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Chapter 9

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

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

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."

Franz Kafka

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