The Trial: chapter 9
Because K. is not feeling as secure as he once did at work, he takes on additional jobs that involve business trips and hosting visiting clients. As the chapter opens he brushes up on his Italian to show a client around the city. He is not at all happy about this because it takes time away from his other work. When he meets the Italian gentleman, who wears a perfumed moustache, he is horrified that he cannot at all understand his dialect. The gentleman wants to see the Cathedral and K. is forced to spend another two hours studying key Italian phrases to show him around.
As he is about to leave the office, he receives a telephone call from Leni who tells him “they are harassing you,” after he tells her he has to go to the Cathedral (99).
K. cools his heels waiting outside for the Italian until he gets so cold he returns to the Cathedral: “it was all very pretty, but totally inadequate to illuminate the pictures which were usually left in the darkness of the side altars, and seemed to make the darkness all the deeper” (99). While he waits, he walks around trying to make out the paintings and architectural features and soon spies an old man with a snuff box “vaguely pointing at something” (101). He follows him but returns to his original spot to wait for the Italian. On the way back he notices an odd-shaped little pulpit which seemed much too small for a priest, yet here was a small priest ready to climb into the pulpit to give a sermon in an empty church. K. decides he’d better leave before the sermon begins and he makes his way to the back of the church only to hear the priest call out in a loud voice, “Joseph K.!”
K. is stunned and attempts to ignore the priest at first, but soon turns and runs up to the pulpit when the priest beckons him and tells him he is the prison Chaplain and asks “do you know your case is going badly” (103). Furthermore, after K. makes his excuses, the priest informs him “the verdict does not come suddenly, proceedings continue until a verdict is reached gradually” and that K. should not seek help from people he doesn’t know, especially women (103).
Soon, the priest descends from the pulpit and is very friendly and comforting to K. They walk through the dark Cathedral companionably with K. using the pulpit lamp for light. The priest attempts to provide insights into the Law by reciting an old story, The Parable of the Man and the Law, to illustrate K.’s dilemma.
In the story, an old man from the countryside spends his life waiting to gain access to the Law at a door which is never opened to him. The doorkeeper informs him that he cannot allow him admittance. The man and the doorkeeper live out their lives frozen in their positions until one day the man from the country simply dies, but not before asking why no one else ever came for admittance to the Law and being told by the doorkeeper that that particular entrance was meant only for him. A cryptic debate follows with the priest arguing: “now, the man really is free, he can go wherever he wants, the only thing forbidden to him is entry into the Law and, what's more, there's only one man forbidding him to do so—the doorkeeper. If he takes the stool and sits down beside the door and stays there all his life he does this of his own free will” (107).
K. and the priest become friendly and then when K. says he must leave, the priest more or less dismisses him. When K. questions this change in attitude the priest says that he is affiliated with the Court and that the “Court doesn't want anything from you. It accepts you when you come and it lets you go when you leave" (108).
The Parable of the Man and the Law, which is a story within a story, is meant to illustrate just where K. stands. Like the countryman, for whatever reason he wants access to the Law. For some reason we don’t know K. feels guilty of a nameless crime, has been arrested and wants relief. We would like to believe that the priest tells him the story to help him and to bring him hope. But, all he actually does is tell him a very sad story about a man who spent a futile life waiting for nothing to happen. Is this then what K. is willing to do? Wait and wait, like Block? Or, as the priest suggests, is K. really free and able to go wherever he wants? Can he give up this mad desire to gain access to the Law? Consider the final sentence of the chapter: “the Court accepts you when you come and it lets you go when you leave" (108). Why then come at all?