The Trial

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The Prison Chaplain’s Parable Symbol Analysis

The Prison Chaplain’s Parable Symbol Icon
In the cathedral, the prison chaplain tells Josef a parable taken from the opening pages of the Law. In the parable, a man from the country tries to gain access to the law, but is forbidden by a doorkeeper, who is just the first of many doorkeepers, each of which is more powerful than the one before. The man waits outside for years. Just as the man is about to die of old age, the doorkeeper closes the gate, telling the man it was meant just for him. This allegory symbolizes the absurdity of the legal system, the multiple gatekeepers suggests a connection to the bureaucracy and the fact that no one in the bureaucracy holds ultimate authority or can even access that authority, and Josef’s unsuccessful attempts to decipher the meaning of the parable illustrate the unresolvable ambiguities of the Law.

The Prison Chaplain’s Parable Quotes in The Trial

The The Trial quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Prison Chaplain’s Parable. 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. 

The court does not want anything from you. It receives you when you come and dismisses you when you go.

Related Characters: The Prison Chaplain (speaker), Josef K.
Related Symbols: The Prison Chaplain’s Parable
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:

The prison chaplain has finished his parable, and Josef has remarked that it conveys a distinctly depressing view of the world. Josef asks if the chaplain wants him to do anything else, to which the chaplain replies that the court doesn't want anything from Josef; "it receives you when you come and dismisses you when you go." This comment echoes Josef's own observation earlier in the novel that the law is like an organism that is "eternally in balance," immune to the actions of any individual. Both descriptions turn the law into an organic, living being, yet portray it as completely indifferent, making any interaction with the law a distinctly one-sided experience that only isolates and alienates people further. 

The chaplain's statement that "the court doesn't want anything from you" also contradicts common sense understandings of what the law is and does. The law ostensibly exists in order to encourage certain kinds of behavior and discourage others; thus the notion that the law is self-sufficient and uninterested in human behavior shows just how far from the idea of justice the law has become. 

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The Prison Chaplain’s Parable Symbol Timeline in The Trial

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Prison Chaplain’s Parable 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
The chaplain recounts a parable given in the law, in which a man from the country tries to gain access... (full context)