Though chapter five, “The Flogger,” is a difficult and rather startling chapter to read, I believe it can be helpful to consider when thinking about how the officials both divert and consume K.’s attention — diverting his attention away from discovering the truth behind the nature of his arrest, but also psychologically consuming his attention so as to render him incapable of escaping the power structure he has become a victim of.
“The Flogger” takes place in the bank where our main character is employed. Working late one night, he walks past the junk room in the bank, where he hears groaning coming from the inside. Opening the doors, he finds a leather-clad flogger preparing to whip two of the guards, whom K. recognizes as the men who arrested him a couple of weeks prior. K.’s attempts to bribe the flogger prove to be ultimately futile, and K. has to hear and see the two men suffer as they are beaten, which deeply upsets him. The next day K. returns to the junk room out of curiosity to see if anything (anyone) is still there. Much to his dismay, he finds the three men still in the room and notices that “everything was unchanged, just as he had found it in the previous evening when he opened the door” (86) — a moment so temporally odd in that it suggests a “time travel” of sorts.
While there is much to dissect in this scene, I immediately thought back to the initial scenes of The Trial. Going back to the beginning of the story when K. is asking about the nature of his arrest, he is assured that “you’re under arrest, certainly, but that’s not meant to keep you from carrying on your profession. Nor are you to be hindered in the course of your ordinary life” (17). To this K. responds, “Then being under arrest isn’t so bad” (17).
While I don’t believe it takes Kafka until page 80 to show K.’s naïveté inherent within the above statement, I think “The Flogger” explicitly (though perhaps unsurprisingly) contradicts the promises made by the officials regarding the simplicity and ease of K.’s arrest: the psychological, emotional, physical effects of K.’s arrest are now totally inescapable. Through this insertion of officials into K.’s workplace, the idea of K. being able to continue living an “ordinary life” is now completely ruptured. Seeing the flogger in the junk room thus perpetuates the idea that the violence and power inherent within the system that punishes K. is everywhere. I do have some hesitations as to whether or not the flogging actually occurred, though. Given that the second time K. walks into the junk room the scene he comes across appears to be a sort of “looped version” or repetition of the scene from the night before, this does make me wonder if K. was just hallucinating the event. Perhaps that would even make for a more powerful reading, as it would contribute to the paranoiac behavior K. has already been seen (as many of my classmates have pointed out) to exhibit thus far.