The Trial

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Sex and Seduction Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Justice vs. The Law Theme Icon
The Absurd Theme Icon
The Unknowable and Interpretation Theme Icon
Alienation and Control Theme Icon
Sex and Seduction Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Trial, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Sex and Seduction Theme Icon

The Trial is rife with overt sexuality. A large fraction of the female characters, like Leni, try to seduce Josef or are regarded by him as potential sexual conquests, like Fraulein Burstner. However, this lustfulness is hollow and insincere. Just like nearly every other interaction in the book, romantic encounters are depicted as individuals’ attempts to use others to achieve their goals, rather than as moments of tenderness, vulnerability, and connection. Josef is obsessed with controlling his paramours, and the women he associates with seem drawn to him because of his power and status. The closest thing to a loving relationship in Josef’s pre-trial life is his weekly engagement with his call girl, Elsa, which is undoubtedly more transactional than affectionate. For the women of The Trial, physical intimacy is something of a bargaining chip. The court’s custodian, for example, obliges the sexual demands of the law student and the judge because she understands that they hold power over her livelihood. The impersonal nature of sex in the novel further affirms that The Trial’s universe is devoid of any sort of meaningful interpersonal connection.

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Sex and Seduction ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Sex and Seduction appears in each chapter of The Trial. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Sex and Seduction Quotes in The Trial

Below you will find the important quotes in The Trial related to the theme of Sex and Seduction.
Chapter 2 Quotes

He [Josef] went out, grasped her [Fraulein Burstner], kissed her on the lips and then all over her face, like a thirsty animal furiously lapping at the water of the spring it has found at last. Finally he kissed her on the neck, over the throat, and left his lips there for a long time.

Related Characters: Josef K., Fraulein Burstner
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

Without her knowledge, Josef has waited for Fraulein Burstner to return home and has subjected her to a reenactment of his arrest, during which time he moves her furniture around and loudly yells. Fraulein Burstner is alarmed by both his yelling and a subsequent knock on the door, and Josef comforts her before unexpectedly embracing and kissing her. The description of Josef's kiss is comic, if a little disturbing. It focuses entirely on Josef's actions, implying either that Fraulein Burstner doesn't exactly reciprocate the kiss or rather that her reaction doesn't matter to Josef.

Indeed, the impression that Fraulein Burstner is merely an object upon which Josef acts is emphasized by the fact that before she comes home he admits he does not know her particularly well. His eagerness to see her seems to be based in a desire to have an audience––any audience––listen to the story of his arrest, rather than a particular interest in Fraulein Burstner as a person. This confirms the impression that Josef is a self-absorbed and rather unlikeable character, and highlights the way in which individuals in this society are alienated from one another and use each other—and in the case of the novel's women, this manipulation or oppression usually comes in a sexual form. 


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Chapter 3 Quotes

The woman really did tempt him and, however much he thought about it, he could find no plausible reason why he should not yield to the temptation. He easily dismissed the cursory objection that she would tie him to the court. In what way could she tie him? Would he not still remain free enough to crush the court at one blow, at least insofar as it affected him? Could he not have confidence in himself to do that small thing? And her offer of help sounded genuine and was perhaps not to be discounted. Could there be any better revenge on the examining magistrate and his entourage, than to deprive them of this woman and take her to himself?

Related Characters: Josef K.
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

Josef has arrived at the courthouse a week after his original hearing, unsure of when the second hearing is supposed to be; once there, he has again encountered the washerwoman, who it turns out is the court usher's wife, and who flirtatiously offers to help Josef with his case. At first Josef is suspicious of this offer, but in this passage he comes to believe that he might as well accept, reasoning that sleeping with the woman likely won't do any harm and would be a satisfying way of undermining the examining magistrate and other men involved with the court. Such reasoning is a typical example of the way in which all the characters in the novel are constantly seeking to gain power over one another. Note the way in which women are often used as instruments through which men assert their dominance. 

Indeed, as with Fraulein Burstner, it is clear in this passage that Josef feels no particular attraction to the washerwoman as a person. Rather, her appeal lies in the fact that she may be able to help with his case and that seducing her will prove a form of revenge against the men who work at the court. Yet considering Josef harbors no great passion for this woman in particular, he seems oddly quick to dismiss the potential dangers that seducing her might involve—Kafka gives the sense that Josef is caught up in desire and not reasoning well. He insists that sleeping with her would not further tie him to the court and that he would "remain free enough to crush the court at one blow," a claim that highlights Josef's arrogance and misperception of the power of the law. 

Chapter 6 Quotes

Please don’t ask me for names, but stop making this mistake, stop being intransigent, no one can resist this court, you just have to confess. Confess at the next opportunity. It’s only then there’s a possibility of escaping, only then, though even that’s not possible without outside help. But you needn’t worry about that, I’ll provide the help myself.

Related Characters: Leni (speaker), Josef K.
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

Josef has been visited by his uncle and former guardian Karl, who is worried about Josef's case and takes Josef to the house of his friend, a lawyer named Herr Huld. At the house, Huld's maid, Leni, smashes a plate in order to get Josef's attention, and privately urges him to confess to the accusation against him. She insists that this is the only means by which Josef can "escape," although even this is not guaranteed. Like the washerwoman, Leni is involved with the courts through her association with men who work in the law, and like the washerwoman, Leni flirts with Josef, offering to help him as a means of seduction. This again emphasizes the corruption of the legal system.

Leni's advice also adds another line to the contradictory chorus of voices telling Josef what he should do about his case. While at this point in the novel Josef remains confident that he will be able to escape the charges, it is becoming increasingly clear that this is not likely. Leni's claim that "no one can resist this court" is given a double meaning by her attempts to seduce Josef through helping with his trial, while further conveying the sense that Josef is trapped within a system that is labyrinthine and all-encompassing.