Kafkas Trial Essay

Kafkas Trial Essay

Write a 1,500-word essay in response to the following question: having read the extract from Kafka’s Trial (available on Blackboard), how do you interpret the doorkeeper fable? Explain your view, with detailed, convincing arguments. In your essay, you should build a complex line of argumentation, supported by reasons, facts and evidence (Use the critical thinking skills acquired in week 2). By the end of your essay, the reader should have a clear picture of your views on this fable – what it means and why it is there, in Kafka’s book. Please note that this is not a research essay, so you do not need to refer to other sources, except Kafka’s book. If you do use any external sources, please keep their number to maximum two, and make sure to use Harvard referencing style, when you acknowledge them in your Bibliography. Remember, the focus (over 90%) of your essay should be on your own arguments and evidence. Use separate paragraphs to develop each of your arguments. Submit your essay via Blackboard, using the link provided on the Assessments page. Marking Criteria – Understanding of the subject matter (i.e. the ‘problem’ addressed, in this case the doorkeeper fable and its place in Kafka’s text): 20% – Critical thinking skills: 50% o soundness of logic (internal strength and coherence of argument) o originality and independent thought (appreciation of subtleties and potential controversies, or alternative views) – Structure, grammar and syntax, including referencing: 30% o Formal structure of essay: 10% o Grammar and syntax: 10% o Referencing and citation: 10% You will find more details of these criteria in the module outline. (Please note that ‘Research’ does not apply). This assignment is worth 40% of your final module mark. The Trial By Josef Kafka Translated by David Wyllie From Chapter Nine In the Cathedral He had nearly left the area covered by pews and was close to the empty space between himself and the exit when, for the first time, he heard the voice of the priest. A powerful and experienced voice. It pierced through the reaches of the cathedral ready waiting for it! But the priest was not calling out to the congregation, his cry was quite unambiguous and there was no escape from it, he called “Josef K.!” K. stood still and looked down at the floor. In theory he was still free, he could have carried on walking, through one of three dark little wooden doors not far in front of him and away from there. It would simply mean he had not understood, or that he had understood but chose not to pay attention to it. But if he once turned round he would be trapped, then he would have acknowledged that he had understood perfectly well, that he really was the Josef K. the priest had called to and that he was willing to follow. If the priest had called out again K. would certainly have carried on out the door, but everything was silent as K. also waited, he turned his head slightly as he wanted to see what the priest was doing now. He was merely standing in the pulpit as before, but it was obvious that he had seen K. turn his head. If K. did not now turn round completely it would have been like a child playing hide and seek. He did so, and the priest beckoned him with his finger. As everything could now be done openly he ran – because of curiosity and the wish to get it over with – with long flying leaps towards the pulpit. At the front pews he stopped, but to the priest he still seemed too far away, he reached out his hand and pointed sharply down with his finger to a place immediately in front of the pulpit. And K. did as he was told, standing in that place he had to bend his head a long way back just to see the priest. “You are Josef K.,” said the priest, and raised his hand from the balustrade to make a gesture whose meaning was unclear. “Yes,” said K., he considered how freely he had always given his name in the past, for some time now it had been a burden to him, now there were people who knew his name whom he had never seen before, it had been so nice first to introduce yourself and only then for people to know who you were. “You have been accused,” said the priest, especially gently. “Yes,” said K., “so I have been informed.” “Then you are the one I am looking for,” said the priest. “I am the prison chaplain.” “I see,” said K. “I had you summoned here,” said the priest, “because I wanted to speak to you.” “I knew nothing of that,” said K. “I came here to show the cathedral to a gentleman from Italy.” “That is beside the point,” said the priest. “What are you holding in your hand? Is it a prayer book?” “No,” answered K., “it’s an album of the city’s tourist sights.” “Put it down,” said the priest. K. threw it away with such force that it flapped open and rolled across the floor, tearing its pages. “Do you know your case is going badly?” asked the priest. “That’s how it seems to me too,” said K. “I’ve expended a lot of effort on it, but so far with no result. Although I do still have some documents to submit.” “How do you imagine it will end?” asked the priest. “At first I thought it was bound to end well,” said K., “but now I have my doubts about it. I don’t know how it will end. Do you know?” “I don’t,” said the priest, “but I fear it will end badly. You are considered guilty. Your case will probably not even go beyond a minor court. Provisionally at least, your guilt is seen as proven.” “But I’m not guilty,” said K., “there’s been a mistake. How is it even possible for someone to be guilty. We’re all human beings here, one like the other.” “That is true,” said the priest, “but that is how the guilty speak.” “Do you presume I’m guilty too?” asked K. “I make no presumptions about you,” said the priest. “I thank you for that,” said K. “but everyone else involved in these proceedings has something against me and presumes I’m guilty. They even influence those who aren’t involved. My position gets harder all the time.” “You don’t understand the facts,” said the priest, “the verdict does not come suddenly, proceedings continue until a verdict is reached gradually.” “I see,” said K., lowering his head. “What do you intend to do about your case next?” asked the priest. “I still need to find help,” said K., raising his head to see what the priest thought of this. “There are still certain possibilities I haven’t yet made use of.” “You look for too much help from people you don’t know,” said the priest disapprovingly, “and especially from women. Can you really not see that’s not the help you need?” “Sometimes, in fact quite often, I could believe you’re right,” said K., “but not always. Women have a lot of power. If I could persuade some of the women I know to work together with me then I would be certain to succeed. Especially in a court like this that seems to consist of nothing but womanchasers. Show the examining judge a woman in the distance and he’ll run right over the desk, and the accused, just to get to her as soon as he can.” The priest lowered his head down to the balustrade, only now did the roof over the pulpit seem to press him down. What sort of dreadful weather could it be outside? It was no longer just a dull day, it was deepest night. None of the stained glass in the main window shed even a flicker of light on the darkness of the walls. And this was the moment when the man in the cassock chose to put out the candles on the main altar, one by one. “Are you cross with me?” asked K. “Maybe you don’t know what sort of court it is you serve.” He received no answer. “Well, it’s just my own experience,” said K. Above him there was still silence. “I didn’t mean to insult you,” said K. At that, the priest screamed down at K.: “Can you not see two steps in front of you?” He shouted in anger, but it was also the scream of one who sees another fall and, shocked and without thinking, screams against his own will. The two men, then, remained silent for a long time. In the darkness beneath him, the priest could not possibly have seen K. distinctly, although K. was able to see him clearly by the light of the little lamp. Why did the priest not come down? He had not given a sermon, he had only told K. a few things which, if he followed them closely, would probably cause him more harm than good. But the priest certainly seemed to mean well, it might even be possible, if he would come down and cooperate with him, it might even be possible for him to obtain some acceptable piece of advice that could make all the difference, it might, for instance, be able to show him not so much to influence the proceedings but how to break free of them, how to evade them, how to live away from them. K. had to admit that this was something he had had on his mind quite a lot of late. If the priest knew of such a possibility he might, if K. asked him, let him know about it, even though he was part of the court himself and even though, when K. had criticised the court, he had held down his gentle nature and actually shouted at K. “Would you not like to come down here?” asked K. “If you’re not going to give a sermon come down here with me.” “Now I can come down,” said the priest, perhaps he regretted having shouted at K. As he took down the lamp from its hook he said, “to start off with I had to speak to you from a distance. Otherwise I’m too easily influenced and forget my duty.” K. waited for him at the foot of the steps. While he was still on one of the higher steps as he came down them the priest reached out his hand for K. to shake. “Can you spare me a little of your time?” asked K. “As much time as you need,” said the priest, and passed him the little lamp for him to carry. Even at close distance the priest did not lose a certain solemnity that seemed to be part of his character. “You are very friendly towards me,” said K., as they walked up and down beside each other in the darkness of one of the side naves. “That makes you an exception among all those who belong to the court. I can trust you more than any of the others I’ve seen. I can speak openly with you.” “Don’t fool yourself,” said the priest. “How would I be fooling myself?” asked K. “You fool yourself in the court,” said the priest, “it talks about this self-deceit in the opening paragraphs to the law. In front of the law there is a doorkeeper. A man from the countryside comes up to the door and asks for entry. But the doorkeeper says he can’t let him in to the law right now. The man thinks about this, and then he asks if he’ll be able to go in later on. ‘That’s possible,’ says the doorkeeper, ‘but not now’. The gateway to the law is open as it always is, and the doorkeeper has stepped to one side, so the man bends over to try and see in. When the doorkeeper notices this he laughs and says, ‘If you’re tempted give it a try, try and go in even though I say you can’t. Careful though: I’m powerful. And I’m only the lowliest of all the doormen. But there’s a doorkeeper for each of the rooms and each of them is more powerful than the last. It’s more than I can stand just to look at the third one.’ The man from the country had not expected difficulties like this, the law was supposed to be accessible for anyone at any time, he thinks, but now he looks more closely at the doorkeeper in his fur coat, sees his big hooked nose, his long thin tartar-beard, and he decides it’s better to wait until he has permission to enter. The doorkeeper gives him a stool and lets him sit down to one side of the gate. He sits there for days and years. He tries to be allowed in time and again and tires the doorkeeper with his requests. The doorkeeper often questions him, asking about where he’s from and many other things, but these are disinterested questions such as great men ask, and he always ends up by telling him he still can’t let him in. The man had come well equipped for his journey, and uses everything, however valuable, to bribe the doorkeeper. He accepts everything, but as he does so he says, ‘I’ll only accept this so that you don’t think there’s anything you’ve failed to do’. Over many years, the man watches the doorkeeper almost without a break. He forgets about the other doormen, and begins to think this one is the only thing stopping him from gaining access to the law. Over the first few years he curses his unhappy condition out loud, but later, as he becomes old, he just grumbles to himself. He becomes senile, and as he has come to know even the fleas in the doorkeeper’s fur collar over the years that he has been studying him he even asks them to help him and change the doorkeeper’s mind. Finally his eyes grow dim, and he no longer knows whether it’s really getting darker or just his eyes that are deceiving him. But he seems now to see an inextinguishable light begin to shine from the darkness behind the door. He doesn’t have long to live now. Just before he dies, he brings together all his experience from all this time into one question which he has still never put to the doorkeeper. He beckons to him, as he’s no longer able to raise his stiff body. The doorkeeper has to bend over deeply as the difference in their sizes has changed very much to the disadvantage of the man. ‘What is it you want to know now?’ asks the doorkeeper, ‘You’re insatiable.’ ‘Everyone wants access to the law,’ says the man, ‘how come, over all these years, no-one but me has asked to be let in?’ The doorkeeper can see the man’s come to his end, his hearing has faded, and so, so that he can be heard, he shouts to him: ‘Nobody else could have got in this way, as this entrance was meant only for you. Now I’ll go and close it’.” “So the doorkeeper cheated the man,” said K. immediately, who had been captivated by the story. “Don’t be too quick,” said the priest, “don’t take somebody else’s opinion without checking it. I told you the story exactly as it was written. There’s nothing in there about cheating.” “But it’s quite clear,” said K., “and your first interpretation of it was quite correct. The doorkeeper gave him the information that would release him only when it could be of no more use.” “He didn’t ask him before that,” said the priest, “and don’t forget he was only a doorkeeper, and as doorkeeper he did his duty.” “What makes you think he did his duty?” asked K., “He didn’t. It might have been his duty to keep everyone else away, but this man is who the door was intended for and he ought to have let him in.” “You’re not paying enough attention to what was written and you’re changing the story,” said the priest. “According to the story, there are two important things that the doorkeeper explains about access to the law, one at the beginning, one at the end. At one place he says he can’t allow him in now, and at the other he says this entrance was intended for him alone. If one of the statements contradicted the other you would be right and the doorkeeper would have cheated the man from the country. But there is no contradiction. On the contrary, the first statement even hints at the second. You could almost say the doorkeeper went beyond his duty in that he offered the man some prospect of being admitted in the future. Throughout the story, his duty seems to have been merely to turn the man away, and there are many commentators who are surprised that the doorkeeper offered this hint at all, as he seems to love exactitude and keeps strict guard over his position. He stays at his post for many years and doesn’t close the gate until the very end, he’s very conscious of the importance of his service, as he says, ‘I’m powerful,’ he has respect for his superiors, as he says, ‘I’m only the lowliest of the doormen’, he’s not talkative, as through all these years the only questions he asks are ‘disinterested’, he’s not corruptible, as when he’s offered a gift he says, ‘I’ll only accept this so that you don’t think there’s anything you’ve failed to do,’ as far as fulfilling his duty goes he can be neither ruffled nor begged, as it says about the man that, ‘he tires the doorkeeper with his requests’, even his external appearance suggests a pedantic character, the big hooked nose and the long, thin, black tartar-beard. How could any doorkeeper be more faithful to his duty? But in the doorkeeper’s character there are also other features which might be very useful for those who seek entry to the law, and when he hinted at some possibility in the future it always seemed to make it clear that he might even go beyond his duty. There’s no denying he’s a little simple minded, and that makes him a little conceited. Even if all he said about his power and the power of the other doorkeepers and how not even he could bear the sight of them – I say even if all these assertions are right, the way he makes them shows that he’s too simple and arrogant to understand properly. The commentators say about this that, ‘correct understanding of a matter and a misunderstanding of the same matter are not mutually exclusive’. Whether they’re right or not, you have to concede that his simplicity and arrogance, however little they show, do weaken his function of guarding the entrance, they are defects in the doorkeeper’s character. You also have to consider that the doorkeeper seems to be friendly by nature, he isn’t always just an official. He makes a joke right at the beginning, in that he invites the man to enter at the same time as maintaining the ban on his entering, and then he doesn’t send him away but gives him, as it says in the text, a stool to sit on and lets him stay by the side of the door. The patience with which he puts up with the man’s requests through all these years, the little questioning sessions, accepting the gifts, his politeness when he puts up with the man cursing his fate even though it was the doorkeeper who caused that fate – all these things seem to want to arouse our sympathy. Not every doorkeeper would have behaved in the same way. And finally, he lets the man beckon him and he bends deep down to him so that he can put his last question. There’s no more than some slight impatience – the doorkeeper knows everything’s come to its end – shown in the words, ‘You’re insatiable’. There are many commentators who go even further in explaining it in this way and think the words, ‘you’re insatiable’ are an expression of friendly admiration, albeit with some condescension. However you look at it the figure of the doorkeeper comes out differently from how you might think.” “You know the story better than I do and you’ve known it for longer,” said K. They were silent for a while. And then K. said, “So you think the man was not cheated, do you?” “Don’t get me wrong,” said the priest, “I’m just pointing out the different opinions about it. You shouldn’t pay too much attention to people’s opinions. The text cannot be altered, and the various opinions are often no more than an expression of despair over it. There’s even one opinion which says it’s the doorkeeper who’s been cheated.” “That does seem to take things too far,” said K. “How can they argue the doorkeeper has been cheated?” “Their argument,” answered the priest, “is based on the simplicity of the doorkeeper. They say the doorkeeper doesn’t know the inside of the law, only the way into it where he just walks up and down. They see his ideas of what’s inside the law as rather childish, and suppose he’s afraid himself of what he wants to make the man frightened of. Yes, he’s more afraid of it than the man, as the man wants nothing but to go inside the law, even after he’s heard about the terrible doormen there, in contrast to the doorkeeper who doesn’t want to go in, or at least we don’t hear anything about it. On the other hand, there are those who say he must have already been inside the law as he has been taken on into its service and that could only have been done inside. That can be countered by supposing he could have been given the job of doorkeepe …





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