After much deliberation, Josef decides that he will no longer retain his lawyer. Late that night, Josef goes to the Huld’s home to announce his decision in person. The door is answered by a small, bearded man whom Josef does not recognize, and behind him Josef spots Leni scampering away in her nightgown. Josef notices that the man is not wearing an overcoat, and, to the man’s embarrassment, points this out. Feeling as though he has the upper hand, Josef asks the man if Leni is his lover, which the man denies vehemently.
Josef’s choice to fire his lawyer shows his desperation to exert some control over his situation. Furthermore, the insinuation that he is not Leni’s only love interest shows yet another aspect of his life that he cannot control. Josef displaces these anxieties of impotence by treating the man who answers Huld’s door with aggressive condescension—he engages in the very behavior toward others that the court seems to direct toward him.
The two men walk towards the lawyer’s office, and the bearded man introduces himself as Block. He is a tradesman and a client of Huld’s. Josef’s control of this conversation makes him feel like he is speaking with an inferior person in a foreign country, and he commands Block to take him to Leni.
Because he feels so unable to control his legal, professional, and romantic affairs, Josef feels compelled to control others at every opportunity.
The men come upon Leni making soup in the lawyer’s kitchen. Josef interrogates Leni about her relationship to Block, but she flatteringly assures him that he has no reason to envy the tradesman. Leni leaves to deliver the lawyer’s soup, but not before telling Josef to speak to her less harshly.
Leni’s apparent sexual involvement with Block makes Josef jealous—it shows that he does not control her. However, his high opinion of himself allows Leni to sell him on an interpretation of her actions that leaves him in control.
In the kitchen, Josef asks Block about his case. Block begins to prattle about his business and his trial. Before Block gives away any of his secrets, he makes Josef promise to disclose some of his own in return. Josef agrees, and Block reveals that he is consulting with five small-time lawyers in addition to Huld—a process that is forbidden. Block continues, explaining that he spends much of his time in the legal offices, and was even present during Josef’s unfortunate visit. Josef replies that he will soon be spending much more time in the court offices, and doubts he will get the respect the other defendants showed him on his last visit. Block clarifies that the defendants already knew Josef was on trial and were in fact only showing respect to the court servant who walked with him.
Block’s account of Josef’s encounter with the defendants illustrates that Josef incorrectly interpreted his situation in the legal offices. This further unsettles Josef’s universe: not only is he increasingly unable to decipher the byzantine workings of the court, but he is also coming to learn that what he previously took as fact was actually a fabrication of his biased, fallible interpretations. This highlights one of the story’s core themes: no situation has a definitive truth to it, and everything can—and will—be interpreted in different ways by different people.
Block also explains that because the court cannot be understood rationally, many defendants rely on superstition. One superstition states that a defendant’s verdict can be ascertained by looking at his lips, and that Josef’s lips indicated a swift conviction. Block, however, thinks this superstition is nonsense.
Once more, a force beyond Josef’s understanding delivers a foreboding omen about the outcome of his trial. Ironically, this ridiculous superstition seems as reasonable and intelligible as the workings of the court itself.
Block reveals that he has spent five years on trial. Most lawyers cannot influence a case, he says, and often submit nonsensical documents full of Latin phrases and flattery. The court has designated an almost mythic group of “great lawyers,” but these legal powerhouses are unknowable and unreachable.
Block’s years on trial have given him no more insight into the functioning of the justice system. If anything, his experience further reinforces the image of the judiciary as entirely arbitrary and absurd. The lawyers—those who are supposed to understand, supposed to help—are describes as being as clueless as everyone else. And true knowledge in the form of “Great Lawyers” is unreachable. All of this again can be read in highly metaphoric ways. If you substitute life for the trial, then doctors are actually unable to stave of death, gurus and others are in fact only spouting pretty nonsense, true understanding in the form of gods or prophets or other supernatural figures is beyond actual reach, etc.
Leni returns to the kitchen to tell Josef that Huld is waiting for him. Josef presses Block to continue speaking, but he seems reluctant to do so in Leni’s presence. Leni tells Josef that he should feel honored that Huld will receive him at eleven o’clock at night—Block frequently sleeps in the lawyer’s house in the hope the lawyer will deign to meet with him. Huld is irritated by the businessman and often makes him wait days for a meeting.
The revelation that Block sleeps in Huld’s house shows just how fully the tradesman has been consumed by the justice system. Block has made an existential commitment to his trial, even though none of his efforts seem to have influenced it in the slightest. This Sisyphean struggle highlights the absurdity of the judicial system.
Leni shows Josef the cramped room that Block sleeps in, and the merchant’s pathetic presence is suddenly too much for Josef to bear. Before Josef leaves to see Huld, Block makes him tell the secret he promised. Josef reveal that he plans to fire Huld. Upon hearing this news, Block goes berserk, and Leni tries to chase Josef down before he can reach Huld’s office. Josef makes it into the office and locks the door behind him.
Josef is distressed by Block’s presence because Block’s submission to the judiciary symbolizes a wretchedness that Josef fears he could come to embody as well. Leni and Block likely object to Josef’s decision to fire Huld because it invalidates the hierarchy to which they have wholly devoted themselves.
In his office, Huld chastises Josef for keeping him waiting. Josef responds coldly. Noticing his maid’s behavior, Huld tells Josef that Leni has a mysterious attraction to accused men—even Block.
Huld’s admission shows that Leni’s interest in Josef was entirely impersonal, and simply a result of his status as an accused man—an insulting reversal of the calculating logic Josef himself brings to his relationships, that he is attractive and impressive because of his powerful job.
Josef announces his plan to withdraw Huld’s representation. The lawyer is taken aback and even gets out of bed to tell Josef how valued a client he is. Josef responds curtly by articulating his frustration with the lawyer’s inaction. The lawyer expresses disappointment. Josef is bemused to see a successful—and physically ill—lawyer make such an impassioned appeal retain a client, and Huld’s protestations only make Josef more impatient.
Josef’s move to fire Huld seems highly unorthodox. The lawyer’s bizarre reaction illustrates yet again that Josef is unable to properly predict how his actions will or will not influence the legal system. The lawyer’s imploring speech is still more confusing because it exposes the artificiality of the hierarchy that placed Huld above Josef.
Josef asks Huld what action he would take if Josef retained him. Huld simply replies that he would continue his efforts as usual, which does not satisfy Josef. Huld makes one last attempt to persuade Josef: he shows him how much worse other defendants are treated. As if to prove this point, Block is summoned, and the lawyer browbeats him mercilessly.
Huld never gives Josef any positive information as to how he might help him. Instead, he simply highlights the negative by showing Josef how much worse things could be for him.
Josef protests Huld’s treatment of Block, but Block is insulted and lashes out at Josef. Block then returns to groveling before Huld. Josef is struck by the servility with which the wretched man defers even to his lawyer’s maid. Huld continues to express his contempt for Block. Note: The Trial was never officially released for publication during Kafka’s lifetime, and the manuscript was never fully completed. This chapter was left unfinished.
The interaction between Huld and Block deepens Josef’s understanding of just how debasing a criminal trial (or life, or society, or any of the “systems” the trial could be taken to represent metaphorically) can be. The hierarchical, domineering nature of the Law has gotten out of hand: Block approaches his legal higher-ups in much the same way as someone might prostrate himself before a deity.