Skip over navigation

The Trial

Franz Kafka

Chapter 5

Chapter 4

Chapter 6

Summary

A few days later, as K. is readying to leave the bank for the day, he hears "convulsive sighs" coming from behind the door of the lumber room. He opens the door and enters. The two warders who first appeared in his apartment are at the mercy of a man dressed in leather--the Whipper. The Whipper is preparing to do what Whippers do best. The men are being whipped because K. complained about their conduct at the first interrogation. K. is horrified. He explains that he had merely described the men's behavior, did not hold them responsible for their actions; he had no idea that they would be punished, and has absolutely no desire to see them punished. He offers to pay the Whipper not to whip the pitiful, supplicating men. But a Whipper must do what a Whipper must do. The whipping commences, and one of the warder's lets loose a blood-curdling shriek that sends K. out of the room and into the hall. He reassures the clerks who come to investigate the noise that it was merely a dog howling outside.

K. feels terrible about the warders. He would have been willing to increase the bribe, or to offer himself as their replacement--an option that the Whipper must surely have refused--if only one of the warders had not screamed, making it necessary for K. to leave the room and explain away the situation to the clerks. All the next day the warders weigh on K.'s mind. He stays late to catch up on work, but, when he walks past the lumber room he cannot help looking in. There are the warders and the Whipper, just as they were the previous evening. The warders begin again to call to him. K. slams the door shut, beats on it with his fist, and, near tears, rushes back to where the clerks are. He orders them to clear out the lumber room. They promise to do so the next day. He goes home with a blank mind.

Commentary

This incident seems orchestrated precisely to facilitate an eventual mental breakdown, the signs of which many of the accused men seem to exhibit. It is one thing to have one's own case to worry about, but it is another to be saddled with the guilt of being, however unintentionally, the source of these poor fools' misery. Those who look to The Trial as a harbinger of totalitarian atrocity note that this chapter evokes the interrogation-torture (and it is not always the interrogated who is tortured) and psychological oppression that have been the calling cards of a depressing number of twentieth-century regimes.

The Court apparently has access to every place--it can set up shop in a company's closet, or in a tenement attic--yet it still conducts its business in dark, sealed, uncomfortable, makeshift or out-of-the-way places (such as the examples just given). This is surely not coincidental; rather it is an essential characteristic of an impenetrable and unaccountable bureaucracy.

Chapter Five maintains the relationship between K., the Court, and air. After witnessing the whipping, and realizing he cannot prevent it, K. steps over to a window and opens it, as if the fresh air will dispel the presence of the Court.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us