The second part of The Trial was much more thought-provoking than the first part. When Joseph K. attempts to dismiss his trial as a minor inconvenience, his uncle comes up with a plan to fight the court. He introduces K. to an attorney who agrees take his case. Unfortunately, the lawyer does absolutely nothing to help K. fight the court. Next, K. visits the court painter Titorelli who also promises to help the defendant. The painter describes in detail the three kinds of acquittals possible. The best K. can hope for is a temporary acquittal by the lower court. The higher court can overturn the rulings of the lower court. Titorelli has never known a case in which a defendant’s case has been permanently dropped.
While The Trial is clearly a commentary on the corrupt nature of the justice system, the discussion about the three types of acquittals increasingly convinced me that the story was also about metaphysical matters. There is something quite Calvinistic about K.’s world. It seems as if he has been predestined for condemnation. He cannot defend himself or do anything to change his sentence. The acquittals discussion reminded me of the scholastic philosophy I studied in a medieval philosophy course last semester.
And then there’s the parable of the doorkeeper. It seems to be addressing in part the free will/determinism question. While the man for whom the door was made can never pass through the door, he is always free to move about. He chooses to remain in front of the door until his death.
First of all, the free man is superior to the bound man. Now the man is in fact free: he can go wherever he wishes, the entrance to the Law alone is denied to him, and this only by one person, the doorkeeper. If he sits on the stool at the side of the door and spends the rest of his life there, he does so of his free will; the story mentions no element of force. The doorkeeper, on the other hand, is bound to his post by his office; he is not permitted to go elsewhere outside, but to all appearances he is not permitted to go inside either, even if he wishes to.
Paradoxically, the doorkeeper is less free than the man because he is required to guard the door at all times. The doorkeeper, as the priest who’s telling the story points out, does not know what is beyond the door. The man chose to renounce his freedom by sitting near the door for the rest of his life. He could have done so many other things, but he chose to fight the prohibition.
How this parable relates to the end of the story is not clear. After leaving the cathedral, K. is arrested and executed. Maybe the parable is about humanity’s search for justice and a meaning to life. Whatever is beyond the door (the meaning of life? Justice?) is inaccessible to the man, so why does he remain by the door?
Before he’s executed, K. realizes that he has always been and always will be identified with guilt.
With failing sight K. saw how the men drew near his face, leaning cheek-to-cheek to observe the verdict. “Like a dog!” he said; it seemed as though the shame was to outlive him.
But what about the executioners? Did they choose to execute K., or did the Law force them to do it? If the executioners are like the priest’s doorkeeper, the executioners are no less determined by outside forces. If K. had accepted his guilt without protest, would he have experienced more freedom in his life? We will never know.
This story was the perfect Halloween read! I am not satisfied with Kafka’s worldview, but there is so much injustice in the world. Why do bad things happen to good people? Some people are like Joseph K., defenseless victims of an unjust world. If there is any meaning to the suffering of the innocent, we certainly can’t know it in this life.