The fragmentary work The Castle was published posthumously, against Franz Kafka’s instructions, by his friend Max Brod. Critics ever since have debated all aspects of it, from the textual problems to the interpretation of the highly suggestive symbolic structure. It is typical of Kafka’s works that a final definition of his symbols is impossible; like dreams, they combine references to the everyday world with absurd fantasies and seemingly coherent mythic structure with a discontinuity that frustrates attempts to develop a rational interpretation. The images Kafka conjures are compelling, but they seem ultimately to stand for themselves and not for any symbolic message.
A knowledge of Kafka’s circumstances in 1922 is germane to an understanding of The Castle. The author’s tuberculosis was so advanced that he knew he had not long to live and also the manner of his death. Placed by disease in the position of an outsider, Kafka could for the first time view personal and professional concerns with detachment. His imminent death gave him the freedom to rise above manner and restraint and, through his novel’s main character, K., to indulge his sense of humor with outrageous observations. K., who calls himself a land surveyor, takes a sharp look at his surroundings. Like Kafka himself, K., too, suffers from those paradoxical effects of advanced disease that leave a patient at once exhausted and impatient.
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