Interpreting Kafka – Before the Law

In Kafka’s Before the Law, the Law is open to interpretation and could mean different things to different people. It could mean something abstract as happiness or contentment or something concrete such as riches and wealth. It is simply an allegorical reference, denoting a place into which one wants entry.

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In my interpretation, the law is similar to the society, and the struggle to gain entry into the law is the same as the struggle to understand our existence, know this society, be a part of it, be accepted, and consequently “let in the door”. When the gatekeeper tells the man at the end, “Here no one else can gain entry, since this entrance was assigned only to you,” this means that each person struggles in their way to enter into and be accepted by society. It is different for everyone, and hence the reference that this entrance was only assigned to this man.

The man is desperate to enter the Law and continues to try to do so. This signifies the untiring attempts of people to learn the law or the code or norms upon which this society operates. This is no easy task as society has no written down rules. Different societies have different cultures, histories, languages, and norms. And sometimes, becoming part of society and gaining acceptance as one of ‘them’ requires a constant struggle. This struggle is similar to being on trial when one is continuously probed and given opportunities to ‘prove’ oneself. This process can be likened to the questions that the gatekeeper asks the man but the interrogation is just an exercise in futility, as he is told that he can not be granted entry. Man’s quest for acceptance into society is similar to this ongoing struggle.

The gatekeeper as allegory can be interpreted in two ways. It can be fear, doubt, and confusion – our inner opposing forces which hinder us at every step of every action. Our uncertainty about whether the object of our struggle is even worth it can signify the gatekeeper who constantly challenges the man and scares him of far worse gatekeepers than him. The far worse gatekeepers which the gatekeeper scares the man about can be the consequences of actually entering society. Sometimes the quest to be accepted and be a part of something is so great, that one does not realize that that in itself is inherently wrong. For example, society can be evil, wrong, and capable of vice. And yet man yearns to be a part of it. This is where the gatekeeper can also be likened to man’s own conscious, challenging him, rejecting his attempts to enter it, creating fear and doubt in his mind, and the man has to face this conscious whenever he attempts to enter the Law, or in our interpretation, society.

This is an interesting allegorical tale that can be interpreted in various ways. The way I see it, it appears to refer to man’s undying struggle to gain acceptance into society and the ‘good life. This is often a struggle characterized by desperate attempts and irrational behavior, such as the man asking the fleas to help him persuade the gatekeeper. In the story, the man has ‘equipped himself with many things for his journey, spends everything, no matter how valuable, to win over the gatekeeper.’ The man also uses a variety of ways and means to gain entry into society and become a part of it and sometimes does not realize what he has given up to achieve this end.

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