The Trial: chapter 10
On the evening before his thirty-first birthday, K. receives two visitors. He is dressed in black, like them, and has been waiting for them. The men, who are somewhat like clowns, take hold of his arms and escort him through the streets. The curtains are drawn on most of the apartments. Through one open window, however, there are two playpens with children reaching out to each other from between the bars but unable to reach one other.
K. decides he is going to resist the men so he can relish the last moments of his life, but gives in when he views Miss Burstner, or someone who resembles her, walking on a lower street. Soon, they pass a policeman who looks suspiciously at them but doesn’t stop them. In time they are in the countryside and enter a quarry.
Here, the men take off K.’s jacket and shirt and tie him down to a boulder. One of them takes out a large two-edged butcher knife from the inside of his coat. They pass the knife back and forth above him until it dawns on K. that he is supposed to take the knife and execute himself. This, he cannot bring himself to do.
Someone, in an apartment not too far away opens a window, leans out with arms open to the sky. “Who was that?” K. wonders, “A friend? A good person? Somebody who was taking part? Somebody who wanted to help? Was he alone? Was it everyone? Would anyone help?” In an attempt to reach this stranger in the light, “he raised both hands and spread out all his fingers.” Soon, however, his killers stab him and before he dies he utters, "Like a dog!" and feels that “the shame of it should outlive him (111).
In circular fashion, the final chapter takes place precisely one year after the story began. It is the evening before K.’s thirty-first birthday. He has been “on trial” for one year. In this time, he has encountered heartbreak and frustration and there has been no final resolution. Puzzled readers should recall that this is an unfinished novel and thus, there are no final answers. Indeed, although we can acknowledge this chapter as the novel’s final one, there are possibly missing chapters that prompt us to question “what else”?
What else happened to K.? Yes, he is frustrated and loses hope after he encounters Titorelli, who only promises more of the same, and Block, whose advice, if he follows it, only ensures that he will turn into a thoroughly subjugated dog, and the Priest in the Cathedral who utterly fails to give him hope. But, we are left wondering, did Kafka really mean to jump from the Cathedral to the end of the novel? He wrote it between 1914 and 1915 and put it aside. In addition, we are left wondering whether K. ever met the Italian. What happened when he returned to the office? Did he lose his job? What about the women associated of the Court? Did he really finalize things with his lawyer? What about the final encounter with Miss Burstner? Surely he made other contact with her? And so on, and so forth.
Ultimately, Kafka’s The Trial is about the individual’s sense of loss and isolation in an increasingly mechanized world. Is a person so caught up in work and schedules that they forget, or become unable, to forge and sustain human relationships? Consider when all is said and done, despite numerous strange women, K. is alone at the age of 30. His job totally defines him and provides his sense of self-worth. Is he ashamed at the end because he doesn’t do what is expected and kill himself?
In his final walk, Joseph K. passes apartment buildings: in one of the windows where there was a light on, two small children could be seen playing with each other inside a playpen, unable to move from where they were, reaching out for each other with their little hands (109). As he lies waiting for death a short while later, he similarly looks up as someone “opens a window, leans out and opens their arms to the sky” and he makes an attempt to reach the person. Too late, it would seem. K. has become, like Block, helpless and pathetic—unable, or unwilling to even to fight for another moment of life.