Before the Law

Before the Law

"Before the Law" is a parable in the novel "The Trial" (German "Der Prozeß"), by Franz Kafka. "Before the Law" was published in Kafka's lifetime, while "The Trial" was not published until after Kafka's death.

Plot summary

"Before the Law"

A man from the country seeks the law and wishes to gain entry to the law through a doorway. The doorkeeper tells the man that he cannot go through at the present time. The man asks if he can ever go through, and the doorkeeper says that is possible. The man waits by the door for years, bribing the doorkeeper with everything he has. The doorkeeper accepts the bribes, but tells the man that he accepts them "so you won't think you've neglected something." The man waits at the door until he is about to die. Right before his death, he asks the doorkeeper why even though everyone seeks the law, no one else has come in all the years. The doorkeeper answers "No one else could gain admittance here, because this entrance was meant solely for you. I'm going to go and shut it now."

In some English translations of the original German text, the word "Law" is capitalized. It is important to keep in mind, however, that this is the prerogative of the translator who might wish to focus attention on the myriad connotations of the word beyond its simple juridical meaning; for example, in religious (law as moral or God's law) or psychoanalytic (Freud's "Law of the Father") contexts. In the original German, the capitalization of the word Gesetz ("Law") reflects nothing more than a standard adherence to the rules of spelling, which require that all nouns be capitalized, and has no wider significance.

In "The Trial"

Josef K has to show an important client from Italy around a cathedral. The client doesn't show up, but just as K is leaving the cathedral, the priest calls out K's name, although K has never known the priest. The priest reveals that he is a court employee, and he tells K the story, prefacing it by saying it is from "the introductory texts to the Law," never referring to it by its published title. The priest and K then discuss interpretations of the story before K leaves the cathedral.


The section is a lucid example of absurdity in Kafka's works. It also clearly demonstrates the concept of existentialism, as the man from the country can only enter the gate using his own, individual path. The fable is referenced and reworked in the penultimate chapter of J.M. Coetzee's novel "Elizabeth Costello".

External links

* [ An english translation of 'Before the Law'.]

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