The Trial (German: Der Process,[1] previously Der Proceß, Der Prozeß and Der Prozess) is a novel written by Franz Kafka in 1914 and 1915 and published posthumously on 26 April 1925. One of his best known works, it tells the story of Josef K., a man arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed neither to him nor to the reader. Heavily influenced by Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, Kafka even went so far as to call Dostoevsky a blood relative.[2] Like Kafka's two other novels, The Castle and Amerika, The Trial was never completed, although it does include a chapter which appears to bring the story to an intentionally abrupt ending.

The Trial
First edition dust jacket (1925)
AuthorFranz Kafka
Original titleDer Process[1]
PublisherVerlag Die Schmiede, Berlin
Publication date
26 April 1925

After Kafka's death in 1924 his friend and literary executor Max Brod edited the text for publication by Verlag Die Schmiede. The original manuscript is held at the Museum of Modern Literature, Marbach am Neckar, Germany. The first English-language translation, by Willa and Edwin Muir, was published in 1937.[3] In 1999, the book was listed in Le Monde's 100 Books of the Century and as No. 2 of the Best German Novels of the Twentieth Century.


Kafka drafted the opening sentence of The Trial in August 1914, and continued work on the novel throughout 1915. This was an unusually productive period for Kafka, despite the outbreak of World War I, which significantly increased the pressures of his day job as an insurance agent.[4]

Having begun by writing the opening and concluding sections of the novel, Kafka worked on the intervening scenes in a haphazard manner, using several different notebooks simultaneously. His friend Max Brod, knowing Kafka's habit of destroying his own work, eventually took the manuscript into safekeeping. This manuscript consisted of 161 loose pages torn from notebooks, which Kafka had bundled together into chapters. The order of the chapters was not made clear to Brod, nor was he told which parts were complete and which unfinished. Following Kafka's death in 1924, Brod edited the work and assembled it into a novel to the best of his ability. Further editorial work has been done by later scholars, but Kafka's final vision for The Trial remains unknown.[4]

Plot summaryEdit

Cover, 1925

On the morning of his thirtieth birthday, Josef K., the chief cashier of a bank, is unexpectedly arrested by two unidentified agents from an unspecified agency for an unspecified crime. Josef is not imprisoned, however, but left "free" and told to await instructions from the Committee of Affairs. Josef's landlady, Frau Grubach, tries to console Josef about the trial, but insinuates that the procedure may be related to an immoral relationship with his neighbor Fräulein Bürstner. Josef visits Bürstner to vent his worries, and then kisses her.

A few days later, Josef finds that Fräulein Montag, a lodger from another room, has moved in with Fräulein Bürstner. He suspects that this maneuver is meant to distance him from Bürstner. Josef is ordered to appear at the court's address the coming Sunday, without being told the exact time or room. After a period of exploration, Josef finds the court in the attic. Josef is severely reproached for his tardiness, and he arouses the assembly's hostility after a passionate plea about the absurdity of the trial and the emptiness of the accusation.

Josef later tries to confront the presiding judge over his case, but only finds an attendant's wife. The woman gives him information about the process and attempts to seduce him before a law student bursts into the room and takes the woman away, claiming her to be his mistress. The woman's husband then takes Josef on a tour of the court offices, which ends after Josef becomes extremely weak in the presence of other court officials and accused.

One evening, in a storage room at his own bank, Josef discovers the two agents who arrested him being whipped by a flogger for asking Josef for bribes and as a result of complaints Josef made at court. Josef tries to argue with the flogger, saying that the men need not be whipped, but the flogger cannot be swayed. The next day he returns to the storage room and is shocked to find everything as he had found it the day before, including the whipper and the two agents.

Josef is visited by his uncle, a traveling countryman. Worried by the rumors about his nephew, the uncle introduces Josef to Herr Huld, a sickly and bedridden lawyer tended to by Leni, a young nurse who shows an immediate attraction to Josef. During the conversation, Leni calls Josef away and takes him to the next room for a sexual encounter. Afterward, Josef meets his angry uncle outside, who claims that Josef's lack of respect for the process has hurt his case.

During subsequent visits to Huld, Josef realizes that he is a capricious character who will not be of much help. At the bank, one of Josef's clients recommends him to seek the advice of Titorelli, the court's official painter. Titorelli has no real influence within the court, but his deep experience of the process is painfully illuminating to Josef, and he can only suggest complex and unpleasant hypothetical options, as no definitive acquittal has ever been managed. Josef finally decides to dismiss Huld and take control of matters himself. Upon arriving at Huld's office, Josef meets a downtrodden individual, Rudi Block, a client who offers Josef some insight from a client's perspective. Block's case has continued for five years and he has gone from being a successful businessman to being almost bankrupt and is virtually enslaved by his dependence on the lawyer and Leni, with whom he appears to be sexually involved. The lawyer mocks Block in front of Josef for his dog-like subservience. This experience further poisons Josef's opinion of his lawyer.

Josef is put in charge of accompanying an important Italian client to the city's cathedral. While inside the cathedral, a priest calls Josef by name and tells him a fable (which was published earlier as "Before the Law") that is meant to explain his situation. The priest tells Josef that the parable is an ancient text of the court, and many generations of court officials have interpreted it differently. On the eve of Josef's thirty-first birthday, two men arrive at his apartment to execute him. They lead him to a small quarry outside the city, and kill him with a butcher's knife. Josef summarizes his situation with his last words: "Like a dog!"


  • Josef K. – The tale's protagonist: a thirty year old, unmarried bank administrator living in an unnamed city.
  • Fräulein Bürstner – A boarder in the same house as Josef K. She lets him kiss her one night, but then rebuffs his advances. K. briefly catches sight of her, or someone who looks similar to her, in the final pages of the novel.
  • Fräulein Montag – Friend of Fräulein Bürstner, she talks to K. about ending his relationship with Fräulein Bürstner after his arrest. She claims she can bring him insight, because she is an objective third party.
  • Willem and Franz – Officers who arrest K. one morning but refuse to disclose the crime he is said to have committed. They are later flogged.
  • Inspector – Man who conducts a proceeding at Josef K.'s boardinghouse to inform K. officially that he is under arrest.
  • Rabinsteiner, Kullich and Kaminer – Junior bank employees who attend the proceeding at the boardinghouse.
  • Frau Grubach – The proprietress of the lodging house in which K. lives. She holds K. in high esteem, despite his arrest.
  • Woman in the Court – The first judgement of K happens in her house. She claims help from K. because she does not want to be abused by the magistrates.
  • Student – Deformed man who acts under orders of the instruction judge. Will be a powerful man in the future.
  • Instruction Judge – First Judge of K. In his trial, he confuses K. with a wall painter.
  • Uncle Karl – K.'s impetuous uncle from the country, formerly his guardian. Upon hearing of the trial, Karl insists that K. hire Herr Huld, the lawyer.
  • Herr Huld, the Lawyer – K.'s pompous and pretentious advocate who provides little in the way of action and far too much in the way of anecdote.
  • Leni – Herr Huld's nurse, she has feelings for Josef K. and soon becomes his lover. She shows him her webbed hand, yet another reference to the motif of the hand throughout the book. Apparently, she finds accused men extremely attractive — the fact of their indictment makes them irresistible to her.
  • Albert – Office director at the court, and a friend of Huld.
  • Flogger – Man who punishes Franz and Willem in the Bank after K.'s complaints against the two agents in his first Judgement.
  • Vice-President – K.'s unctuous rival at the Bank, only too willing to catch K. in a compromising situation. He repeatedly takes advantage of K.'s preoccupation with the trial to advance his own ambitions.
  • President – Manager of the Bank. A sickly figure, whose position the Vice-President is trying to assume. Gets on well with K., inviting him to various engagements.
  • Rudi Block, the Merchant – Block is another accused man and client of Huld. His case is five years old, and he is but a shadow of the prosperous grain dealer he once was. All his time, energy, and resources are now devoted to his case, to the detriment of his own life. Although he has hired five additional lawyers on the side, he is completely and pathetically subservient to Huld.
  • Manufacturer – Person who hears about K.'s case and advises him to see a painter who knows how the court system works.
  • Titorelli, the Painter – Titorelli inherited the position of Court Painter from his father. He knows a great deal about the comings and goings of the court's lowest level. He offers to help K., and manages to unload a few identical landscape paintings on the accused man.
  • Priest – Prison chaplain whom K. encounters in a cathedral. The priest advises K. that his case is going badly and tells him to accept his fate.
  • Doorkeeper and Farmer – The characters of the Chaplain's Tale.

Translations into EnglishEdit

  • Everyman's Library, 30 June 1992, Translation: Willa and Edwin Muir, ISBN 978-0-679-40994-6
  • Schocken Books, 25 May 1999, Translation: Breon Mitchell, ISBN 978-0-8052-0999-0 Translator's preface is available online[5]
  • Dover Thrift Editions, 22 July 2009, Translation: David Wyllie, ISBN 978-0-486-47061-0
  • Oxford World's Classics, 4 October 2009, Translation: Mike Mitchell, ISBN 978-0-19-923829-3
  • Penguin Modern Classics, 29 June 2000, Translation: Idris Parry, ISBN 978-0-14-118290-2
  • Vitalis-Verlag [de], 15 September 2012, Translation: Susanne Lück and Maureen Fitzgibbons, ISBN 978-80-7253-298-8
  •, Large Print Edition, 4 June 2019, Translation: David Wyllie, ISBN 978-1-950330-31-7

In addition, a graphic novel adaptation by Chantal Montellier (illustrations) and David Zane Mairowitz (adaptation) appeared on April 15, 2008.[6]

Audiobooks in EnglishEdit

  • Blackstone Audio, Narrated by Geoffrey Howard, Translated by Breon Mitchell, 7 hours 47 minutes, Published August 4, 2008

Dramatic adaptationsEdit





  1. ^ a b Kafka himself always used the spelling Process; Max Brod, and later other publishers, changed it. See Faksimile Edition.
  2. ^ Bridgwater, Patrick (2003). Kafka: Gothic and Fairytale. Rodopi. p. 9. ISBN 978-90-420-1194-6.
  3. ^ Coetzee, J. M. (14 May 1998). "Kafka: Translators on Trial". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  4. ^ a b Stach, Reiner (2005). Kafka: The Decisive Years. Translated by Shelley Frisch. Harcourt, Inc. pp. 465–71. ISBN 978-0151-00752-3.
  5. ^ "Afterword: Breon Mitchell". Archived from the original on 25 December 2014. Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  6. ^ Montellier, Chantal (2008). Franz Kafka's The trial : a graphic novel. David Zane Mairowitz, Franz Graphic novelization of: Kafka. New York: Sterling. ISBN 978-1-4114-1591-1. OCLC 180690015.
  7. ^ Berkoff, Steven. "The Trial, Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony. Three theatre adaptions from Franz Kafka." Oxford: Amber Lane Press, 1981.
  8. ^ "'K.' by The Hypocrites: Greg Allen's 'K.' can be unfeeling, but it showed the way" by Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune (26 October 2010)
  9. ^ "Joseph K – review" by Lynn Gardner, The Guardian (17 November 2010)
  10. ^ Billington, Michael (28 June 2015). "The Trial review – a punishing Kafkaesque experience". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 April 2016.
  11. ^ "The DefinitiveThe Columbia Workshop Radio Log with Georgia Backus. William N. Robson and Norman Corwin".
  12. ^ "BBC Radio 4 Extra – Franz Kafka – The Trial". BBC.
  13. ^ "BBC Radio 3 – Drama on 3, The Process". BBC.
  14. ^ Welles, Orson (Director) (1962). The Trial (Movie Production). France, Italy, West Germany: Astor Pictures Corporation.
  15. ^ Shai Biderman and Ido Lewit, "Introduction", in Mediamorphosis: Kafka and the Moving Image (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016), 14. ISBN 0231850891
  16. ^ Review of adaptations of The Trial, Journal of the Kafka Society of America 24 (2003), 59.
  17. ^ Christie, Tom (12 October 2017). "Inside the kaleidoscope mirrored heart of Blade Runner 2049".

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit