The Castle

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 563

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Late one evening K. stumbles into the snowbound village at the foot of a group of ramshackle buildings known as the castle. Despite a rude welcome in the village inn and a rebuffed telephone call to the castle, K. insists that he has come to work in the village at the castle’s request and that his assistants will arrive the next day.

Although the reader may readily sympathize with K.’s plight at the hands of the elusive castle officials, as the story unfolds one gradually senses K.’s dishonesty about his true identity and motives and his folly in trying to confront the authorities. When the castle sends two good-natured assistants to help K. in his “work,” K. maligns them and their attempts to divert him from his grim insistence on meeting Klamm, the functionary who becomes the focus of K.’s futile efforts.

While K. works himself deeper and deeper into the trap of his own duplicitous tales, not even the love of Frieda, Klamm’s former girlfriend, can save him from his relentless pursuit of stories about the activities of the castle authorities. Shunning Frieda and the playful help of the assistants, K. grows increasingly isolated, yet he refuses to leave the castle village.

The narrator follows K.’s every move with a deftly veiled irony and counters K.’s deadly seriousness with a comic perspective that takes the reader outside the narrow frame of K.’s hopeless wanderings. Written in 1922, shortly after the end of centuries of Austrian rule in Kafka’s native Bohemia, the novel is less a satirical critique of bureaucratic chicanery than a self-ironic coming to terms with Kafka’s own need for recognition by and access to the patriarchal society of Prague’s Jewish community.

Bibliography:

Fickert, Kurt J. “Chapter IV: Castle and Burrow.” In Kafka’s Doubles. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 1979. A short but substantial work that provides new insights into Kafka’s careful creative process. Interprets The Castle as the author’s self-analysis.

Kraft, Herbert. “Being There Still: K., Land Surveyor, Stable-Hand, . . .” In Someone Like K.: Kafka’s Novels, translated by R. J. Kavanagh. Würzburg, Germany: Königshausen & Neumann, 1991. A positive assessment of K. as the antitype. Since there is no mass resistance, individuals must stand alone, but they can be perceived to be powerful. K. knows what Amalia knows, but he also has the courage to act.

Neumeyer, Peter F., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of “The Castle”: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969. Part 1 contains ten so-called Interpretations; part 2 contains shorter View Points. A testimony to the astounding number of diverse and conflicting interpretations that The Castle has inspired.

Sheppard, Richard. On Kafka’s Castle: A Study. London: Croom Helm, 1973. A close reading of the novel, which is in many aspects convincing. A bourgeois interpretation; like the German critic Wilhelm Emrich, whose study of Kafka’s writing appeared in English translation in 1968, Sheppard tends to take the viewpoint of the villagers and is critical of K. for not settling down with Frieda.

Spann, Meno. “Chapter 9: The Castle.” In Franz Kafka. Boston: Twayne, 1976. A lucidly written essay that places the novel in the context of Kafka’s personal and literary development. Spann, one of the few critics receptive to Kafka’s sense of humor, offers a convincing interpretation of The Castle as a satire on bureaucracy.

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