The Trial

The Trial Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Josef is visited at work by his uncle Karl, a landowner from the country. Josef had been expecting his uncle for some time, and, because Karl is Josef’s former guardian, feels obligated to house him on his visits. Karl tells Josef he heard about Josef’s trial from his daughter Erna. Josef is touched by his cousin’s concern and makes a note to send her gifts.
Josef’s relationship with Karl is not one of familial devotion—it is one of reluctant obligation. Because Karl was Josef’s guardian, Josef feels beholden to him. Evidently, Josef’s calculating nature extends even into his deepest personal relationships, making his relationships transactional rather than authentic human connections—though there is a suggestion here that perhaps Josef isn’t alone in this regard, that perhaps the idea of deep relationships is itself just a pretty myth.
Themes
Alienation and Control Theme Icon
Karl is extremely worried about his nephew’s trial. Not least of his concerns is the possibility that it will disgrace the family. Karl offers to help however he can, but Josef dismisses his uncle’s concerns calmly. This nonchalance only agitates Karl further.
Karl appears to be just as controlled by social insecurities as Josef is. His intervention comes out of concern for his own reputation as much as concern about Josef’s well-being.
Themes
Justice vs. The Law Theme Icon
Alienation and Control Theme Icon
Karl takes Josef to meet his friend, a defense lawyer named Herr Huld. At Huld’s house, his maid, Leni, informs the visitors that the lawyer is ill. They visit Huld on his sick bed, and Karl commiserates with his friend. Karl hostilely asks Leni to leave the room, and after some resistance, she does so at Huld’s request. Huld is introduced to Josef, whom he greets surprisingly energetically. Huld remarks that he has already gotten word of Josef’s trial. When Josef inquires about the lawyer’s relationship with the court, Huld introduces the director of the legal office, who had been sitting in the room unnoticed.
Huld’s familiarity with Josef’s trial gives the impression of an omniscient legal sphere, from which Josef can hide nothing. The unnoticed presence of the court official underscores this impression. The Law appears to be constantly watching Josef without his knowledge, and to be cozy and conspiring with the very people who are supposed to be helping and guiding defendants. The game seems rigged, with everyone else profiting somehow from the miser of the defendants (with the additional point that perhaps everyone, at some point, will end up a defendant).
Themes
Justice vs. The Law Theme Icon
The Unknowable and Interpretation Theme Icon
The office director enters the conversation but speaks only to the older men, ignoring Josef completely. Josef thinks he recognizes the director from the front row of his hearing.
The office director’s conduct is a disheartening sign of the justice system’s disregard for Josef or any other individual. However, this account is given exclusively from Josef’s point of view. It is not clear that the director acted as hostilely as Josef interpreted—perhaps Josef’s limited perspective has yet again obscured his understanding, or perhaps Josef didn’t actually recognize the official.
Themes
Justice vs. The Law Theme Icon
Alienation and Control Theme Icon
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Suddenly, the conversation is interrupted by the sound of shattering porcelain. Josef leaves to investigate the noise. He finds Leni, who confesses that she destroyed a plate simply to get Josef’s attention. She takes him into the lawyer’s luxurious office and flirts with him. Josef asks questions about her knowledge of the legal world; Leni coyly tells him that his behavior in the courtroom is too “unyielding.” He will need to confess his crime in order to have a chance at freedom.
In what is a recurring textual theme, Josef once again finds himself the object of seemingly unprovoked sexual advances. Both Leni’s romantic interest in Josef and her advice to him are marked by a fundamental inexplicability—any understanding of her motivations or of her paradoxical advice must necessarily be a tenuous one, especially given that no advice given to Josef has been helpful.
Themes
The Absurd Theme Icon
The Unknowable and Interpretation Theme Icon
Sex and Seduction Theme Icon
Leni asks Josef if he has a lover, and he shows her a picture of Elsa. Leni criticizes Elsa’s appearance and asks if she has any “physical defects.” Josef is puzzled by this question until Leni reveals that two of the fingers on her right hand are webbed. Josef admires her hand, then kisses it. Leni leaps upon Josef in excitement and the two kiss passionately—and possibly engage in more intimate acts as well.
Leni’s line of questioning reduces romance to an impersonal, physical affair, and her determination to supersede Elsa brings to mind the competitiveness of Josef’s pursuit of Fraulein Burstner. Leni’s seeming belief in the fact that her defects make her more alluring—and Josef’s seeming agreement—is interesting, and can be taken many different ways—one being that “defects” can be seen also as offering individuality, or are what make us human. One could look at Josef’s behavior here as a kind of personal rebellion against the court.
Themes
Alienation and Control Theme Icon
Sex and Seduction Theme Icon
When Josef leaves, Leni gives him a key and tells him to return whenever he wishes. Outside, Karl excoriates Josef for running off with Leni, and says that Josef’s behavior will harm his case. Karl, Huld, and the office director spent hours trying to make conversation while they awaited Josef’s return. When it became clear that Josef was not coming back, the office director left, unable to assist with the case.
At the same time, Josef did just sneak off with a maid he didn’t know to have sex for hours while his uncle, lawyer, and a court official were waiting for him. Josef’s “rebellion” was also profoundly stupid, selfish, crass, and self-destructive (as people’s “rebellions” so often are). Josef’s counterproductive behavior along with his unsympathetic character traits combine to make him seem somewhat deserving of punishment. This furthers the paradoxical impression that Josef is responsible for the treatment he receives from the Law, but at the same time entirely guiltless by all knowable measures.
Themes
Justice vs. The Law Theme Icon
The Absurd Theme Icon
The Unknowable and Interpretation Theme Icon
Sex and Seduction Theme Icon