The Trial

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The Court’s Oppressive Air Symbol Icon
When Josef is in or near the court, he frequently finds himself stifled by a hot, poorly-ventilated atmosphere. In fact, on his first visit to the legal offices, the air weakens him so much that he can no longer walk unassisted. Josef’s reaction to the air illustrates just how viscerally unnatural and uncomfortable the justice system is. The Law’s toxic hold over Josef’s mind is literalized by the miasma that pervades its offices.

The Court’s Oppressive Air Quotes in The Trial

The The Trial quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Court’s Oppressive Air. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Justice vs. The Law Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Oxford University Press edition of The Trial published in 2009.
Chapter 3 Quotes

He felt as if he were seasick, as if he were on a ship in a heavy sea. It was as if the water were crashing against the wooden walls, as if a rushing sound came from the far end of the corridor, like water pouring over, as if the corridor were rocking to and fro and as if the people sitting on either side were going up and down. It made the calm of the young woman and the man who were helping him to the exit all the more incomprehensible.

Related Characters: Josef K.
Related Symbols: The Court’s Oppressive Air
Page Number: 56-57
Explanation and Analysis:

The law student has carried the washerwoman away, and Josef has accompanied the court usher into the law office, which has an incredibly stuffy atmosphere, such that Josef begins to feel seasick. The dramatic description of the way the office air makes Josef feel––as if he is on a ship in the middle of a stormy sea––is a peculiar contrast to the tedious, vague conversations he has had with another accused man about the man's case. This contrasts illustrates the way in which the stiflingly dull world of the court is actually severely oppressive, so much so that Josef feels physically sick and is eventually forced to leave. This experience is made worse by the fact that the others in the office seem completely fine, thereby increasing Josef's feelings of isolation.

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Chapter 8 Quotes

I don’t know who the great lawyers are, and I presume you can’t get to them. I know of no case where it can be said for certain that they took part. They defend some people, but you can’t get them to do that through your own efforts, they only defend the ones they want to defend. But I assume a case they take on must have progressed beyond the lower court. It’s better not to think of them at all, otherwise you’ll find the consultations with the other lawyers, their advice and their assistance, extremely disgusting and useless. I’ve been through that myself, you feel like throwing everything up, taking to your bed, and ignoring everything.

Related Characters: Block (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Court’s Oppressive Air
Page Number: 128-129
Explanation and Analysis:

Josef has gone to Huld's house to inform him that he no longer wants Huld to be his lawyer; there he has discovered Block, another of Huld's clients, who tells Josef about his own case. Block has confessed that he secretly sees five different lawyers and has spent five years on trial. In this passage, he admits that "the great lawyers" only defend some people and that he doesn't know who they are or how a person could access them; he advises Josef not to think about these mysterious great lawyers or else he will become too dissatisfied with his own lawyer, Huld. What Block does not realize as he gives Josef this advice is that Josef is already dissatisfied with Huld, to the point that he has decided to cease using Huld's services.

Block's story of struggle and frustration is similar to what Josef has endured. Indeed, Block's description of wanting to throw up and hide in bed shows that Josef is not alone in experiencing a physical reaction to the stress of his trial (although in Josef's case, he feels stifled by the court's air). However, like many other characters in the novel, Block seems somewhat resigned to the inevitability of the injustice of the law. In contrast to Josef, who has decided to fire Huld as his lawyer, Block claims it is best to simply ignore the possibility that more effective lawyers exist. This willful ignorance creates a claustrophobic, stagnant situation, as people refuse to resist or protest against the absurd legal system.

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The Court’s Oppressive Air Symbol Timeline in The Trial

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Court’s Oppressive Air appears in The Trial. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Justice vs. The Law Theme Icon
The Unknowable and Interpretation Theme Icon
Alienation and Control Theme Icon
...woman gets him a chair and assures Josef that he will get used to the stifling atmosphere after a few visits. (full context)
Chapter 7
Justice vs. The Law Theme Icon
The Absurd Theme Icon
Alienation and Control Theme Icon
As Josef grows increasingly uncomfortable in the stifling air of the poorly-ventilated apartment, Titorelli explains the apparent acquittal. This acquittal is temporary and can... (full context)
The Absurd Theme Icon
Alienation and Control Theme Icon
...most attics contain court offices. A civil servant escorts Josef through the corridor, and Josef finds the air so stifling that he covers his mouth with a handkerchief. (full context)