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Free Study Guide: The Trial by Franz Kafka - Synopsis / Analysis

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K. is expected to accompany an important and powerful Italian client on a sight seeing trip of all the beautiful monuments in the city. The Bank trusts K. enough to entrust him with the responsibility, but K. is embroiled in his own trial. K. feels that people are trying to get rid of him in the office. In his absence he imagines the Assistant Manager running through his office files and befriending his old customers. The Assistant Manager could even find fault in his dealings. So he is willing to accept any task that is assigned to him. K. suffers from a great many fears. He is afraid somebody will blame him and keep him away from work. The Bank rates him highly as an art expert, though has a limited knowledge of art. He is a member of the society for the preservation of ancient monuments. The Italian is believed to be an Art Connoisseur. K. seems to be fixed to a spot, static, rooted in his Italian dictionary the trial on his mind and his official duties, while events revolve around him.

Leni suddenly rings him up. She cannot understand why the Bank wants him to visit the Cathedral. He does not want to be pitied but he gives vent to the feeling that the official pressure of work is more than he can take. He carries the album of architectural pictures with him. It is a wet, sluggish day.

There is a constant reference to windows in the chapter, with the characters peeping out, viewing or they are seen from outside looking through a window. In the church, there is an old woman kneeling before a Madonna with rapt attention. There is a beautiful play of light and shade in the cathedral. K. moves to a small chapel on one side. There is a picture of a knight in armor leaning on his sword and another painting of Christ lying in the church.

In this chapter there is an in-depth description of the cathedral. The pulpit stands above, rising with its high canopy and two great golden crucifixes. This is the most beautiful description of the cathedral. As K. shoves his hand inside the huge stone pulpit a verger stares at him. Every pulpit has a vaulted canopy. Why is there a lighted lamp hanging above? At the stairway leading to the pulpit is a priest looking at K. The priest is the prison chaplain. K. tries to make his exit. The Italian has not arrived. K. seems to be the sole congregation. K. recollects that he used to play riding on horseback, limping as a child. The verger is an old man. He wonders why the church is empty.

The priest a young man is absolutely at peace, standing with folded hands in the quietness of the cathedral. He commands
K. to stay. K. realizes for the first time that his name is now associated with crime, for the priest address him and counsels him because of the alleged crime. The chaplain tells him that he is not prejudiced against him. He seems to know everything about the court.

The cathedral is shrouded in darkness. It is raining outside. The canopy hangs like a heavy weight on the priest's head. K. starts trusting the priest. He feels suddenly that every aspect of his life need not be dictated by the trial and he can extricate himself from its tangles. The priest seems to lead the way.

The priest speaks from the pulpit so that K. would take things more seriously. The priest counsels him that he should not approach the court with mistrust. He relates a parable.

The parable is about a doorkeeper guarding the gates at the court. There are several halls in the court, one leading to the other with a doorkeeper at each entry point. These doorkeepers are very powerful men. No one can enter the courts without the doorkeeper's permission. So the illusion that is created is that the courts cannot be trusted. The sight of the doorkeeper frightens the common man. He would rather wait for his justice than seek entry and fight for justice. The accused man waits outside on the stool for days and then the days run into years. The man tries to bribe the doorkeeper with all the money he has. The accused man forgets about the other doorkeepers and is constantly aware of only the first one as the hurdle. He even starts begging the fleas on the doorkeeper's fur cap, to let him in, growing more childish as he grows old. He deludes himself more and more. As his vision dims he does not know whether his eyes are becoming weaker or the world is darkening around him. He is now dying and the law seems to afford the only ray of hope. Everybody wants justice. He asks the doorkeeper why is he the only one approaching the law and not the others. The doorkeeper says that the door is meant only for him and not for someone else.

K. concludes that the doorkeeper has cheated the man with his answers. The priest says that K. is too rash. He tells him that he should not prejudge people or depend on opinions expressed by others. This is he says a straightforward story from the scriptures. The doorkeeper is kind enough to give salvation and save his soul, as he could not help him in any way. K. believes that he failed in his duty because he did not let him enter, while the priest believes that he helped him as per the scriptures. The priest opines that K. has changed the story.

The priest says that there are two truths emerging out of this. He cannot admit the man at this pint. The door was meant only for the old man. The first statement implies that anytime in the future he can be let in. The doorkeeper is a stickler for rules doing his duty. He has to refuse permission. The doorkeeper is characterized as doing his duty thoroughly. That is why he holds power. It is necessary to understand his role in this context.

When K. misinterprets the court's proceedings the priest knows he is making a blunder, a fall from the truth and he shouts at K. The doorkeeper neither opens the door early nor shuts the door soon. That makes him conscious of his power. He is the doorkeeper at the lowest grade who cannot be bribed. He keeps up hopes of future entry. The doorkeeper has to be of sterling character. Though he is simple minded, if he is conceited it will lower the dignity of his office. His politeness and patience in bearing with the accused for the major part of his lifetime is remarkable. The priest's analysis presents a different portrait of the doorkeeper. K. feels that the priest had looked too closely into the doorkeeper's case and hence could assess his role from a different perspective.

The priest says that it is not easy to interpret commentaries. The scriptures by themselves cannot be altered. They have a faint or childish idea of what goes on inside. The doorkeeper might have been appointed by an announcement from the inner courts, as he is a part of the legal system. But if he cannot tolerate the third door keeper how did he enter in? All these years he has never commented about the other doorkeepers except for this time? Was he prevented from doing so? Since he does not know what happens inside could he be deluded?

The difference between the man from the country and the doorkeeper is that the countryman is free, while the doorkeeper is bonded to his duty. He treats the countryman with a superior attitude. The man from the country has freedom of movements. He is not allowed to penetrate the law either. He is restricted to that single entrance. The doorkeeper is not aware that he waits for the major part of his life for the man from the country because his service ends with the ending of the accused man's life. The hand of destiny guides his path. His life is bound with the man's life.

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