The Trial

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The Doorkeeper Character Analysis

A character in the parable Josef hears from the prison chaplain. The doorkeeper guards a gate to the law; behind him, more powerful doorkeepers guard other gates. A man comes seeking access to the Law, but the doorkeeper refuses to let him past, even though the man waits in front of the gate for his entire lifetime. When the man dies, the doorkeeper closes the gate and reveals that the gate existed for that man alone.

The Doorkeeper Quotes in The Trial

The The Trial quotes below are all either spoken by The Doorkeeper or refer to The Doorkeeper. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Justice vs. The Law Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Oxford University Press edition of The Trial published in 2009.
Chapter 9 Quotes

I am only accepting this so you will not think there is something you have omitted to do.

Related Characters: The Doorkeeper (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Prison Chaplain’s Parable
Page Number: 156
Explanation and Analysis:

Josef has thanked the prison chaplain for his apparent kindness, to which the chaplain has responded that Josef should not deceive himself about the nature of the court. The priest then begins to tell Josef a parable from the introductory writings about the law. In the parable, a man from the country tries to get access to the law, but is prevented by a doorkeeper who tells him he cannot enter. The man asks if he might be able to enter later; the doorkeeper says it's possible, so the man waits for years and bribes the doorkeeper, who, when taking the bribes, says he only accepts them "so you will not think there is something you have omitted to do." 

The bribes given by the man from the country symbolize the efforts of Josef and other accused characters to act in a way that pleases the court, whether by performing well at hearings, composing convincing pleas, or hiring an experienced lawyer. Like the doorkeeper, the court accepts these efforts in ambivalent terms; on the one hand, the doorkeeper's words suggest that if the man did not bribe him it would have been an omission, but at the same time, he implies that the bribes will not actually influence his decision. Furthermore, the doorkeeper emphasizes that he only accepts the bribes for the man's own peace of mind. This point indicates that the efforts of the accused really only matter insofar as they reassure the accused that they are doing everything they can, even if this is ultimately in vain. 

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No one else could be granted entry here, because this entrance was intended for you alone. I shall now go and shut it.

Related Characters: The Doorkeeper (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Prison Chaplain’s Parable
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:

The prison chaplain has now come to the end of his parable. The man from the country has waited for so many years that he has become senile and deaf, and eventually asks the doorkeeper why no one else has come along and tried to get through the door. The doorkeeper replies that the door was intended for the man alone, and then shuts it. The strange and frustrating end to the parable makes it difficult to see what the moral of the story might be. Indeed, the man from the country's failure to get through the door seems only to reinforce the futility of understanding the law, and to discourage people from trying. 

The fact that the parable concludes in this manner indicates the importance of coming to the realization that––although the law is supposed to unite citizens by applying to all of them equally––in reality it divides and isolates them. At the same time, the acceptance of this reality seems to only further prohibit access to knowledge of the law and to justice, as after the doorkeeper delivers this message he closes the door. 

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The Doorkeeper Character Timeline in The Trial

The timeline below shows where the character The Doorkeeper appears in The Trial. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 9
Justice vs. The Law Theme Icon
The Absurd Theme Icon
The Unknowable and Interpretation Theme Icon
...from the country tries to gain access to the law, but is forbidden by a doorkeeper. The doorkeeper tells the man that it is possible for him to gain entry at... (full context)
Justice vs. The Law Theme Icon
The Absurd Theme Icon
The Unknowable and Interpretation Theme Icon
...how their positions compare. Josef begins to realize that it is possible to see the doorkeeper’s role as anything ranging from a considerate, dutiful servant to a small-minded cheat. The chaplain... (full context)