Despite Francis Bacon’s cautionary note, I have always been a fan of parables, and perhaps the most poignant one to speak for perils of the legal profession is Franz Kafka’s “Vor dem Gesetz” (“Before the Law”), one of the relatively few works to be published in his lifetime. It was seen first in the almanac Vom Jüngsten Tag: Ein Almanach Neuer Dichtung in December 1915 before it was included in his novel Der Prozess (The Trial), which was unpublished in his lifetime. He wrote it at one sitting on December 13, 1914, and in fewer than 650 words, Kafka illustrates the menace of the law to those for whom it is a mystery and the indifferent cruelty possible from those who have access to it. He does this while subtly referencing, through metaphor, the social, political, and educational barriers that have always separated those who have access to the law and those whose ignorance of it can cost them everything. And he does it with a sheen of absurdist humor that reflects the existentialist artistic response against the alienation of the modern world that was unfolding around him.
Recommended CitationGeoffrey L. Brackett, Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law”: A Parable, 35 Pace L. Rev. 1107 (2015)
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