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The opening lines suggest that our hero, Josef K., is the victim of "slander," for he's arrested one morning.
K. waits for breakfast in his bed at his lodgings. He notices an old lady at the window of a building across the street, watching him. Instead of breakfast, K. is startled by a stranger who walks into his room and tells him he's not getting breakfast.
K. walks out of his room into his landlady's living room, only to see another strange man, who informs him that "proceedings" are under way, so K. better stick to his room (1.1).
Confused, K. goes back into his room. He can't believe that he's being arrested in this manner. He wonders if he's the victim of a practical joke.
K. finds his identification papers and goes back out to the living room and demands to speak to the guards' supervisor. By now, there are two old people watching him from the building across the way. The guards tell him that, rest assured, he wouldn't have been arrested if there weren't some solid basis for guilt, and that he better get back into his room.
K. goes back to his room. He contemplates suicide, but dismisses it as "irrational" (1.4).
The guard announces that the inspector has arrived, and K. walks back out into the living room. But the guards quickly chase him back into his room – he's still in his nightshirt. They demand he change into a black jacket. K. picks the nicest one he owns – a stylish evening jacket. Thus clothed, he waltzes into his meeting with the inspector.
The inspector sits at a table set up in the middle of the room of another lodger, Fraülein Bürstner. As K. walks in, he notices three men in a corner looking at her photographs. From the window, he sees that the two old people across the way have been joined by a large man twirling his red goatee.
K. stands in front of the inspector and demands to know what's going on. The inspector explains that he and the guards are just minor functionaries; all they know is that K. is under arrest. But he advises K to cool it because he's making a bad impression.
K. demands a phone call to his friend Hasterer, the public prosecutor. The inspector says it won't help, but K. can call Hasterer. K. decides not to.
K. decides that it's pointless to argue with the men because they don't seem to have any idea what's going on. He extends his hand to the inspector, who refuses to shake it.
The inspector tells K. he is free to go to work at the bank if he wishes. K. doesn't understand how he can be under arrest and still go about his normal life. The inspector says his job is just to tell K. that he is under arrest, and offers K. the help of the three men to get to the bank. Surprised, K. finally recognizes the three young men by the pictures as lowly clerks at the bank.
K. piles into a cab with the three young men, watched the entire time by the two old people and the red-haired, burly guy across the way. But then K. realizes as they drive away that he didn't pay attention to what the inspector and the guards were doing. He chides himself for this lapse, and resolves to be more attentive in the future.