Study Guide

The Trial What's Up With the Ending?

By Franz Kafka

What's Up With the Ending?

Kafka's Trial ends suddenly with a very brief chapter entitled "The End." After all of the bureaucratic delays, amorous digressions, and lectures on law and art, Josef K. is summarily executed on his birthday outside of town, in a quarry, by two men who seem to be dressed for a night at the opera, top hat and all. K.'s execution seems all the more sudden because we never get an actual trial in the novel; as far as we know, K.'s initial petition hasn't even been submitted yet, and we certainly haven't heard a judge deliver a sentence.

In addition to being right up there as the worst birthday ever, K.'s execution keeps to the novel's general theme of the abuse of power. Just as the court is a closed system that operates in secret and according to its own mysterious rules, K.'s execution seems to come out of nowhere, without any justification. K.'s death is even creepier given the extreme politeness of his executioners.

The ending also brings up the question as to what K. could possibly have done to deserve such an extreme punishment, particularly since K.'s only failing in the novel seems to be either arrogance or sexual promiscuity. K.'s final act of defiance – his refusal to kill himself, thus sparing the executioners the labor involved in killing a man – suggests that perhaps he is being punished for not completely submitting to the will of the court, which seeks to eliminate any and all expressions of individuality. K.'s last words, "like a dog," voice his protest over his utterly inhumane end.

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