The Law in Kafka's novel The Trial houses a fundamental but fleeting metaphysical metaphor. It is virtually unassailable, hidden, and always just beyond the grasp of human understanding. The Law seeks to impose an unknowable order and assimilate any individual notion of existence. It defines two distinct modes of existence through accusation: those who stand accused by the Law and those who are empowered by the Law to pass judgement upon those accused. From the very moment of his arrest, Joseph K. resists this legal hierarchy stating, "I don't know this Law ... it probably exists nowhere but in your head... it is only a trial if I recognize it as such" (6, 40). Freedom is at the center of this conflict. In attempting to rigidly define human existence, the Law compels humankind to be passive, to accept the incomprehensible legal machinery of the Court without question. "The only pointless thing is to try taking independent action" (175). There is a tacit assumption that freedom, whether one is accused or not, is provisional at best. Kafka uses the priest's allegory of the doorkeeper and the common man to powerfully illustrate this point. In many ways, the novel itself can be seen as an elaboration, commentary, or critique on the allegorical power of the Law.
Humanity's ignorance of the Law is a given in both the allegory and the novel as a whole. K. and the man from the country exist outside the confines of the Law. They both seek knowledge; they want to be allowed past the threshold. This ignorance, however, does not provide protection from the powers of the Law. Ignorance does not prevent one from being accused, enslaved, or destroyed. "Anything but stop halfway, that was the most senseless ...
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... the concept of the Court. "Everything belongs to the Court" (151). The Law provides a sense of unknowable mysterious order to an otherwise chaotic universe, fueling the ever-expanding interlocking machinery of the Court. The common man in the allegory chooses to remain at the threshold of the Law. K. exercises some degree of free will by dismissing his lawyer, attempting "to alter the disposition of things around him" (121). In each case, however, an act of freedom is met with a "compensating reaction" from within the bowels of the Court's machine. Each man is ultimately forced to meet death passively within the power of those appointed by the Law. To the end, in the allegory and the novel as a whole, the Law remains flexible enough to contain and curtail any individual act of freedom.
Kafka, Franz. The Trial. New York: Schocken Books, 1984.
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