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Excerpt from

The Trial  

- Franz Kafka


The people in the front row were looking at K. with such expectant expressions on their faces that he looked down at them for a while. They were all of them older men, some with white beards. Were they perhaps the ones with the decisive voice who could influence the whole assembly, which even the humiliation of the examining magistrate could not rouse from the immobility into which it had sunk since K.'s speech?

'What has happened to me,' K. went on, in a slightly lower voice than before and looking up and down the front row, which made his speech somewhat disjointed, 'what has happened to me is merely an individual case, and as such not very important, since I do not take it too much to heart, but it is a sign of the way many people are treated and it is for them that I take my stand here, not for myself.'

He had raised his voice automatically. Somewhere someone applauded, hands raised, and shouted, 'Bravo! Why not? Bravo! I say bravo!' One or two of the men in the front row tugged at their beards, but none turned round to see where the shout came from. K. attached no importance to it either, but he did feel encouraged. He no longer thought it was necessary for them all to applaud, it was sufficient if the assembly as a whole started to think about the matter and just the odd one was won over by persuasive argument.

Taking up this idea, K. went on, 'I do not seek to win you over by oratory, that is probably beyond me anyway. The examining magistrate is probably a much better speaker, that is part of his job. What I do want to do is to see that an abuse of public office is brought out into the open. Listen. About ten days ago I was arrested -- as to the fact that I have been arrested, it means this to me,' said K. snapping his fingers, 'but that's beside the point. They descended on me early one morning, while I was still in bed. Perhaps -- from what the examining magistrate has said it's not impossible -- perhaps they'd been ordered to arrest some painter who's as innocent as I am, but they chose me. The neighbouring room was occupied by two hulking guards. They couldn't have taken better precautions if I'd been a dangerous robber. And these guards were corrupt riff-raff, they kept going on at me, they wanted bribes, they tried to get clothes and linen out of me under false pretences, they demanded money in order, so they said, to bring me some breakfast, after they had brazenly eaten my breakfast before my very eyes. And if that was not enough, I was taken before the supervisor in another room. It was the room of a lady I respect highly, and I had to look on as, because of me but through no fault of mine, the room was in a way polluted by the presence of the guards and the supervisor. It was not easy to stay calm, but I managed to do so, and I asked the supervisor perfectly calmly -- if he were here he would have to confirm that -- why I had been arrested. And what was the reply of this supervisor? I can see him now, sitting in the aforementioned lady's chair, the very picture of dull-witted arrogance. His reply, gentlemen, was basically no reply, perhaps he really did have no idea, he had arrested me and that was enough. He had even gone farther and introduced into this lady's room three petty clerks from my bank, who spent the time touching and messing up photographs belonging to the lady. Naturally there was another purpose behind the presence of these clerks; like my landlady and her servant, they were to spread the news of my arrest, damaging my reputation and, especially, weakening my position at the bank. Without the least success, I have to say. Even my landlady -- a simple woman, if I name her here, it is to do her honour: she is called Frau Grubach -- even Frau Grubach was sensible enough to realize that such an arrest means no more than an attack boys who are not properly supervised carry out in the street. I repeat: this whole business has caused me nothing more than inconvenience and passing irritation, but could it not have had more serious consequences?'

When K. broke off and looked at the silent examining magistrate, he thought he saw him give a nod to a man in the crowd. K. smiled and said, 'The examining magistrate here beside me has just given one of you a secret sign. That means there are some among you who are directed from up here. I do not know whether the sign is meant to produce booing or applause, but by exposing this before it can take effect, I quite deliberately forgo the opportunity of learning what the sign means. It is a matter of complete indifference to me, and I publicly authorize the examining magistrate to pass on his commands to his paid assistants down there out loud, with words instead of with secret signs, saying, for example, "Boo now" at one point and "Applaud now" at another.'

Whether from embarrassment or impatience, the examining magistrate was shifting to and fro in his chair. The man behind him, whom he'd been talking to before, leant down again, presumably to give him either general encouragement or a specific piece of advice. Down below, the people were talking to each other, quietly but animatedly. The two groups, which earlier seemed to have had such opposing views, intermingled, some individuals among them pointing at K., others at the examining magistrate. The smoky haze in the room was extremely irksome, it even made it impossible to see those standing farther away with any clarity. It must have been particularly annoying for those in the gallery; to find out exactly what was going on, they were forced to ask, quietly and with timid sidelong glances at the examining magistrate, those on the floor of the meeting. And they replied just as quietly, holding their hands over their mouths.

'I have almost finished,' said K., rapping the table with his fist, since there was no bell; the shock caused the heads of the examining magistrate and his adviser to fly apart. 'This whole business is a matter of indifference to me, therefore I can assess it calmly and you can derive great benefit from listening to me, assuming this so-called court is of any interest to you. I beg you to put off your discussions of what I have to say until later, for I have no time and will soon leave.'

Silence immediately fell, such was K.'s control over the meeting. They were no longer all shouting at once, as they had at the beginning, they were not even applauding any more, but they seemed to have been convinced already or were well on the way to it.

About the book:

Josef K. wakes up one morning to find himself under arrest for an offence which is never explained by a remote, inaccessible authority.

In this literary masterpiece, Kafka (inspired by Dostoyevsky) explores universal problems of guilt, responsibility and freedom. He builds an intense atmosphere that grabs the reader by the throat and refuses to let go

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