Once in his room, he quickly pulled open the drawer of his writing desk, everything in it was very tidy but in his agitation he was unable to find the identification documents he was looking for straight away. He finally found his bicycle permit and was about to go back to the policemen with it when it seemed to him too petty, so he carried on searching until he found his birth certificate. Just as he got back in the adjoining room the door on the other side opened and Mrs. Grubach was about to enter. He only saw her for an instant, for as soon as she recognised K. she was clearly embarrassed, asked for forgiveness and disappeared, closing the door behind her very carefully. "Do come in," K. could have said just then. But now he stood in the middle of the room with his papers in his hand and still looking at the door which did not open again. He stayed like that until he was startled out of it by the shout of the policeman who sat at the little table at the open window and, as K. now saw, was eating his breakfast. "Why didn't she come in?" he asked. "She's not allowed to," said the big policeman. "You're under arrest, aren't you." "But how can I be under arrest? And how come it's like this?" "Now you're starting again," said the policeman, dipping a piece of buttered bread in the honeypot. "We don't answer questions like that." "You will have to answer them," said K. "Here are my identification papers, now show me yours and I certainly want to see the arrest warrant." "Oh, my God!" said the policeman. "In a position like yours, and you think you can start giving orders, do you? It won't do you any good to get us on the wrong side, even if you think it will—we're probably more on your side than anyone else you know!" "That's true, you know, you'd better believe it," said Franz, holding a cup of coffee in his hand which he did not lift to his mouth but looked at K. in a way that was probably meant to be full of meaning but could not actually be understood. K. found himself, without intending it, in a mute dialogue with Franz, but then slapped his hand down on his papers and said, "Here are my identity documents." "And what do you want us to do about it?" replied the big policeman, loudly. "The way you're carrying on, it's worse than a child. What is it you want? Do you want to get this great, bloody trial of yours over with quickly by talking about ID and arrest warrants with us? We're just coppers, that's all we are. Junior officers like us hardly know one end of an ID card from another, all we've got to do with you is keep an eye on you for ten hours a day and get paid for it. That's all we are. Mind you, what we can do is make sure that the high officials we work for find out just what sort of person it is they're going to arrest, and why he should be arrested, before they issue the warrant. There's no mistake there. Our authorities as far as I know, and I only know the lowest grades, don't go out looking for guilt among the public; it's the guilt that draws them out, like it says in the law, and they have to send us police officers out. That's the law. Where d'you think there'd be any mistake there?" "I don't know this law," said K. "So much the worse for you, then," said the policeman. "It probably exists only in your heads," said K., he wanted, in some way, to insinuate his way into the thoughts of the policemen, to re-shape those thoughts to his benefit or to make himself at home there. But the policeman just said dismissively, "You'll find out when it affects you." Franz joined in, and said, "Look at this, Willem, he admits he doesn't know the law and at the same time insists he's innocent." "You're quite right, but we can't get him to understand a thing," said the other. K. stopped talking with them; do I, he thought to himself, do I really have to carry on getting tangled up with the chattering of base functionaries like this?—and they admit themselves that they are of the lowest position. They're talking about things of which they don't have the slightest understanding, anyway. It's only because of their stupidity that they're able to be so sure of themselves. I just need few words with someone of the same social standing as myself and everything will be incomparably clearer, much clearer than a long conversation with these two can make it. He walked up and down the free space in the room a couple of times, across the street he could see the old woman who, now, had pulled an old man, much older than herself, up to the window and had her arms around him. K. had to put an end to this display, "Take me to your superior," he said. "As soon as he wants to see you. Not before," said the policeman, the one called Willem. "And now my advice to you," he added, "is to go into your room, stay calm, and wait and see what's to be done with you. If you take our advice, you won't tire yourself out thinking about things to no purpose, you need to pull yourself together as there's a lot that's going to be required of you. You've not behaved towards us the way we deserve after being so good to you, you forget that we, whatever we are, we're still free men and you're not, and that's quite an advantage. But in spite of all that we're still willing, if you've got the money, to go and get you some breakfast from the café over the road."

Without giving any answer to this offer, K. stood still for some time. Perhaps, if he opened the door of the next room or even the front door, the two of them would not dare to stand in his way, perhaps that would be the simplest way to settle the whole thing, by bringing it to a head. But maybe they would grab him, and if he were thrown down on the ground he would lose all the advantage he, in a certain respect, had over them. So he decided on the more certain solution, the way things would go in the natural course of events, and went back in his room without another word either from him or from the policemen.

He threw himself down on his bed, and from the dressing table he took the nice apple that he had put there the previous evening for his breakfast. Now it was all the breakfast he had and anyway, as he confirmed as soon as he took his first, big bite of it, it was far better than a breakfast he could have had through the good will of the policemen from the dirty café. He felt well and confident, he had failed to go into work at the bank this morning but that could easily be excused because of the relatively high position he held there. Should he really send in his explanation? He wondered about it. If nobody believed him, and in this case that would be understandable, he could bring Mrs. Grubach in as a witness, or even the old pair from across the street, who probably even now were on their way over to the window opposite. It puzzled K., at least it puzzled him looking at it from the policemen's point of view, that they had made him go into the room and left him alone there, where he had ten different ways of killing himself. At the same time, though, he asked himself, this time looking at it from his own point of view, what reason he could have to do so. Because those two were sitting there in the next room and had taken his breakfast, perhaps? It would have been so pointless to kill himself that, even if he had wanted to, the pointlessness would have made him unable. Maybe, if the policemen had not been so obviously limited in their mental abilities, it could have been supposed that they had come to the same conclusion and saw no danger in leaving him alone because of it. They could watch now, if they wanted, and see how he went over to the cupboard in the wall where he kept a bottle of good schnapps, how he first emptied a glass of it in place of his breakfast and how he then took a second glassful in order to give himself courage, the last one just as a precaution for the unlikely chance it would be needed.


Excerpted from The Trial by FRANZ KAFKA, JANET BAINE KOPITO, David Wyllie. Copyright © 2009 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

Albert Camus
We are taken to the limits of human thought. Indeed, everything in this work is, in the true sense, essential. It states the problem of the absurd in its entirety.
W.H. Auden
Had one to name the author who comes nearest to bearing the same kind of relation to our age as Dante, Shakespeare, and Goethe bore to theirs, Kafka is the first one would think of.
Walter Abish
An accomplishment of the highest order — one that will honor Kafka, perhaps the most singular and compelling writer of our time, far into the 21st century.
— Author of How German Is It

Meet the Author

Mike Mitchell taught at the universities of Reading and Stirling before becoming a full-time translator.
Ritchie Robertson is Fellow and Tutor in German at St. John's College, Oxford.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
July 3, 1883
Date of Death:
June 3, 1924
Place of Birth:
Prague, Austria-Hungary
Place of Death:
Vienna, Austria
German elementary and secondary schools. Graduated from German Charles-Ferdinand University of Prague.

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The Trial 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 55 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a complete Kafka freak. I have read almost every one of his novels, short stories and diaries in many of the available translations and the original language. I must say, that 'The Trial' is the most perfect example of Kafkaesque literature, aside from 'The Metamorphosis'. It can also be noted that it is one of the less complex novels by Kafka.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Contrary to the other customers who wrote a review on The Trial, I enjoyed the novel thoroughly. I found many parallels to Camus's The Stranger and was shaken by its prophecies towards the downfall of Marxism and Communism. I admit it is easy to get lost in Kafka's convuluted style, but one most look deeper into this novel and extract an important theme. This theme is existensialism and is first explored in this novel. Finally, the book is a comment on our judiciary and governmental bureaucracies that exist today.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Kafka¿s unfinished novel, blended with surrealism and a disturbing apathetic world, makes us realize that we ourselves, all our lives, are incomplete, absurdly alive in a world that haunts us with death, anxiety and the hostility of society at every turn...making us realize that our plight is hopeless so long as we cherish the cherries of the common. This is a book for all who know the worst of life and man, who know what it means to be unique, and above all, alone in a world that simply does not care.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I checked this book out for my AP English class, and I was going crazy trying to figure it out. Now it could be different from an adult perspective, but I thought that it was confusing. It is overwritten. Toward the end I was reading every-other page and getting more out of it then reading everyone. I would not recomend this book to a teeneger or someone who would like to do a book report on it.
Dierckx More than 1 year ago
What is the story? K. is "arrested", "sentenced" and put to "death". I'm not spoiling anything because this novel is not really a story but a dreamlike description of an ordeal. What happens in the end is more or less irrelevant except for one thing. The last scene of the novel where K. is stabbed dead by two members of the "law enforcement", contains a very important clue to understand the novel. K.'s last words are 'Like a dog!' That's right, like a dog and not like a human being. At the very last moment K. finally understands that during his whole life he was only interested in what he could GET from other people and he never was concerned with what he could GIVE to other people. He lived like an animal so to speak, like a dog. And that's the reason why he's "arrested". Let's not forget that the word "arrest" also means that someone has ceased to grow up and to develop his character. In a certain way K. is still a child. This second meaning of the word arrest is the reason why no one can tell him why he's arrested, every time that K. asks that question. K. himself is the only person who can answer that question: I'm too selfish and I have to change my ways. There is a chapter that illustrates what I mean. When K. and his uncle arrive at the house of K.'s lawyer, the door is opened by the lovely maid Leni. K. is obviously very keen on her. There is also a senior clerk of the Court. He has taken a special interest in the trial of K.. They all meet in the bedroom of the lawyer who has a weak heart and has to stay in bed. When the important discussion is about to begin, a noise is heard from the kitchen. K. says that he will go to the kitchen to see what's wrong. With a sigh of relief he closes the door behind him. He sees pretty Leni and forgets all about the important meeting. K. likes to flirt with Leni. At a given moment she says:"All you have to do is to confess that you are guilty". With feminine insight she knows what is wrong with K.. He's guilty of childish egoism. Meanwhile the three others are still waiting in the bedroom of the lawyer. Another important moment in the novel is when a priest hails K. in the church where he was supposed to meet someone. The priest is a symbol for K's conscience. At a certain moment during their conversation K. asks: "Are you angry with me?" and the priest answers: "I'm not angry with you, but can't you see what lies ahead of you?" At this point K. is very close to his redemption, his problems could be solved at this very moment, if only he had the nerve or the courage to continue this conversation. But no, he says "it's time for me to go back to my work. I'm already late. Now K. is inexorably doomed.
APLITWilliams 12 months ago
Kiani, Laney, Savannah, Abby, Cmaylo, Jacky Some believe that Kafka was a genius, while others believe he was flat out crazy. In his book, The Trial, Kafka tells the story of Joesef K., who gets arrested, but he doesn't know the reasoning behind his arrest. He tries to ask, but the low level officers who arrest him won’t say anything about why he was arrested. This isn’t the best book I’ve read. The plot confuses the reader so a lot of people find this book to be unenjoyable. Kafka has been known to write with precise detail, and this book is no exception. He describes the settings of the book and the scenarios to perfection. In this way it is effective in creating the mood and establishing the theme of the story. There are many themes throughout the story. Justice and judgment is a reacquiring theme throughout the book. Kafka effectively creates the story through Josef K.’s journey. In the beginning the cops are judging him based on his personality and how he acts when he was arrested. In the Court, they judge on how he acts and talks when he is in their presence. In the middle of the book when the lawyer is trying to prepare him for Court, he is judged for disappearing with Leni for a couple hours. The lawyer helps him even though K. left a bad first impression on him. Isolation is also a common theme throughout the book. In the beginning he is isolated in his room. No one will help K. or answer his questions about being arrested. Kafka masterly keeps repeating this theme throughout the book. Throughout this book, allies come and go. The painter, the lawyer, all want to help him. In the end, he is on his own. As he is about to die, K. sees a light and he wonders if it is an ally. He wants it to be because he doesn’t want to die. Kafka doesn’t disappoint in that once again his main character dies, just like in The Metamorphosis. We don’t find out what happens to the other characters, and we don’t find out out if K. was guilty, innocent, convicted, or non-convicted. Kafka is a master at confusing the reader, and this is why this is not my favorite book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you're reading this book to find out what K was accused of, then don't waste your time. The point is the burden of guilt through original sin. The issue is the inability to pinpoint this guilt and our natural tendency to deny our daily failure to meet ethical perfection. His death on a slab in a quarry is symbolism of ritual sacrifice of animals to shed blood, a practice of Judaism to absolve people of sin. The judges, lawyers, shysters, the court are all officials and processes of religion poorly attempting to absolve people of sin, but instead opressing them, pointing out behavioral guilt and shortfalls but providing no real solution. The process of religion becomes legalistic rather than spiritual and cleansing is never completed. The artist explains original sin man's failure to achieve perfection, except one or two ancient cases, perhaps Jesus, perhaps a few of the prophets (the fact that Kafka was Jewish doesn't mean he lived in a void free of Christianity, he often read the bible). The artist also explains forgiveness based on the concepts set forth in several religions. The courts that reside in almost every "attic" represent the weight and omni-presence of God, sin, and judgment.
bartlanski More than 1 year ago
After reading this, it reminded me of a very in depth nightmare I once had. Either Kafka was a very imaginative man or a very troubled one. So many of the aspects of this story cause dread because so much of it seems more than plausible (particularly in this day and age of Patriot Acts and high-tech surveillance, etc.) Whether it be a book like this or Orwell's 1984, once read, you'll have chills for a while.
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PD33 More than 1 year ago
I just could not get into this book. The story jumps up and down, very difficult to get a flow. I did not finish.
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The insight that was put into this book is huge, but in my opinion, EXTREMELY hard to find and interperet properly. Mostly, the book seemed to have pointless sidestories that confuse the story about the "arrest". So i dont recommend to people that just want an interesting story, but to people that want to analyze a story.
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ClassicReaderBW More than 1 year ago
Not my favorite read, but its entertaining.
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