Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Burden of Individuality


Franz Kafka
Franz Kafka’s [1883-1924] novel, The Castle, tells the story of a man called K who is on a futile quest.  K arrives as a land surveyor in the village which is under the jurisdiction of the Castle.  But his summoning is caused by a bureaucratic mistake committed in the Castle; a land surveyor is not required in the village now.  K meets Frieda in the inn meant exclusively for the Castle’s bureaucrats though others are allowed to buy food from there.  Frieda becomes K’s fiancée, leaving her job as a barmaid in the inn as well as her enviable position as the mistress of Klamm, the Chief of the Castle. 

Nobody in the village can enter the Castle though everybody’s life is controlled by the Castle.  K wants to meet Klamm but never succeeds.  Finally Frieda leaves him and goes back to her former job in the inn and also accepts one of the two assistants of K as her new man.

The Castle towers above the village as a symbol of both spiritual and temporal powers.  It controls everybody’s life in the village.  People have mixed feelings about it: awe, terror, respect and suspicion.  The women are proud to be mistresses of the bureaucrats in the Castle.  Men of the village consider themselves lucky if they can marry one of those women whose youth was spent in the company of the castellans.

There is one woman, only one, in the village who refused to be a mistress.  Amalia tore up the message from the bureaucrat and threw its pieces on the face of the messenger.  Since insult of a bureaucrat is an unspeakable sacrilege, her offence is mentioned as insult of a messenger from the Castle.  Her family is ostracised. Amalia is viewed as a “black girl’.

The Castle is a symbol of all human yearnings: spiritual as well as temporal.  The Castle adds meaning to the life of the villagers though none of them know what is going on in the Castle.  The Chief of the Castle is Klamm (though the Castle belongs to Count Westwest) whose name means ‘illusion’.  Klamm never shows any interest in the life of any villager though every villager is interested in Klamm.

Klamm gives meaning to their life.  Klamm adds colour and zest to life.  When one of the bureaucrats orders something to K “in the name of Klamm” K asks, “In the name of Klamm!  Does he trouble himself about my affairs, then?”  And the bureaucrat’s answer gives us an insight into the nature of Klamm: “As to that,” said the bureaucrat, “I have no information and you certainly have still less; we can safely leave that to him.  All the same I command you by virtue of the function granted by Klamm...”

Klamm, a metaphor, a symbol or a mere illusion, determines the functions of everyone in the village.  Amalia is the only individual who defied that function “engineered by the Castle.”  She asserted her individuality which she did not allow to be controlled by any external force, Klamm or Castle.

In Kafka’s world, there is little difference between the spiritual and the temporal, the real and the illusory.  That is how the real human world is.  We use the spiritual forces in order to attain certain goals and objectives in the material world, and we manipulate the material world hoping to appease the gods in heaven.  We establish relationships with people assuming it to be love or friendship when in reality it is as good as Frieda trying to “make a stir” or “cause a scandal” by leaving Klamm and taking K so that people will keep talking for a long time.


The Castle is a metaphysical novel, not at all easy to interpret.  I’m not interpreting it here.  I reread the novel in the last few days because I began to feel that  my existence was becoming something similar to K’s: being in a place where one is not wanted.  When I read it now, after a gap of three decades, it became much more meaningful to me.  The Castle is not far away.  Klamm is not a mere illusion.  To hold on to your individuality like Amalia is a struggle worth putting up. 

6 comments:

  1. I have a translated work of him lying in my shelf for a long time. Feeling inspired to read it after reading this review.

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    1. Go ahead, Indrani. I admire his 'Trial' and this novel mentioned in the blog. 'America' is also a good work.

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  2. I love Kafka, though I can access only his translated version, I am reading The Trial now. His works are never easy to understand, its layered but that's what makes it more intriguing

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    1. The Trial is better than The Castle, according to my judgment. Yeah, layers of meaning, that's just what you get in Kafka.

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  3. Metamorphosis is the only work I read from Kafka..Nice post :)

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    1. I haven't read Metamorphosis though I'm aware that it is as good as the others. Must read that too. There's something uniquely charming about the Kafkaesque world.

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