Law of Fate

by Emily Golchini

Law and politics may seem like a foreign language to many in our current political climate. However, for K., this lack of understanding is elevated to an entirely new extreme. In The Trial by Franz Kafka, Kafka paints a surreal world that utilizes these unexplainable and eccentric experiences to expose K. to the inner-workings of this world’s legal structure. Though these bizarre occurrences seem entirely random and often pointless, they often hint at a higher governing power. In many cases, the ambiguity and weirdness of this world can make sense of the legal infrastructure, not when viewing it as a traditional legal system that proves “right” and “wrong,” but as a governing power that is trying to lead K. down his intended path. At times, the readers realize that these weird events are what stand between K. and the answers for his trial; these ambiguous occurrences are what keep K.’s trial out of his own control and direct him closer to a conviction charge. As a result, it seems that in this world law and fate are interchangeable. It appears that the goal of this legal system is to lead K. to his proper end and ensure that this legal system does not allow any power or knowledge slip into the hands of the accused. In The Trial, Kafka uses the rules of fate to embody the legal “rule of the land.” We support for this fusion of law and fate through K.’s lack of control over his own trial, the God-like powers of the law, the inevitability of K.’s outcome, and the “before the law parable.”

In order to properly show how Kafka’s legal system is governed by the rules of fate, it is imperative to define the meaning of fate. According to Google Dictionary, fate is defined as “the development of events beyond a person’s control, regarded as determined by a supernatural power” (Google Dictionary) Similarly, according to Merriam Webster dictionary, fate is defined as “an inevitable and often adverse outcome, condition, or end.” [emphasis added] Both of these definitions incorporate the idea that fate has three distinct elements: (1) the events are beyond a person’s control; (2) one’s outcome is determined by a higher, “supernatural” power; and (3) the outcome of the individual is unavoidable. Because of K.’s inability to control, or even know, any part of his trial proceeding and the unexplainable,“unnatural” occurrences consistently (and almost intentionally) blocking K. from answers, it appears that K.’s eventual downfall was truly inevitable. The “before the law” parable additionally echoes this same logic and cements these theories in place. 

We are able to see that K.’s situation satisfies the first element of a fate-determined legal system because K’s struggle to understand his trial exposes his lack of control over its outcome. As the novel progresses, we start to realize that nearly every character is tied up in the court in some way or another; similarly, it seems that everybody but K. seems to know about K.’s case.  Between Frau Grubach, Uncle Karl, cousin Erna, the manufacturer, Block––along with all of the people who assume K.’s guilt from his face––, and the Priest, it seems like there are very characters left uninformed about K.’s progress at trial. This contrast between most characters having knowledge of the trial against K.’s nonexistent understanding of his case only highlights K.’s lack of control over the outcome. Additionally, K.’s lack of control is explicitly shown in chapter 6. In the beginning of the chapter, K.’s Uncle Karl pays a visit to pair his nephew up with a quality lawyer and to assist with the case. During the meeting, Leni throws a plate to lure K. over to her, instead. This, ultimately, ruins K.’s case according to Uncle Karl, “‘My boy,’ he cried, ‘how could you do it! You’ve damaged your case terribly, when it was starting out so well. You crawl off to hide with a dirty little creature who obviously happens to be the lawyer’s mistress.’” (104). There is truly no way that K. could have known that Leni intentionally shattered the plate to grab K.’s attention. Furthermore, there is no way that K. could have known that his time spent with Leni would yield such a strong impact that it would genuinely damage his case. In this situation, K. has no control over how his absence is perceived by the officials in attendance or over Leni’s disruption which stole him away from the meeting. On a deeper note, this also shows that K.’s inability to understand how his actions impact his trial show no sense of personal control over its outcome.

Moreover, the outcome of similar cases similarly illustrates K.’s ability to impact his own trial. K.’s lack of control. In chapter 7 the painter explains the potential outcomes for most cases in the court, “‘I must admit––I never saw a single actual acquittal.’ ‘Not a single acquittal then,’ said K. as if speaking to himself and to his hopes,” (153-154). Despite K.’s proclaimed innocence the painter, who admits to following many past cases closely, has never once seen an individual successfully prove innocence. While it is possible that the painter had only witnessed “guilty” individuals go before trial in the past, it is more likely that this knowledge serves as foreshadowing for K.’s ultimate demise. The near impossibility of seeking an acquittal shows that, no matter what K. does, his outcome will likely remain the same. As a result, K. does not have the control or power to defy the norms of the court––which proves itself to be true in the final chapter of the novel. 

The workings of the legal system qualify the second criteria of fate because there seems to be a supernatural power behind these inexplicable events that intervene and refrain K. from learning any specifics of his case. In addition to the examples mentioned above––for example, one could argue that since Leni is strongly connected with the court, her disruption was included to intentionally keep K. from making progress in his trial––we see in chapter 4 that, right as K. discovers an “in” to make sense of this legal system by asking the woman to see the legal texts on her table, this supernatural event occurs where the books are revealed to be pornographic images filled with “indecent pictures,” (57). It is as if this supernatural power intervened last minute and, in a way, censored any helpful information. This same notion is illustrated later in this chapter when K. starts to get dizzy as he continues to walk through the court. Many others insist that it is normal to feel difficulties breathing, however, that one typically gets used to the stuffiness in due time. K., on the other hand, needs to immediately leave the room due to the stuffiness. It is almost as if K. is unwelcome in the court––a place where he might be able to fill in gaps in his understanding of the legal system. 

On a similar notion, there is an obvious parallel drawn between individuals associated with the court and a God-like presence, which supports the idea of an existent supernatural governing power. In this world, just like with a religious God, the most powerful figures are never seen, but only believed by common people to exist, 

“You see, the court says that besides the petty lawyers there are also minor lawyers and great lawyers. This one and his colleagues are only minor lawyers, and the difference in rank between them and the great lawyers, who I’ve only ever heard about and never seen, is incomparably greater than between the minor lawyers and the despised petty lawyers.” “The great lawyers?” asked K. “Who are they then? How do you contact them?” “You’ve never heard about them, then?” said the businessman. “There’s hardly anyone who’s been accused who doesn’t spend a lot of time dreaming about the great lawyers once he’s heard about them,” (179).

And even without sure existence of these “great” individuals, just like with a Christian God, their work is not to be questioned or critiqued.  When discussing the doorkeeper in the “Before the Law” parable, the priest says to K., “no matter how he appears to us, he’s still a servant of the Law; he belongs to the Law, and thus is beyond human judgement,” [emphasis added] (222). It is also important to notice that a priest, a firm believer in a higher power and an individual tied to the court, is the one telling K. this story; it is also important to note that just like “God,” the “L” in law is capitalized.

To fully prove that law and fate are synonymous in this world, it becomes clear that K’s eventual death from the trial was unavoidable, sufficing the last of the necessary criteria to determine fate. In chapter 7, K. decides to take on his case himself in order to give it more time and attention than it is currently getting with Huld, “it was absolutely necessary for K. to intervene personally,” (124). In this same scene, we see K. almost obsessively reviewing his case with a sense of urgency in order to file his motions and move his case along. Despite his intensified efforts to find answers and control the outcome of his case, K.’s matters continue to worsen. In chapter 9, the priest confronts K, “Do you realize your trial is going badly? … I fear it will end badly. They think you’re guilty. Your trial may never move beyond the lower courts. At least for the moment, your guilt is assumed proved,” (212-213). Ultimately, as the novel progresses, K.’s case worsens, however, K.’s knowledge of his case remains stagnant. As a result, the negative outcome of his case was truly inevitable and eventually fulfilled––as seen in the final chapter of this novel. Even in the final chapter of the novel, we see K. trying to avoid his fate when asked to commit suicide. That said, even in this scenario, we see that K.’s fate is pushed to be fulfilled, “But the hands of one man were right at K.’s throat, while the other thrust the knife into his heart and turned it there twice. With failing sight K. saw how the men drew near his face, leaning cheek-to-cheek to observe the verdict….it seemed as though the shame was to outlive him,” (231).


Through the “Before the Law” parable presented in chapter 9 of the essay, we see that not only does this legal structure meet all of the necessary criteria to operate on “rules of fate,” but that this was the actual intent of Kafka. When explaining the parable to K., the priest introduces it as the “introductory texts to the Law,” (215). In doing so, this shows that the law of the land is founded on the notions that lay within this text; in other words, this world’s legal foundation is founded in the moral of the philosophical text the Priest relays to K. In this parable lies both explicit and implied references to fate: a man kneels before an open door guarded by a doorkeeper. When asked if he could pass through the door, the doorkeeper tells the man that “it’s possible” to grant admission later, “but not now,” (215). The patient man continues to kneel before the door until his dying days. The Priest mentions that “He curses his unhappy fate, loudly during the first years, later, as he grows older, merely grumbling to himself,” [emphasis added] (216). As the man gasps for his last breaths, he asks the doorkeeper, 

“‘Everyone strives to reach the Law,’ says the man, ‘how does it happen, then, that in all these years no one but me has requested admittance.’ The doorkeeper sees that the man is nearing his end, and in order to reach his failing hearing, he roars at him: ‘No one else could gain admittance here, because this entrance was meant solely for you. I’m going to shut it now,’” [emphasis added] (217).

Throughout this parable we see that just like K., this man both actively searches and waits for answers, but never gets to see the answers within the court because it is “his unhappy fate.” We can be sure that it is the man’s fate never to enter through the door, because the door was made explicitly for him. In other words, because the man was the only individual who had access to the door, and he was unable to pass through, it is clear that the sole purpose of the door’s existence was to make sure that the man does not enter it. Additionally, there could be a duplicitous meaning to the word “hearing” in this context. Given that this text is intended to serve as the founding law of this world, it is important to realize that the kneeling man had a “failed hearing,” which could quite obviously relate to the man’s sensory ability, but also to his eventual conviction to his pre-determined fate.  This parable shows that the intent of the land is not to establish a system which rewards proper behavior with freedom and condemns crimes with punishment, but instead a system which carries out and oversees that an individual fulfills their eventual fate. 

Kafka shows that this world’s legal system not only meets all of the necessary criteria to operate on the “rules of fate,” but that the intended purpose of this world’s law is to oversee individuals to lead them to their eventual fate. By splitting this analysis into two parts, one is first able to see that the ambiguities start to clarify once one applies the criteria of fate into the components of this world. It is clear that K. has no control over his trial due to his lack of access to specifics in his trial; there appears to be a supernatural governing power through the book’s obvious parallel between “God” and individuals associated with the law; and specifically through the final scene pictured in “The End,” it is clear that despite K.’s continual efforts, his ultimate death was unavoidable. Once recognizing that fate could be the possible key to make sense of this strange legal system, one can closely look at Kafka’s “Before the Law,” parable to confirm this theory. Through the customized door, the implementation of the criteria above, and both implicit and explicit references to “fate,” it becomes clear that this was likely Kafka’s intent when writing this novel. Arriving at this conclusion may allow us to make sense of this world, however, it also brings light to many potential subsequent questions within this legal system. Personally, I understand that K.’s death was his eventual fate. That said, then what does Kafka mean when someone is found “guilty?”

Works Cited –

Kafka, Franz. The Trial. New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1995. Print.

“Fate.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, 2018,