The Trial

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The Trial Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Josef goes to great lengths to find Fraulein Burstner, but is unsuccessful. He even writes her a letter to justify his behavior, but it goes unanswered. Then, the following Sunday, he sees a different tenant moving into Fraulein Burstner’s room. The new occupant is a French teacher named Fraulein Montag.
As he loses control over his legal proceedings, Josef also appears to lose control over his personal life: he cannot even convince Fraulein Burstner to acknowledge him.
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Sunday marks the fifth day since Frau Grubach angered Josef, and he has not spoken to her since. That morning, Frau Grubach brings Josef his breakfast, and he curtly questions her about the new tenant. She is relieved that he is speaking to him, as she understands it to mean he has forgiven her somewhat. Frau Grubach explains that Fraulein Montag is simply moving in with Fraulein Burstner, and she breaks into a tearful apology for slandering Fraulein Burstner. Josef consoles her, and the two make amends.
Josef’s frustration at being ignored by Fraulein Burstner is likely what fuels his hostility towards Frau Grubach. The landlady bears the brunt of Josef’s anger because he can get away with treating her as his inferior. Yet again, Josef takes advantage of the same rigid social structure that constrains him, so that he may displace these anxieties onto someone of lower stature.
Themes
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The maid informs Josef that Fraulein Montag has sent for him. He goes to Montag’s room, and she tersely explains that she is speaking to him on Fraulein Burstner’s behalf. Fraulein Burstner, her new roommate continues, does not think that a meeting between her and Josef would be beneficial to either party involved. In a clinical tone, Fraulein Montag adds that she convinced Fraulein Burstner to allow her to speak on her behalf.
One of the only spontaneous, uncalculated actions Josef has taken in the entire book has ended up alienating him from his peers. This implies that while routine and rules are what fetter Josef, he cannot meaningfully subvert them on his own, because they still constrain the rest of society.
Themes
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Josef thanks Fraulein Montag and gets up to leave. Just as he reaches the door, Frau Grubach’s nephew, Captain Lanz, enters through it. Lanz is a graceful, middle-aged man, and he greets Fraulein Montag with a deferential kiss on the hand. This chivalrous behavior contrasts sharply with the treatment she received from Josef. Josef notices that Fraulein Montag seems interested in introducing him to Lanz, but he has no interest in socializing with them and leaves the room with hardly a word. All the while, he analyzes their treatment of him, and convinces himself that Fraulein Montag’s goal is to hinder his inevitable seduction of Fraulein Burstner.
As Josef sees things, Fraulein Montag and Captain Lanz are of no use to him, so he calculates that it is not worth his time to treat them civilly. He conceptualizes their motivations solely in terms of his own goal of seducing Fraulein Burstner—a goal he remains arrogantly certain of achieving. In other words, Josef’s interpretations are inappropriately colored by his fleeting anxieties and biases.
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After he leaves Fraulein Montag and Captain Lanz, Josef realizes that he has an opportunity to confront Fraulein Burstner alone. He checks to see if anyone can see him, and, convinced nobody is watching, knocks on Fraulein Burstner’s door. He knocks repeatedly, but receives no answer. He decides to enter, even though he has a sense that doing so is futile and inappropriate.
Josef’s morality seems more determined by what he can get away with than by rules of right and wrong. This is an ironic disjunction, because he objects vehemently to this same flexibility as manifested by the justice system. There is an implication here that Josef, in fact is not innocent. This is not to say he has committed a crime, but rather simply that he is flawed, capable of morally poor behavior. And if one sees the judicial court as something more akin to a “court of the soul” where you are put on trial for your nature or internal goodness or badness, then one can come to the conclusion that Josef is in fact guilty to some degree. At the same time, if you follow that logic, then this particular “court of the soul” is one that itself lacks any kind of clarity or fairness or goodness, a court of heaven with no God. Speaking more generally, it is worthwhile to think about the court in The Trial as existing on multiple interpretive levels at the same time.
Themes
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The room is empty, and has been completely rearranged. As he leaves Fraulein Burstner’s room, Josef notices Fraulein Montag and the Captain conversing in the dining room. They glance at him absentmindedly, and Josef is convinced that they have seen his trespass.
Yet again, Josef’s paramount concern is his status relative to others. He is more ashamed of having been witnessed walking into Fraulein Burstner’s room than of having committed the act itself. In a moment that recalls Josef’s embarrassment at being watched during his interrogation, his concerns of guilt here pale in comparison to concerns of public shame.
Themes
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