Research Essay on the story "Behind the Law"
According to Jean-Paul Sartre, no God is responsible for creating human beings in tune with a conceptual divination. In his work on existentialism, Sartre wrote, “Existence precedes essence” (Jill, p.6). This basically means that each of us human beings has their philosophy about life. That what we are or become in life is due to the personal choices we make in our lives. We are wholly in charge of our lives, and we cannot just follow the choices and thoughts of others blindly and let them define our lives. Essentially, we define ourselves through our attitudes and perceptions we have about ourselves. The second concept on existentialism is presented by Albert Camus. Camus argues that “Life is Absurd,” (Jill, p.4). This statement implies that no single and genuine reason is there to explain why life turns out. Human needs are continually frustrated by the unfairness inherent in life, and the world we live has no value and is full of absurdities. However, as much as the world has become valueless and meaningless, we can still create meaningful lives by making intelligent choices and engaging in actions that are valuable to us. Through Sartre’s principle of “Existence precedes essence” (Jill, p.6) and Camus’s theme of “Life is Absurd” (Jill, p.4) we get a deeper understanding why the countryman, the main character in the short story “Before the Law”, cannot cross the door before the Law till he breaths his last because he does not comprehend that his future firmly lies in his hands.
The countryman in the short story “Before the Law” lives in an absurd world; his needs and aspirations are continually frustrated by the doorkeeper standing before the Law. He is unfairly denied admission for no worthy reason. Despite this situation, the countryman could have decided to ignore the doorkeeper’s instructions, and enter the Law whenever the doorman stepped aside. There was no genuine barrier between his desire to enter the Law since the gate stood open always, and the doorkeeper constantly stepped aside (Jill, p.185). The only barrier that barred the countryman from entering the Law was him. Once the doorkeeper stepped aside, the only thing he could do was to look through the Law’s gateway with lots of unnecessary fear. The doorkeeper laughs at him and throws threats his way about the difficulties that lay ahead (Jill, p.185). The Law’s interior looks enticing, but the countryman cannot access it. The doorkeeper implores him to try getting inside it, but the countryman is not ready to take a dip because he firmly believes that the difficulties being enumerated by the doorkeeper exist and he may not make any meaningful progress. The countryman’s expectation was that the doorway was open at all times to all and sundry, but upon reaching the Law, he finds that is not the case. Ultimately the man decides to wait patiently till he will be granted permission to enter the Law. The difficulties standing in the man’s way represent the absurdities in our lives; unexplainable and which make life unfair. According to Camus, these absurdities “drove human beings to desperation and prevented them from taking responsibility for their own life” (Jill, p.5). The countryman becomes desperate, and he gets tied to a stool at the entrance of the Law all his life, desperately waiting for the moment he will be granted permission to get into the law. He is not ready to take responsibility for his own life because of the difficulties he encounters at the doorway. Moreover, according to Sartre, “Man is freedom”, (Jill, p.7). The countryman’s miseries at the entrance of the Law are self-inflicted. The doorkeeper did not force him to wait at the entrance without even a hint of when he will be permitted inside. He personally chose to after realizing that the unsubstantiated difficulties presented by the doorkeeper were unbearable. In doing this, he curtailed his freedom and tied himself to desperation. He could have safeguarded his freedom by ignoring the doorkeeper, and pushing forward through the gateway. Additionally, he could have walked away and perhaps met better alternatives to his quest than the Law.
In this short story, it also crystal clear that the perceptions and attitudes of a person determine his future. The countryman’s perceptions about the Law are misleading. His belief that this Law is the only one that will save from the troubles of life is extremely wrong. Due to his reluctance to explore other options, he decides to sit at the entrance for days culminating into many years just to secure admittance (Jill, p.187). This is unnecessary because he could have abandoned these hindrances that inhibit the forward movement of his life by seeking other alternatives. The countryman loudly “curses his miserable fate” that does not yield anything meaningful. From such actions, the man is desperately resigned to an essentially non-existent fate. By letting fate control his life, he loses his inherent freedom to shape his personal fate. According to Sarte,“You are what you make of yourself” (Jill, p.6). This statement resonates well with the countryman’s circumstances. He becomes desperate because of drinking from the cup of desperation, and not making meaningful effort to get past his difficulties. He falls into the trap of bribing the doorkeeper using the valuables he had carried for his journey. These are valuables he could have carried back home and used them intelligently to better his life instead of remaining fixated on the Law. The persistent bribing depletes his valuables and he grows extremely poor with deteriorating health.
The countryman persistently strives to reach the Law with no apparent success (Jill, 187). This striving is uncalled for since the challenge of accessing the Law is insurmountable and extremely tiring for him. To him, the world has become meaningless and valueless. The best he can do in this situation is to make intelligent choices and engage in meaningful actions that will better his life. Creating the impression that the world is throwing lemons at him could not help the situation. Picking the lemons at you and turning them into sweet lemonade could have been a great escape route from these sufferings. His future is gloomy because he lacks a concrete philosophy of his life. He lets the doorkeeper’s words and thoughts lead him as much as he had the capacity to choose for himself and settle on most appropriate route for his life. He continuously begs the doorkeeper for admittance as much as it looks like it will take forever before he is admitted (Jill, p. 187). He had a resigned attitude and believed that everything the doorkeeper tells him. He could do with taking most of the doorkeeper’s words with a pinch of salt since not all we hear is the truth.
Additionally, this short story brings to the fore the idea that our actions and decisions ultimately create our meaningful lives. Our decisions and the actions we take up bring meaning to our lives. In the story the doorkeeper tells the countryman that “the gate was all yours” (Jill, p.187). At this gate, nobody else could be granted admission into the Law. The gate is a representation of person’s future, which cannot be controlled by other people but themselves. Upon reaching gate, the countryman could have decided what his future will turn out to be, in accordance with the unsubstantiated difficulties that the doorkeeper was telling him. If he had his personal philosophy of life, he could have created a new future instead of resigning to non-existent fate. He is poised to succumb at the gate because of his failure to soldier on, look out for alternatives, test the waters, and ignore restraint. Essentially, the countryman let the doorkeeper decide for him a sad and hopeless future, whose results are disastrous. If he could have persistently searched for other open gates, he could have reshaped his future for the better. This is supported by Sartre’s view that people should have not only "being-in-itself", but also “being-for-itself”. This means that human beings cannot merely exist like inanimate objects, but they live consciously with full awareness of the control they wield over lives, which culminates in the ability for one to create and shape their futures. The countryman merely existed and did not espouse any being in him.
Franz, Kafka. “Before the Law”. Readings for ENGLISH 1127: Introduction to Short Fiction & Composition. Ed. Jill Goldberg. Langara College, n.d.Web. 22 Nov 2014.
Existentialism Readings. Ed. Jill Goldberg. Langara College, n.d. Web. 22 Nov 2014.