The Castle by Franz Kafka
The Castle takes place in an unknown time within a remote village called “the Castle of Count WestWest”. It’s a land where every decision – including who is allowed to stay the night – is ruled by unknown authorities in an unreachable allusive castle. Imagine getting a job offer situated in this village and upon arrival, alone on foot, it is freezing cold and snowing heavily. The entire village takes on an eerie quality. The people are bland and nondescript and you are tired, confused, and frightened.
That is the opening scene of The Castle. A character simply known as K. enters this surreal village where nothing is as it seems and answers are unattainable. First he is told he must leave immediately. There is no job for him. Nevertheless, he is assigned two assistants – caricatures who look like twins and act like a vocal Harpo Marx – absurd and grotesque, performing inane antics while they wait for an assigned task. “The assistants were embracing each other, cheek to cheek, and smiling, whether in humility or mockery, one could not tell.”
But like a bad nightmare in which one cannot awake and move forward, K. is stuck in the village determined to reach the Castle, to speak personally to a person of authority, get some answers, do his job, make some money, and live a normal life.
Kafka’s black comedy is about isolation and alienation. Perhaps the peasant landlady at the taproom said it best, “You’re not from the Castle, you’re not from the village, you are nothing.” It’s a bureaucratic nightmare as you’ve never experienced before.
And as in Kafka’s other unfinished classic, The Trial, you are never quite sure where the plot is going – or why. Every answer K. receives turns into another question. Every accomplishment – a mere illusion of success. Every offer of assistance – filled with selfish ulterior motives. Every scene presented in the Kafkaesque quality of keen awareness and surreal distortion. On the surface It is both eerie and funny… a unique combination told in mesmerizing vivid detail you will never forget and it makes an entertaining, enthralling read.
If so inclined, scratch the surface and delve into the mystery of deeper meaning. What point was Kafka really trying to make? Does man really have free-will or are we destined to a predetermined fate? Was the Castle a symbol of out-of-control bureaucracy or something else? Despite the fact that The Castle was published 87 years ago, the enigma remains… a study of Kafka’s philosophy is currently being conducted at the Oxford Research Center. Maybe they will find the answers.
In the meantime, The Castle is a must read, and I recommend the new English translation by Mark Harman based on the restored text which is proclaimed to be the most authentically translated publication to date.
Rated 5 Stars
All contents © 2015 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved.