The Reading and Text Interpretation in Kafka’s Book

Posted: September 3rd, 2013





The Reading and Text Interpretation in Kafka’s Book


The theme of reading and interpretation is clear in Frank Kafka’s book. The conversations between K and the Priest, and the doorkeeper and the man from the country, provoke the reader to question his/her reading and interpretation of the text. Most text readers may fall under K’s reading and interpretation of the text Before the Law while other may fall under the Priest’s reading and interpretation of the same. However, in either of the reading and interpretation of the text, the reader is being communicated to. The scenes in the text depict the reading and interpreting a text depends on the individual reading the text.

 Reading the Text as K or the Priest

`           The priest narrates this parable known as Before the Law with the aim of helping K understand his state of affairs. Although K feels that there is hope to his situation, the ending of the parable (story) proves otherwise. Through the Priest and K’s conversation, which follows the narration, both have different interpretation of the text. K feels that “the doorkeeper cheated the man” (Kafka 19). This is because he did not let the man from the country through the entrance, yet the doorkeeper admitted that the entrance was only meant for him. On the contrary, the Priest feels that the doorkeeper “went beyond his duty in that he offered the man some prospect of being admitted in the future” (Kafka 19).

Just as the two are having a conflict in their reading and interpretations, the two make the reader aware that they are not the only ones who have a conflict in the interpretation of the parable through their conversations. K admits that he cannot believe how some commentators saw the first statement as a hint of the second statement. After all, he was never given the chance to access the law even though the entrance was only meant for him.

With such findings, it can be concluded that people find themselves reading the text and interpreting it in the same ways, which the Priest and K. did. K. found the doorkeeper to be unjust while the Priest found the same doorkeeper as one who was committed to his work and truthful. Both, through the same reading, read and interpreted the text in the way they chose to. The commentators mentioned in the conversation and the readers, see the text in three different ways. Some read the text through K’s eyes, others through the Priest’s eyes while others are still confused about the whole text so they might be supporting both parties.

K and the Priest’s Reading

The interpretations of the parties are not the same. K interprets the context criticizing the law while the priest interprets the readings in support of the law, which is symbolized by the doorkeeper. While the Priest feels that the doorkeeper acted in the right way, K feels that his work was to keep the man from the country off the entrance until the day that he died, although he constantly gave the man false hope that he would access the law.

Each of the parties views and interprets the text in accordance to his situation. The priest made K aware that he was a prison’s chaplain. The doorkeeper is symbolic of the Prison’s chaplain, who is on the side of the law. In fact, towards the end of their conversation the Priest describes himself as one who “belong[s] to the court” (20). The court “doesn’t want anything from you (K). It accepts you when you come and it lets you go when you leave” (Kafka 20). These words explain the priest’s stand on the matter. He feels that the law is superior to the man and that it should not be questioned. This is the reason why he interpreted the text the way he did so that he could support the actions of those in charge of the law such as himself and the doorkeeper.

On the other hand, K, just like man from the country, is a victim of the justice system. He has been accused and convicted of an unidentified crime. In his quest for justice he only finds obstacles and people who are against him. This is why K interprets the parable/text as “a lie”. According to K, the man from the country was refrained from accessing the law and therefore he was denied the justice he deserved. In other words, through K’s interpretation of the law, he is able to tell both the Priest and the reader his concerns, fears and feelings of the justice system. Each person’s beliefs and situations lead them to read and interpret the law the way they have done it.

Theory of Reading suggested

There are two major statements, which seem to be the centre of this conversation. They have also evoked the responses of other commentators and the readers of the text. The statements made at the beginning of the parable and the one made towards the end of the parable. In the first statement, the doorkeeper tells the man from the country that he cannot allow him to access the law at that particular time. In the second statement, the doorkeeper tells the man from the country that he is might allow him to access the law in the future. As the Priest puts it, “the first statement even hints at the second.” (Kafka 20).

The argument between the interpretation of this part of the text lies on whether the two statements compliment or contradict each other. The Priest states that by making these two statements, the doorkeeper “went beyond his duty in that he offered the man some prospect of being admitted in the future” (Kafka 20). On the other hand, K feels that he two statements contradict each other. In response to the Priest’s statement, K tells him that the doorkeeper’s 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” (Kafka 20).

The reading and interpretation of the above statements prove that K and the Priest, just like other readers, will interpret the readings based on their feelings and beliefs. K felt that the main role of the doorkeeper was to keep the man away from accessing the law. The doorkeeper’s role was just a disguise of his true nature just like the way the system was disguising K’s freedom. The Priest interprets the text in support of the system since he is part of it and he believes in it. K interprets the text against the system since he is the victim and he has not found any justice in it.

Text Undermining

The text reveals the importance of reading and interpretation. The parties involved are able to read and freely express how they understand the text. As K points out, there are commentators (other readers in the past) who have found a conflict in the way the text is to be interpreted. However, this does not undermine any reading of it. In fact, it brings out the unlimited ways of interpreting a particular text. In the same context, the author brings out various interpretations of the text through the characters. The readers are therefore given diverse ways of interpreting the same text.

A thorough and critical reading of the text is needed before one finds the deeper meaning of the texts. This is done by reading twice or thrice, deeply analyzing the content instead of getting the general meaning. For example, the ironical role of the doorkeeper may not be evident during the first reading. Similarly, the significance of the man sitting outside the entrance for many years, offering the doorkeeper the gifts and the doorkeeper’s acceptance of the gifts, may not be evident within the first reading of the text. The reading challenges the reader to have a critical mind when reading and interpreting the text.

The Priest and K relate the text to their own situations. The priest supports the law system so he interprets the text in support of it. On the other hand, K is the victim of circumstances so he interprets the text in order to show the victimization of the law. With each interpretation, the reader is challenged to support any of the interpretations, criticize them or come up with their own interpretation. In addition, the text and the interpretations enlighten the reader on the diversity of thoughts depicted by texts through the characters. Without undermining any reading, the author has expressed more than one opinion in his works thus portraying the conflicts in the society and the interpreters of the law.


The two scenes in the text depict various forms of reading and interpreting a text. However, this must not take place through a single dimension. The Priest and K read and interpret the text based on their feelings and their beliefs. The reader interprets the readings based on the character’s dimension or based on their own dimension. In most cases, the readers interpret the readings to be in the limited perspectives. The text also gives a broader perspective of readers of literary works. One should be open-minded when reading any literary work as it allows the reader to have a wider interpretation of the content conveyed in the work. Kafka, through the development of the characters, challenges the readers to be critical when reading any textual material.

Works Cited

Borges, Jorge Luis. “The Library of Babel”. Labyrinths, Ed. James E. Irby. New York, NY: New Directions, 1962. Print.

Kafka, Franz. The Trial: Literary Collections. New York, NY: Ebook Eden, 2011. Print.


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