The Trial


Franz Kafka

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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.
The Absurd Theme Icon

The word “absurd” derives from the Latin word for “deaf,” and, fittingly, the absurd universe of The Trial is utterly deaf to any character’s attempts to influence or understand it. Josef’s protracted mission to understand the Law never culminates in any larger comprehension. The more Josef explores the system that holds him captive, the less that system appears to be undergirded by any logical, predictable structure whatsoever. Accordingly, there is nothing any individual—defendant, lawyer, and functionary alike—can do to influence the justice system. For the accused, every course of action is equally ineffective: Block’s wretchedness shows that even the most obsessive devotion to one’s trial provides no advantage. The absence of discernible logic forces defendants to seek meaning in bizarre rituals and superstitions, such as trying to foretell a defendant’s verdict from the shape of his lips. Moreover, Titorelli’s explanation of the three sorts of acquittal illustrates that the struggles of the defendant are almost certainly in vain. Of the three sorts of acquittal he explains, only one, “absolute acquittal,” actually restores the defendant to the status he had before being accused—and this exoneration has never actually been granted. The plight of the accused is Sisyphean: defendants strive endlessly, but never achieve any progress.

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The Absurd ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in The Trial related to the theme of The Absurd.
Chapter 1 Quotes

What kind of people were they? What were they talking about? Which department did they belong to? After all, K. had rights, the country was at peace, the laws had not been suspended—who, then, had the audacity to descend on him in the privacy of his own home?

Related Characters: Josef K.
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

He was annoyed that he hadn’t been told precisely where the room was, the manner in which he was being treated was strangely negligent or offhand, a point he intended to make loudly and clearly. Finally he went up the first staircase after all, with the memory of something the guard Willem had said going through his mind, namely that the court was attracted by guilt, so that logically the hearing should be held in a room on the staircase K. happened to choose.

Related Characters: Josef K.
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

He felt anguish at having been unable to prevent the thrashing, but it wasn’t his fault. If Franz hadn’t screamed—true, it must have hurt a lot, but a man should be able to control himself at decisive moments—if Franz hadn’t screamed then K. would, at least very probably, have found some means of winning the thrasher over.

Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:
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:
Chapter 7 Quotes

It was very important, because the first impression the defence made often determined the whole course of the trial. Unfortunately he [Herr Huld] had to point out to K. that it sometimes happened that first submissions to the court were not read at all. They were simply filed, and the officials declared that hearing and observing the accused was more important than any written material. If the petitioner was insistent they would add that, once all the material had been gathered and before a decision was reached, all the files, including the first submission, would naturally be reviewed as a whole. Unfortunately, he said, that too was mostly incorrect, the first submission was usually mislaid or completely lost, and even if it was kept right to the end it was hardly read, though he, the lawyer, had only heard rumours to that effect.

Related Characters: Josef K., Herr Huld
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

The essential thing was not to attract attention, to stay calm, however much it went against the grain, to try to understand that this great legal organism remained eternally in balance, so to speak.

Related Characters: Herr Huld
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

‘Yes,’ said the painter, ‘it was in the commission that I had to paint her like that, it’s actually Justice and the Goddess of Victory at the same time.’ ‘That’s not a good combination,’ said K. with a smile, ‘Justice has to be in repose, otherwise the scales will wobble and a just verdict will not be possible.’ ‘I’m following my client’s wishes,’ the painter said. ‘Yes, of course,’ said K., who had not intended to offend anyone with his remark. ‘You’ll have painted the figure as it is on the chair.’ ‘No,’ said the painter, ‘I’ve never seen either the figure or the chair, but I was told what I was to paint.’

Related Characters: Josef K. (speaker), Titorelli (speaker)
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:

Whenever I had the opportunity to go to the court myself, I always availed myself of it, I’ve listened to countless trials at important stages and followed them as long as they were held in open court, and, I have to admit, I have never come across a single genuine acquittal.

Related Characters: Titorelli (speaker)
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:
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:
Chapter 9 Quotes

Then the priest shouted down at K., ‘Can’t you see even two steps in front of you?’ It was shouted angrily, but at the same time as if by a person who can see someone falling and shouts out automatically, throwing caution to the winds because he is horrified himself.

Related Characters: The Prison Chaplain (speaker), Josef K.
Page Number: 152
Explanation and Analysis:

I am only accepting this so you will not think there is something you have omitted to do.

Related Characters: The Doorkeeper (speaker)
Page Number: 156
Explanation and Analysis:

No one else could be granted entry here, because this entrance was intended for you alone. I shall now go and shut it.

Related Characters: The Doorkeeper (speaker)
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:

The court does not want anything from you. It receives you when you come and dismisses you when you go.

Related Characters: The Prison Chaplain (speaker), Josef K.
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

Then Fräulein Bürstner appeared in the square, coming up a small set of steps from a lower street. It wasn’t quite certain that it was her, though the similarity was great. But K. wasn’t bothered whether it was definitely Fräulein Bürstner or not, it was just that he immediately became aware of the futility of his resistance. There was nothing heroic about his resistance, about making things difficult for the two men, about trying to enjoy the last semblance of life as he defended himself.

Related Characters: Josef K., Fraulein Burstner
Page Number: 162
Explanation and Analysis:

I’m grateful that I’ve been given these two half-mute, uncomprehending men to accompany me on my way and it’s been left to me to tell myself everything that is needful.

Related Characters: Josef K. (speaker)
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:

His eye fell on the top storey of the house beside the quarry. Like a flash of light, the two casements of a window parted and a human figure, faint and thin from the distance and height, leant far out in one swift movement then stretched its arms out even farther. Who was it? A friend? A kind person? Someone who felt for him? Someone who wanted to help? Was it just one? Or all of them? Was help still possible? Were there still objections he’d forgotten? Of course there were. Logic may be unshakeable, but it cannot hold out against a human being who wants to live. Where was the judge he had never seen? Where was the high court he had never reached?

Related Characters: Josef K.
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:

‘Like a dog!’ he said. It seemed as if his shame would live on after him.

Related Characters: Josef K. (speaker)
Page Number: 165
Explanation and Analysis: