The Trial: chapter 5
One evening as he is leaving his office, K. hears sounds coming from behind the door of a room he always believed to the junk room. Taken by “an uncontrollable curiosity,” he opens the door to investigate. He sees three men crowded into the tiny room that is more like a closet; the two policemen Franz and Willem who arrested him and a third dressed in black leather holding a whip. The policemen tell K. “we're to be beaten because you made a complaint about us to the examining judge" (41). K. is extremely put out and defends himself by insisting that while he did complain, he absolutely never requested that they be punished. He attempts to bribe the Whipper to no avail. Franz attempts to blame his cohort Willem, who is older, for influencing him. They continue to beg K. for relief but the Whipper begins to whip them and soon K. hears a blood-curdling scream that forces him to run from the room in desperation. He explains to the other workers that what they heard is merely a dog howling outside.
The following evening, K. passes the same door and opens it only to find the same trio: “the forms and bottles of ink just inside the doorway, the whip-man with his cane, the two policemen, still undressed, the candle on the shelf, and the two policemen began to wail and call out "Mr. K.!" (44). The policemen continue to beg K. to come to their aid but the helpless K. runs from the room, near tears this time. He sharply orders the workers to clean out the room and they promise to do so the following day. K.’s mind is numb when he returns to his room.
In the literary realm Kafka is highly regarded for his portrayals of the inhumanity and absurdity of modern life. What could be more absurd, indeed bizarre, than the author’s portrayal of the bestial punishment of K.’s clownish arresting officers? It is deeply disturbing. K. is forced to take on the additional guilt of causing the horrible punishment of two other men: “Mr. K., our careers are at an end, we're going to have to do work now, that's far inferior to police work and besides all this we're going to get this terrible, painful beating" (42). Some critics assert that the only way to explain this chapter is to understand that K. is undergoing a mental breakdown, while others explain that this scene foreshadows the dark totalitarian movement that was to engulf large sections of Europe in the twentieth century.
It also points to the fact that K. cannot ever escape the Court. In chapter one, it enters his bedroom, while in this chapter it follows him to work. He cannot escape; he is surrounded. K.’s running from the room and gasping for air at the window mirrors his escape from the attic when he is forced to take deep breaths after the stultifying air of the offices.