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Franz Kafka: Before the Law June 24, 2013

Posted by anagasto in philosophy.


Before the law sits a gatekeeper. To this gatekeeper comes a man from the country who asks to gain entry into the law. But the gatekeeper says that he cannot grant him entry at the moment.

The gates were wide open, and the man was allowed to peep in, but the gatekeeper warned him against trying to go in.  He said there were many more gatekeepers inside,

each more powerful than the other.

The gatekeeper gives to the man a little chair and the man sits there year in, year out.  He grows old and childish, for he has spent years studying the gatekeeper and  came to know even the flees in his fur collar. So ….

he asks the fleas to help him persuade the gatekeeper.

As the man is nearing death and as it becomes dark around him, he sees some light coming from  inside the building. He tries to ask  just one more question:  why in all this time nobody else ever asked to be allowed in.

The man has become hard of hearing, and  the gatekeeper shouts the answer:

Here no one else can gain entry, since this entrance was assigned only to you. I’m going now to close it.



The reader may have to look for ambience and context rather than meaning. Though Kafka’s stories are often classified as parables, they are not normally meant to prove or teach a single point, but to convey the idea of a situation where somebody is caught.

— Another way is to let some time pass and see whether the story doesn’t become clearer as you recall it after a few weeks. It is like a statue: from the distance you cannot see the details anymore, but you begin to see  the layout clearly.

Kafka’s absurdity is very different from Sartre’s which is intellectual, but not painful.

Sartre said  l’enfer c’est les autres: hell is the others, but to Kafka, rather than hell, they are  not human, they do not respond, do not understand, and they show only few signs of any mental activity.  They are  employees of low or high rank, but without personal traits or initiative, using their power mechanically like machines.

These types are repetitive. They are everywhere. They are anonymous,  though not stuffy, but of zero individuality, and their cruelty is as impersonal  as a spider’s that sucks on a fly.

According to the web site quoted below, Kafka himself looked upon his writing and the creative act it signified as a means of “redemption,” as a “form of prayer” through which he might be reconciled to the world or might transcend his negative experience of it.

Complete text in English:  Franz Kafka Before the Law

Complete text in German: Franz Kafka Vor dem Gesetz

The translation and the complete text are in public domain at  the website of Ian Johnston


1. Carl D'Agostino - June 24, 2013

Excellent summary

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