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Franz Kafka's Short Story, Before the Law
This story is actually contained in a larger work, but it has been published alone as a work of fiction.
In the segment entitled Before the Law, K, Kafka's recurrent protagonist is talking with a priest. He relates a story about a man that comes to a great door seeking the Law.Before it is a gatekeeper that tells him he can't be allowed to enter at that moment. The man seeking the Law is perplexed, but intentional, so he waits, and waits and waits for the entirety of his life to be permitted to access the Law. The gatekeeper also waits and allows the man to continue waiting, but not letting him pass through the gate. As the man is dying, he wonders why he was the only person seeking the Law. The gatekeeper tells him, that the gate he guards was only meant for him and since he is dying, he, the gatekeeper is going to close it. K then engages the priest that has related this tale to him, in an analytic argument about the meaning of the story.
The arguments are piercing and full of moral implications. Kafka is showing us how an allegory can have profound meaning. It is unavoidable that the reader will not apply the experience of the man and gatekeeper to his personal life. Don't we all seek some Law, some way to understand our existence? Are we not barred in this struggle to understand by a gatekeeper, in the form of fear, doubt and confusion? The gatekeeper as allegory goes even further. He explains that there are deeper realms, that even he (meaning the gatekeeper himself) can't know, and the man will not be permitted to reach them. Again, the analytic portion of Before the Law reflects upon this notion.The priest explains that the gatekeeper could be deceived. Are not we deceived about our life's meaning and substance? Before the Law is a clear narrative of human life. We come to a point in our lives in which we seek purpose and order, yet we are obstructed from this by own minds (our gatekeepers if you will). We want health, while declining in well being, we want youth, while growing ever aged, we need love, yet never finding it. If we do, it's ephemeral and soon to be lost. There is no constant, permanent principle to guide us in life. We seek a reason, a Law if you will, that will help us, and thus we seek it, but discover our path is obscured by ourselves! Here is the allegory of the story. Kafka does this with such incredible power, you can't stop reading it.
Kafka creates an allegorical tale, in which we see the senselessness of being in the human condition. K is seeking understanding of himself in the larger work. He has irrational fears. He fears high winds and his environment is forboding without cause. He actually enters the church for shelter before engaging the priest. In this work, you are K, and the priest is your alter ego. He provides you with many different interpretations of why the man might have sought the Law. Yet, none suffice, for you must understand yourself why you seek the Law. As a final word, Kafka has K declare that the Law is not real, it is a lie. He is razor-edge close to an existential conclusion with this declaration. It adds irony to allegory to have K, make this statement to a priest, who is trying to explain the meaning of the tale.
Robleh Wais 11/9/03
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