# Before the Law

# Before the Law

Written by Kafka / Translated by Yang Wuneng

Standing before the law is a guard. One day, a peasant arrived and asked the guard to let him enter the door of the law. However, the guard replied that he could not allow it at the moment. The peasant then inquired if he could wait to enter.

“It’s possible,” the guard answered, “but not now.”

As the door of the law was always open, the guard stepped aside, and the peasant stooped to peer inside. The guard noticed and laughed, saying, “If you really want to enter, you can try, ignore my prohibition. But remember, I am formidable. And I am just the lowest guard. In front of each hall, from one hall to another, stands a guard, each more formidable than the last. Take the guard in front of the third hall, even I dare not look him in the eye.”

The peasant did not expect to encounter so many obstacles. Everyone can enter the door of the law, anytime, as they say. However, after carefully evaluating the guard in a fur coat, noticing his large pointed nose, long dense black Tartar-like beard, he decided to wait until permitted to enter. The guard gave him a little stool to sit beside the door. So he sat there, day after day, year after year. During this time, he made numerous attempts to request entry, annoying the guard. Periodically, the guard would ask him brief questions about his hometown and other irrelevant matters. Despite all his efforts and expenses, the peasant was still not allowed in. He had prepared many things for his journey here, all now wasted. It seemed he had spent everything just to please the guard. Although he received everything, the guard told him, “I accept only to prevent you from thinking you lack courtesy.”

For many years, the peasant observed this guard nearly continuously. He forgot about the other guards; this first guard seemed to be the only obstacle to entering the halls of the law. He cursed his misfortune during the first few years loudly, boldly, without care. As he grew older, he could only mutter to himself. He even became childish, noticing fleas hiding in the guard’s fur collar, asking the fleas to help him change the guard’s mind. Finally, his eyesight failed; he couldn’t determine if it was truly turning dark around him or just his eyes deceiving him. But in the darkness, he clearly saw a bright light, an eternal starlight radiating from the door of the law. At that moment, he was close to death. As he lay dying, the experiences of the entire process flooded his mind, crystallizing into a question he had never asked the guard. He beckoned the guard over as his body stiffened, unable to rise. The guard had to bend down to hear him; the height difference now greatly disadvantageous.

“At this point, what else do you wish to know?” the guard asked. “You are insatiable.”

“Aren’t all people longing for the law?” the peasant said. “But how is it that in all these years, besides me, no one else has requested entry?”

Seeing the peasant nearing death, and in order to ensure his fading ears could hear clearly, the guard shouted loudly, “No one else can enter this door because it was meant for you alone. I will now close it.”