It is often observed of Kafka’s The Castle that it is narrated exclusively from K.’s point of view. The novel was begun in the first person, Brod notes; it was only later in the manuscript Kafka switched from the first person ‘I’ to the third person 'K.' Deleted scenes, for example, one in which the villagers make fun of K. behind his back, attest to Kafka’s desire to maintain the perspective of the narrator close to that of K. We are always absolutely sure, as readers, of what K. is thinking. And what does he think? It is always a matter of coping with the course of events; his attention is always focused on his predicament.
It is a matter, for K., of working out the intentions of the denizens of the castle. What do they want with him? Can they clarify what his duties are as the new Land Surveyor? Can they reassure him that he even has this position? Was he right to think he had even been summoned to the village by the castle authorities? He seeks to confirm his station; he is a Vermesser, a surveyor, one who measures and delimits the world, and, as a commentator points out, one who presumes, sich vermessen, who causes a fuss because he will not accept his place.
When he arrives in the village, K. is confident, bold; but he is soon defeated by the distance of the castle itself (he tries to reach it on foot, but collapses, exhausted) and the inscrutability of the castle officials. K. is not the pilgrim on a steady way to his goal, but the weathervane, blown this way and then that, gaining confidence and then losing it again, hopeful and then resigned.
All along, K.’s pomposity is mocked by his assistants; their antics mimic the persistence of their master as it approaches hubris; but he, K., does not understand. His confidence, to which he will always return, withers only when K. is overwhelmed by weariness. We know, although the book was unfinished, that K himself was himself about to die. In the final lines, where K. listens to Gerstäcker’s dying mother, it is as though K. will die of his own weariness, as if that weariness itself were infinitely attenuated, that K. himself were stretched so thinly that there is nothing of him left. And it seems, in these final pages, that his defiance towards the castle and its officials has disappeared. His weariness is such that the castle can appear as what it is: co-extensive with the village, a ramshackle collection of huts, yet, for all that, repository of an expertise which will remain secret.
Joseph K. of The Trial is more defiant than The Castle’s K. At first, he believes his own trial is singular, separable from all others because he is innocent. His trial, he believes, may even become a test-case and he goes about the court believing the other accused believe him to be one of the judges or magistrates. Yet he too spins from assurance to unconfidence and he, like K., will fall victim to a weariness which brings him towards a kind of resignation: to his sense that the trial was his fate and he had to recognise its necessity.
Joseph K.'s death is not tragic; he dies ‘like a dog’; he ‘perishes’ rather than ‘dies’, as Heidegger would say, contrasting such annihilation from the death of resolute and authentic Dasein. He perishes; he does not die the great death in which he runs up against his own finitude. His is not an experience so much of the limit but of the limitlessness of that limit; his death, like a dog, does not allow him to bring himself up against what would be majestically human. Still he perishes, but even as he does so, it is as though he has to die for Kafka to bring a book to a close which would otherwise stretch for a million pages. He perishes, but The Trial, like The Castle, is unfinished and it is as though within its pages there were another story: the infinite account of K.’s own weariness, his perishing, a detour which cannot find its term in death.