by Franz Kafka
Nine In the Cathedral
A very important Italian business contact of the bank had come to visit the city for the first time and K. was given the task of showing him some of its cultural sights. At any other time he would have seen this job as an honour but now, when he was finding it hard even to maintain his current position in the bank, he accepted it only with reluctance. Every hour that he could not be in the office was a cause of concern for him, he was no longer able to make use of his time in the office anything like as well as he had previously, he spent many hours merely pretending to do important work, but that only increased his anxiety about not being in the office. Then he sometimes thought he saw the deputy director, who was always watching, come into K.’s office, sit at his desk, look through his papers, receive clients who had almost become old friends of K., and lure them away from him, perhaps he even discovered mistakes, mistakes that seemed to threaten K. from a thousand directions when he was at work now, and which he could no longer avoid. So now, if he was ever asked to leave the office on business or even needed to make a short business trip, however much an honour it seemed – and tasks of this sort happened to have increased substantially recently – there was always the suspicion that they wanted to get him out of his office for a while and check his work, or at least the idea that they thought he was dispensable. It would not have been difficult for him to turn down most of these jobs, but he did not dare to do so because, if his fears had the slightest foundation, turning the jobs down would have been an acknowledgement of them. For this reason, he never demurred from accepting them, and even when he was asked to go on a tiring business trip lasting two days he said nothing about having to go out in the rainy autumn weather when he had a severe chill, just in order to avoid the risk of not being asked to go. When, with a raging headache, he arrived back from this trip he learned that he had been chosen to accompany the Italian business contact the following day. The temptation for once to turn the job down was very great, especially as it had no direct connection with business, but there was no denying that social obligations towards this business contact were in themselves important enough, only not for K., who knew quite well that he needed some successes at work if he was to maintain his position there and that, if he failed in that, it would not help him even if this Italian somehow found him quite charming; he did not want to be removed from his workplace for even one day, as the fear of not being allowed back in was too great, he knew full well that the fear was exaggerated but it still made him anxious. However, in this case it was almost impossible to think of an acceptable excuse, his knowledge of Italian was not great but still good enough; the deciding factor was that K. had earlier known a little about art history and this had become widely known around the bank in extremely exaggerated form, and that K. had been a member of the Society for the Preservation of City Monuments, albeit only for business reasons. It was said that this Italian was an art lover, so the choice of K. to accompany him was a matter of course.
It was a very rainy and stormy morning when K., in a foul temper at the thought of the day ahead of him, arrived early at seven o’clock in the office so that he could at least do some work before his visitor would prevent him. He had spent half the night studying a book of Italian grammar so that he would be somewhat prepared and was very tired; his desk was less attractive to him than the window where he had spent far too much time sitting of late, but he resisted the temptation and sat down to his work. Unfortunately, just then the servitor came in and reported that the director had sent him to see whether the chief clerk was already in his office; if he was, then would he please be so kind as to come to his reception room as the gentleman from Italy was already there. “I’ll come straight away,” said K. He put a small dictionary in his pocket, took a guide to the city’s tourist sites under his arm that he had compiled for strangers, and went through the deputy director’s office into that of the director. He was glad he had come into the office so early and was able to be of service immediately, nobody could seriously have expected that of him. The deputy director’s office was, of course, still as empty as the middle of the night, the servitor had probably been asked to summon him too but without success. As K. entered the reception room two men stood up from the deep armchairs where they had been sitting. The director gave him a friendly smile, he was clearly very glad that K. was there, he immediately introduced him to the Italian who shook K.’s hand vigorously and joked that somebody was an early riser. K. did not quite understand whom he had in mind, it was moreover an odd expression to use and it took K. a little while to guess its meaning. He replied with a few bland phrases which the Italian received once more with a laugh, passing his hand nervously and repeatedly over his blue-grey, bushy moustache. This moustache was obviously perfumed, it was almost tempting to come close to it and sniff. When they had all sat down and begun a light preliminary conversation, K. was disconcerted to notice that he understood no more than fragments of what the Italian said. When he spoke very calmly he understood almost everything, but that was very infrequent, mostly the words gushed from his mouth and he seemed to be enjoying himself so much his head shook. When he was talking in this way his speech was usually wrapped up in some kind of dialect which seemed to K. to have nothing to do with Italian but which the director not only understood but also spoke, although K. ought to have foreseen this as the Italian came from the south of his country where the director had also spent several years. Whatever the cause, K. realised that the possibility of communicating with the Italian had been largely taken from him, even his French was difficult to understand, and his moustache concealed the movements of his lips which might have offered some help in understanding what he said. K. began to anticipate many difficulties, he gave up trying to understand what the Italian said – with the director there, who could understand him so easily, it would have been pointless effort – and for the time being did no more than scowl at the Italian as he relaxed sitting deep but comfortable in the armchair, as he frequently pulled at his short, sharply tailored jacket and at one time lifted his arms in the air and moved his hands freely to try and depict something that K. could not grasp, even though he was leaning forward and did not let the hands out of his sight. K. had nothing to occupy himself but mechanically watch the exchange between the two men and his tiredness finally made itself felt, to his alarm, although fortunately in good time, he once caught himself nearly getting up, turning round and leaving. Eventually the Italian looked at the clock and jumped up. After taking his leave from the director he turned to K., pressing himself so close to him that K. had to push his chair back just so that he could move. The director had, no doubt, seen the anxiety in K.’s eyes as he tried to cope with this dialect of Italian, he joined in with this conversation in a way that was so adroit and unobtrusive that he seemed to be adding no more than minor comments, whereas in fact he was swiftly and patiently breaking into what the Italian said so that K. could understand. K. learned in this way that the Italian first had a few business matters to settle, that he unfortunately had only a little time at his disposal, that he certainly did not intend to rush round to see every monument in the city, that he would much rather – at least as long as K. would agree, it was entirely his decision – just see the cathedral and to do so thoroughly. He was extremely pleased to be accompanied by someone who was so learned and so pleasant – by this he meant K., who was occupied not with listening to the Italian but the director – and asked if he would be so kind, if the time was suitable, to meet him in the cathedral in two hours’ time at about ten o’clock. He hoped he would certainly be able to be there at that time. K. made an appropriate reply, the Italian shook first the director’s hand and then K.’s, then the director’s again and went to the door, half turned to the two men who followed him and continuing to talk without a break. K. remained together with the director for a short while, although the director looked especially unhappy today. He thought he needed to apologise to K. for something and told him – they were standing intimately close together – he had thought at first he would accompany the Italian himself, but then – he gave no more precise reason than this – then he decided it would be better to send K. with him. He should not be surprised if he could not understand the Italian at first, he would be able to very soon, and even if he really could not understand very much he said it was not so bad, as it was really not so important for the Italian to be understood. And anyway, K.’s knowledge of Italian was surprisingly good, the director was sure he would get by very well. And with that, it was time for K. to go. He spent the time still remaining to him with a dictionary, copying out obscure words he would need to guide the Italian round the cathedral. It was an extremely irksome task, servitors brought him the mail, bank staff came with various queries and, when they saw that K. was busy, stood by the door and did not go away until he had listened to them, the deputy director did not miss the opportunity to disturb K. and came in frequently, took the dictionary from his hand and flicked through its pages, clearly for no purpose, when the door to the ante-room opened even clients would appear from the half darkness and bow timidly to him – they wanted to attract his attention but were not sure whether he had seen them – all this activity was circling around K. with him at its centre while he compiled the list of words he would need, then looked them up in the dictionary, then wrote them out, then practised their pronunciation and finally tried to learn them by heart. The good intentions he had had earlier, though, seemed to have left him completely, it was the Italian who had caused him all this effort and sometimes he became so angry with him that he buried the dictionary under some papers firmly intending to do no more preparation, but then he realised he could not walk up and down in the cathedral with the Italian without saying a word, so, in an even greater rage, he pulled the dictionary back out again.
At exactly half past nine, just when he was about to leave, there was a telephone call for him, Leni wished him good morning and asked how he was, K. thanked her hurriedly and told her it was impossible for him to talk now as he had to go to the cathedral. “To the cathedral?” asked Leni. “Yes, to the cathedral.” “What do you have to go to the cathedral for?” said Leni. K. tried to explain it to her briefly, but he had hardly begun when Leni suddenly said, “They’re harassing you.” One thing that K. could not bear was pity that he had not wanted or expected, he took his leave of her with two words, but as he put the receiver back in its place he said, half to himself and half to the girl on the other end of the line who could no longer hear him, “Yes, they’re harassing me.”
By now the time was late and there was almost a danger he would not be on time. He took a taxi to the cathedral, at the last moment he had remembered the album that he had had no opportunity to give to the Italian earlier and so took it with him now. He held it on his knees and drummed impatiently on it during the whole journey. The rain had eased off slightly but it was still damp chilly and dark, it would be difficult to see anything in the cathedral but standing about on cold flagstones might well make K.’s chill much worse. The square in front of the cathedral was quite empty, K. remembered how even as a small child he had noticed that nearly all the houses in this narrow square had the curtains at their windows closed most of the time, although today, with the weather like this, it was more understandable. The cathedral also seemed quite empty, of course no-one would think of going there on a day like this. K. hurried along both the side naves but saw no-one but an old woman who, wrapped up in a warm shawl, was kneeling at a picture of the Virgin Mary and staring up at it. Then, in the distance, he saw a church official who limped away through a doorway in the wall. K. had arrived on time, it had struck ten just as he was entering the building, but the Italian still was not there. K. went back to the main entrance, stood there indecisively for a while, and then walked round the cathedral in the rain in case the Italian was waiting at another entrance. He was nowhere to be found. Could the director have misunderstood what time they had agreed on? How could anyone understand someone like that properly anyway? Whatever had happened, K. would have to wait for him for at least half an hour. As he was tired he wanted to sit down, he went back inside the cathedral, he found something like a small carpet on one of the steps, he moved it with his foot to a nearby pew, wrapped himself up tighter in his coat, put the collar up and sat down. To pass the time he opened the album and flicked through the pages a little but soon had to give up as it became so dark that when he looked up he could hardly make out anything in the side nave next to him.
In the distance there was a large triangle of candles flickering on the main altar, K. was not certain whether he had seen them earlier. Perhaps they had only just been lit. Church staff creep silently as part of their job, you don’t notice them. When K. happened to turn round he also saw a tall, stout candle attached to a column not far behind him. It was all very pretty, but totally inadequate to illuminate the pictures which were usually left in the darkness of the side altars, and seemed to make the darkness all the deeper. It was discourteous of the Italian not to come but it was also sensible of him, there would have been nothing to see, they would have had to content themselves with seeking out a few pictures with K.’s electric pocket torch and looking at them one small part at a time. K. went over to a nearby side chapel to see what they could have hoped for, he went up a few steps to a low marble railing and leant over it to look at the altar picture by the light of his torch. The eternal light hung disturbingly in front of it. The first thing that K. partly saw and partly guessed at was a large knight in armour who was shown at the far edge of the painting. He was leaning on his sword that he had stuck into the naked ground in front of him where only a few blades of grass grew here and there. He seemed to be paying close attention to something that was being played out in front of him. It was astonishing to see how he stood there without going any closer. Perhaps it was his job to stand guard. It was a long time since K. had looked at any pictures and he studied the knight for a long time even though he had continually to blink as he found it difficult to bear the green light of his torch. Then when he moved the light to the other parts of the picture he found an interment of Christ shown in the usual way, it was also a comparatively new painting. He put his torch away and went back to his place.
There seemed to be no point in waiting for the Italian any longer, but outside it was certainly raining heavily, and as it was not so cold in the cathedral as K. had expected he decided to stay there for the time being. Close by him was the great pulpit, there were two plain golden crosses attached to its little round roof which were lying almost flat and whose tips crossed over each other. The outside of the pulpit’s balustrade was covered in green foliage which continued down to the column supporting it, little angels could be seen among the leaves, some of them lively and some of them still. K. walked up to the pulpit and examined it from all sides, its stonework had been sculpted with great care, it seemed as if the foliage had trapped a deep darkness between and behind its leaves and held it there prisoner, K. lay his hand in one of these gaps and cautiously felt the stone, until then he had been totally unaware of this pulpit’s existence. Then K. happened to notice one of the church staff standing behind the next row of pews, he wore a loose, creased, black cassock, he held a snuff box in his left hand and he was watching K. Now what does he want? thought K. Do I seem suspicious to him? Does he want a tip? But when the man in the cassock saw that K. had noticed him he raised his right hand, a pinch of snuff still held between two fingers, and pointed in some vague direction. It was almost impossible to understand what this behaviour meant, K. waited a while longer but the man in the cassock did not stop gesturing with his hand and even augmented it by nodding his head. “Now what does he want?” asked K. quietly, he did not dare call out loud here; but then he drew out his purse and pushed his way through the nearest pews to reach the man. He, however, immediately gestured to turn down this offer, shrugged his shoulders and limped away. As a child K. had imitated riding on a horse with the same sort of movement as this limp. “This old man is like a child,” thought K., “he doesn’t have the sense for anything more than serving in a church. Look at the way he stops when I stop, and how he waits to see whether I’ll continue.” With a smile, K. followed the old man all the way up the side nave and almost as far as the main altar, all this time the old man continued to point at something but K. deliberately avoided looking round, he was only pointing in order to make it harder for K. to follow him. Eventually, K. did stop following, he did not want to worry the old man too much, and he also did not want to frighten him away completely in case the Italian turned up after all.
When he entered the central nave to go back to where he had left the album, he noticed a small secondary pulpit on a column almost next to the stalls by the altar where the choir sat. It was very simple, made of plain white stone, and so small that from a distance it looked like an empty niche where the statue of a saint ought to have been. It certainly would have been impossible for the priest to take a full step back from the balustrade, and, although there was no decoration on it, the top of the pulpit curved in exceptionally low so that a man of average height would not be able stand upright and would have to remain bent forward over the balustrade. In all, it looked as if it had been intended to make the priest suffer, it was impossible to understand why this pulpit would be needed as there were also the other ones available which were large and so artistically decorated.
And K. would certainly not have noticed this little pulpit if there had not been a lamp fastened above it, which usually meant there was a sermon about to be given. So was a sermon to be given now? In this empty church? K. looked down at the steps which, pressed close against the column, led up to the pulpit. They were so narrow they seemed to be there as decoration on the column rather than for anyone to use. But under the pulpit – K. grinned in astonishment – there really was a priest standing with his hand on the handrail ready to climb the steps and looking at K. Then he nodded very slightly, so that K. crossed himself and genuflected as he should have done earlier. With a little swing, the priest went up into the pulpit with short fast steps. Was there really a sermon about to begin? Maybe the man in the cassock had not been really so demented, and had meant to lead K.’s way to the preacher, which in this empty church would have been very necessary. And there was also, somewhere in front of a picture of the Virgin Mary, an old woman who should have come to hear the sermon. And if there was to be a sermon why had it not been introduced on the organ? But the organ remained quiet and merely looked out weakly from the darkness of its great height.
K. now considered whether he should leave as quickly as possible, if he did not do it now there would be no chance of doing so during the sermon and he would have to stay there for as long as it lasted, he had lost so much time when he should have been in his office, there had long been no need for him to wait for the Italian any longer, he looked at his watch, it was eleven. But could there really be a sermon given? Could K. constitute the entire congregation? How could he when he was just a stranger who wanted to look at the church? That, basically, was all he was. The idea of a sermon, now, at eleven o’clock, on a workday, in hideous weather, was nonsense. The priest – there was no doubt that he was a priest, a young man with a smooth, dark face – was clearly going up there just to put the lamp out after somebody had lit it by mistake.
But there had been no mistake, the priest seemed rather to check that the lamp was lit and turned it a little higher, then he slowly turned to face the front and leant down on the balustrade gripping its angular rail with both hands. He stood there like that for a while and, without turning his head, looked around. K. had moved back a long way and leant his elbows on the front pew. Somewhere in the church – he could not have said exactly where – he could make out the man in the cassock hunched under his bent back and at peace, as if his work were completed. In the cathedral it was now very quiet! But K. would have to disturb that silence, he had no intention of staying there; if it was the priest’s duty to preach at a certain time regardless of the circumstances then he could, and he could do it without K.’s taking part, and K.’s presence would do nothing to augment the effect of it. So K. began slowly to move, felt his way on tiptoe along the pew, arrived at the broad aisle and went along it without being disturbed, except for the sound of his steps, however light, which rang out on the stone floor and resounded from the vaulting, quiet but continuous at a repeating, regular pace. K. felt slightly abandoned as, probably observed by the priest, he walked by himself between the empty pews, and the size of the cathedral seemed to be just at the limit of what a man could bear. When he arrived back at where he had been sitting he did not hesitate but simply reached out for the album he had left there and took it with him. 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 woman-chasers. 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 doorkeeper by somebody calling out from inside, and that he can’t have gone very far inside as he couldn’t bear the sight of the third doorkeeper. Nor, through all those years, does the story say the doorkeeper told the man anything about the inside, other than his comment about the other doorkeepers. He could have been forbidden to do so, but he hasn’t said anything about that either. All this seems to show he doesn’t know anything about what the inside looks like or what it means, and that that’s why he’s being deceived. But he’s also being deceived by the man from the country as he’s this man’s subordinate and doesn’t know it. There’s a lot to indicate that he treats the man as his subordinate, I expect you remember, but those who hold this view would say it’s very clear that he really is his subordinate. Above all, the free man is superior to the man who has to serve another. Now, the man really is free, he can go wherever he wants, the only thing forbidden to him is entry into the law and, what’s more, there’s only one man forbidding him to do so – the doorkeeper. If he takes the stool and sits down beside the door and stays there all his life he does this of his own free will, there’s nothing in the story to say he was forced to do it. On the other hand, the doorkeeper is kept to his post by his employment, he’s not allowed to go away from it and it seems he’s not allowed to go inside either, not even if he wanted to. Also, although he’s in the service of the law he’s only there for this one entrance, therefore he’s there only in the service of this one man who the door’s intended for. This is another way in which he’s his subordinate. We can take it that he’s been performing this somewhat empty service for many years, through the whole of a man’s life, as it says that a man will come, that means someone old enough to be a man. That means the doorkeeper will have to wait a long time before his function is fulfilled, he will have to wait for as long as the man liked, who came to the door of his own free will. Even the end of the doorkeeper’s service is determined by when the man’s life ends, so the doorkeeper remains his subordinate right to the end. And it’s pointed out repeatedly that the doorkeeper seems to know nothing of any of this, although this is not seen as anything remarkable, as those who hold this view see the doorkeeper as deluded in a way that’s far worse, a way that’s to do with his service. At the end, speaking about the entrance he says, ‘Now I’ll go and close it’, although at the beginning of the story it says the door to the law is open as it always is, but if it’s always open – always – that means it’s open independently of the lifespan of the man it’s intended for, and not even the doorkeeper will be able to close it. There are various opinions about this, some say the doorkeeper was only answering a question or showing his devotion to duty or, just when the man was in his last moments, the doorkeeper wanted to cause him regret and sorrow. There are many who agree that he wouldn’t be able to close the door. They even believe, at the end at least, the doorkeeper is aware, deep down, that he’s the man’s subordinate, as the man sees the light that shines out of the entry to the law whereas the doorkeeper would probably have his back to it and says nothing at all to show there’s been any change.” “That is well substantiated,” said K., who had been repeating some parts of the priest’s explanation to himself in a whisper. “It is well substantiated, and now I too think the doorkeeper must have been deceived. Although that does not mean I’ve abandoned what I thought earlier as the two versions are, to some extent, not incompatible. It’s not clear whether the doorkeeper sees clearly or is deceived. I said the man had been cheated. If the doorkeeper understands clearly, then there could be some doubt about it, but if the doorkeeper has been deceived then the man is bound to believe the same thing. That would mean the doorkeeper is not a cheat but so simple-minded that he ought to be dismissed from his job immediately; if the doorkeeper is mistaken it will do him no harm but the man will be harmed immensely.” “There you’ve found another opinion,” said the priest, “as there are many who say the story doesn’t give anyone the right to judge the doorkeeper. However he might seem to us he is still in the service of the law, so he belongs to the law, so he’s beyond what man has a right to judge. In this case we can’t believe the doorkeeper is the man’s subordinate. Even if he has to stay at the entrance into the law his service makes him incomparably more than if he lived freely in the world. The man has come to the law for the first time and the doorkeeper is already there. He’s been given his position by the law, to doubt his worth would be to doubt the law.” “I can’t say I’m in complete agreement with this view,” said K. shaking his head, “as if you accept it you’ll have to accept that everything said by the doorkeeper is true. But you’ve already explained very fully that that’s not possible.” “No,” said the priest, “you don’t need to accept everything as true, you only have to accept it as necessary.” “Depressing view,” said K. “The lie made into the rule of the world.”
K. said that as if it were his final word but it was not his conclusion. He was too tired to think about all the ramifications of the story, and the sort of thoughts they led him into were not familiar to him, unrealistic things, things better suited for officials of the court to discuss than for him. The simple story had lost its shape, he wanted to shake it off, and the priest who now felt quite compassionate allowed this and accepted K.’s remarks without comment, even though his view was certainly very different from K.’s.
In silence, they carried on walking for some time, K. stayed close beside the priest without knowing where he was. The lamp in his hand had long since gone out. Once, just in front of him, he thought he could see the statue of a saint by the glitter of the silver on it, although it quickly disappeared back into the darkness. So that he would not remain entirely dependent on the priest, K. asked him, “We’re now near the main entrance, are we?” “No,” said the priest, “we’re a long way from it. Do you already want to go?” K. had not thought of going until then, but he immediately said, “Yes, certainly, I have to go. I’m the chief clerk in a bank and there are people waiting for me, I only came here to show a foreign business contact round the cathedral.” “Alright,” said the priest offering him his hand, “go then.” “But I can’t find my way round in this darkness by myself,” said K. “Go to your left as far as the wall,” said the priest, “then continue alongside the wall without leaving it and you’ll find a way out.” The priest had only gone a few paces from him, but K. was already shouting loudly, “Please, wait!” “I’m waiting,” said the priest. “Is there anything else you want from me?” asked K. “No,” said the priest. “You were so friendly to me earlier on,” said K., “and you explained everything, but now you abandon me as if I were nothing to you.” “You have to go,” said the priest. “Well, yes,” said K., “you need to understand that.” “First, you need to understand who I am,” said the priest. “You’re the prison chaplain,” said K., and went closer to the priest, it was not so important for him to go straight back to the bank as he had made out, he could very well stay where he was. “So that means I belong to the court,” said the priest. “So why would I want anything from you? the court doesn’t want anything from you. It accepts you when you come and it lets you go when you leave.”
The Trial by Franz Kafka