The White Castle Analysis

The White Castle (Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

On a voyage from Venice to Naples, a twenty-two-year-old Italian is captured by Turkish pirates and brought to Istanbul. THE WHITE CASTLE is a record of his subsequent experiences, recollected almost fifty years later. Still living in Turkey though never converted to Islam, the narrator does not reveal either his name or that of the man to whom a pasha gave him as a slave.

Referred to as “Hoja” (Master), the other man is obsessed with extracting the secrets of Western enlightenment from the Italian, to whom he bears a striking resemblance. While Hoja pursues studies in astronomy, zoology, geography, and psychology with the narrator, he attempts to lure the Turkish sultan away from his reliance on obscurantist advisers. Hoja triumphs over deadly court intrigue to become Imperial Astrologer. He and the narrator construct an elaborate war machine, and, when the sultan goes off to battle against the Poles, they bring their contraption along. After it fails at the siege of Doppio, the “White Castle” of the novel’s title, Hoja mysteriously vanishes.

Spare in incident, THE WHITE CASTLE is a study in the dialectical relationship between Hoja and the narrator. Alter egos and antagonists, they suggest the enigmatic oppositions of East and West, intuition and reason, nature and civilization, mysticism and science, fiction and reality. “Why I Am What I Am,” is the topic Hoja assigns himself and the narrator as they sit down on either side of a table for the bouts of writing he imposes as spiritual discipline. Self-knowledge and knowledge of the Other become identical, and equally elusive.

Contriving a tale to distract the sultan, Hoja and the narrator agree that “the ideal story should begin innocently like a fairy-tale, be frightening like a nightmare in the middle, and conclude sadly like a love story ending in separation.” THE WHITE CASTLE is almost ideal.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. LXXXVII, March 15, 1991, p. 1455.

Choice. XXIX, October, 1991, p. 290.

The Christian Science Monitor. April 12, 1991, p. 13.

Kirkus Reviews. LIX, February 15, 1991, p. 207.

Library Journal. CXVI, February 15, 1991, p. 222.

The New Republic. CCV, September 9, 1991, p. 36.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVI, May 19, 1991, p. 3.

The New Yorker. LXVII, September 2, 1991, p. 102.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVIII, February 22, 1991, p. 212.

The Times Literary Supplement. October 12, 1990, p. 1087.

The White Castle (Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

On a voyage from Venice to Naples, a twenty-two-year-old Italian is captured by Turkish pirates and brought to Istanbul. The White Castle is a record of his subsequent experiences recollected almost fifty years later. Still living in Turkey, though never converted to Islam, the narrator does not reveal either his name or that of the man to whom a pasha gave him as a slave.

Referred to as “Hoja” (master), the other man is obsessed with extracting the secrets of Western enlightenment from the Italian, to whom he bears a striking resemblance. While Hoja pursues studies in astronomy, zoology, geography, and psychology with the narrator, he attempts to lure the Turkish sultan away from his reliance on obscurantist advisers. Hoja triumphs over deadly court intrigue to become Imperial Astrologer. He and the narrator construct an elaborate war machine, and, when the sultan goes off to battle against the Poles, they bring their contraption along. After it fails at the siege of Doppio, the “white castle” of the novel’s title, Hoja mysteriously vanishes. The narrator assumes Hoja’s identity and retires from the court to Gebze with a wife and four children.

Spare in incident, The White Castle is a study in the dialectical relationship between Hoja and the narrator. Alter egos and antagonists, they suggest the enigmatic oppositions of East and West, Islam and Christianity, intuition and reason, nature and civilization, mysticism and science, fiction and reality. “Why I Am What I Am” is the topic Hoja assigns himself and the narrator as they sit down on either side of a table for the bouts of writing he imposes as spiritual discipline. Self- knowledge and knowledge of the other become identical, and equally elusive. In the end, the narrator casts doubt on his own veracity by suggesting that everything he has written might be a fiction or that he is in fact Hoja and not an expatriate Italian pretending to be the master. Yet perhaps, suggests the narrator, such distinctions are ultimately specious if one is the role one plays. Initially, it is by pretending to be a physician that the Italian differentiates himself from the other foreign slaves and ingratiates himself with Sadik Pasha. The masquerade is so seamless that he effectually becomes a court physician. “A person should love the life he has chosen enough to call it his own in the end; and I do,” declares the narrator, affirming the identity he has constructed after fifty years away from “home.”

Pamuk frames his novel with a fictive preface by Faruk Darvinoglu, a character from one of his own earlier novels. This outer narrator, an encyclopedist and a tippler, explains how he chanced upon the manuscript of the novel while rummaging through government archives in Gebze. He discusses his success in verifying many of the historical references in the work but admits his failure to find any corroboration for others, such as the outbreak of plague in seventeenth century Istanbul. Fascinated by the manuscript, Darvinoglu is disappointed by the indifference he encounters in other readers, despite his attempts at hermeneutics: “To make it seem more interesting I talked about its symbolic value, its fundamental relevance to our contemporary realities, how through this tale I had come to understand our own time, etc.” He thereby challenges actual readers of The White Castle to make of the book what they can, and he further confounds them by revealing that, determined to publish it, he reworked the sentences into modern Turkish: “after reading a couple of sentences from the manuscript I kept on one table, I’d go to another table in the other room where I kept my papers and try to narrate in today’s idiom the sense of what remained in my mind.” Darvinoglu is essentially confessing that he put the original story aside and recreated it freely. If the veracity of the manuscript is moot to begin with, how much more doubt is cast upon it by this admission? Through this playful preface, Pamuk immediately raises questions about the relationship between truth and our fanciful representations of it. He also introduces yet another variation on the Doppelgänger: If both Hoja and the Italian are figments of Darvinoglu’s imagination, are they not also extensions and even mirrors of his own secret self?

“I suppose that to see everything as connected with everything else is the...

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