Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 993

It is late in the evening when K. arrives in the town that lies before the castle of Count Westwest. After his long walk through deep snow, K. wants to do nothing so much as to go to sleep. He goes to an inn and falls asleep by the fire, only to be awakened by a man wanting to see his permit to stay in the town. K. explains that he just arrived and comes at the count’s request to be the new land surveyor. A telephone call to the castle establishes the fact that a land surveyor is expected, and K. is allowed to rest.

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The next morning, K. decides to go to the castle to report for duty, although his assistants have not yet arrived. He sets off through the snowy streets toward the castle, which as he walks seems farther and farther away. He becomes tired and stops in a house for refreshment and directions. As he leaves, he sees two men coming from the castle. He tries to speak to them, but they refuse to stop. As evening approaches, K. gets a ride back to the inn in a sleigh.

At the inn, he meets the two men he saw, and they introduce themselves as Arthur and Jeremias and say they are his old assistants. They are not, but K. accepts them because he knows they came from the castle and therefore were sent to help him. Because the two men closely resemble each other, K. cannot tell them apart; therefore he calls both of them Arthur. He orders them to take him to the castle the next morning by sleigh. When they refuse, he telephones the castle. A voice tells him that he can never come to the castle. Shortly afterward, a messenger named Barnabas arrives with a letter from Klamm, a chief at the castle. K. is ordered to report to the mayor of the town.

K. arranges for a room at the inn. He asks to accompany Barnabas on a walk, to which Barnabas, a kind young man, agrees. He takes K. to his home to meet his two sisters, Olga and Amalia, and his sickly old mother and father. K. is ill at ease, however; it is Barnabas, not he, who comes home. When Olga leaves to get beer from a nearby inn, K. goes with her. At the inn, it is made clear to him that he will be welcome only in the bar, as the other rooms are reserved for the gentlemen from the castle.

In the bar, K. quickly makes friends with the barmaid, Frieda, who seems to wish to save him from Olga and her family. She hides K. under the counter. K. does not understand what is happening. He learns that Frieda is Klamm’s mistress.

Frieda is determined to stay with K., if K. is willing. K. thinks he might as well marry her. He is determined to get to the castle and thinks his chances will improve if he marries the chief’s former mistress. When Arthur and Jeremias enter the room and watch him and Frieda, K. sends them away. Frieda decides to go to the inn where K. is staying.

K. calls on the mayor, whom he finds sick in bed with gout. K. learns that a land surveyor was needed several years earlier but that nobody knows why K. comes now to fill the unnecessary post. When K. shows him Klamm’s letter, the mayor says that it is not important. The mayor convinces K. that his coming to the town is the result of confusion. K. decides to remain and find work, so that he will become an accepted resident of the town.

K. returns to the inn to find Frieda made his room comfortable. The schoolmaster comes to offer K. the job of janitor at the school. At Frieda’s insistence, K. accepts. That night, K., Frieda, and the two assistants move to the school to live there. The next morning, the assistants trick K. into so many arguments with the teachers that K. dismisses them both. After he finishes his day’s work, he slips away and goes to Barnabas’s house to see if there is a message for him from the castle.

Barnabas is not at home. Olga explains that her family is rejected by the town because Amalia refuses to become the mistress of one of the gentlemen of the castle, who wrote her a crude, obscene letter. Amalia destroys the letter; later the whole town will turn against them. K. is so interested in the story that he does not realize how late he is staying. When he finally prepares to leave, he sees that Jeremias is outside spying on him.

K. slips out the back way but then returns and asks Jeremias why he is there. The man sullenly replies that Frieda sent him. She went back to her old job as barmaid and never wants to see K. again. Barnabas arrives with the news that one of the most important gentlemen of the castle is awaiting K. at the inn.

At the inn, K. learns that the gentleman went to sleep. As he stands in the corridor, he sees Frieda going down another corridor. He runs after her to explain why he stayed away so long and to ask her to come back to him. She seems about to relent when Jeremias comes up and persuades her to go with him. Frieda leaves K. forever. (At this point, the first edition of the novel ends. The remaining eighty or so pages were found among Kafka’s papers and included in later editions.)

K. intrudes on a sleeping gentleman in a corridor of the pub, only to fall asleep himself in the corridor. After sleeping for twelve hours, he has a lengthy conversation with Pepi, the substitute barmaid, and criticizes the landlady for her old-fashioned clothing.

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