Subconscious Submission

Elise Cavanaugh:

I am interested in the seemingly contradictory balance between K.’s renunciation of his arresters’ authority over him, and his submission to their authority in spite of his resolute denial of their claims.  When K. is informed by the two guards of his arrest, he is unsurprisingly confused and frustrated at their lack of ability to explain themselves or the situation.  To his knowledge, he had not done anything against the law, and he was left with many questions – “What sort of men were they? What were they talking about? What office did they represent? After all, K. lived in a state governed by law, there was universal peace, all statutes were in force, who dared assault him in his own lodgings?” (Kafka 6).  This excerpt gives way from confusion to defensiveness, and he is consciously unwilling to grant the guards the authority or power they claim to have.  However, on multiple occasions he seems to submit to these figures of authority without meaning to: when he is ordered to dress in a more presentable manner, he complains even as he is “already lifting a coat from the chair and holding it up for a moment in both hands, as if submitting it to the judgment of the guards” (11).  When the inspector comes into his own house, he requests permission to sit down and it denied (13).  These instances of submission contradict the challenges to his arresters’ authority which he frequently verbalizes in his confusion.

This leads to a bigger question: from where is authority derived? Does it exist only when others submit to it? On only the second page of the novel, K. speculates that by speaking aloud (and explaining his actions to the stranger intruding in his room), he unintentionally “acknowledged the stranger’s right to oversee his actions” (4).  Could the subsequent events have been any different if K. had not acknowledged the authority of the stranger, or is authority/power something the guards would have possessed regardless of K.’s acknowledgment?

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