We are all thrust into this life without our consent. No one asked us whether we wanted to be here on this planet at all. Once we found ourselves here, we assumed a few roles and started discovering our place on the planet. Some mysterious force out there could snatch the very roots from our souls at any time.
Franz Kafka’s novel, The Castle, is one of the best allegories about this inevitable precariousness of human life. K is the protagonist who has nothing of his own except that initial. He has been assigned the job of Land Surveyor by the Castle in a nameless place. The Castle is a mysterious set of buildings to which no one from the village that exists in its shadow has access. The villagers believe they have a Count living in the Castle, but no one has ever seen him or heard from him or has had any reason to assert that the Count is real. But he is as real for them as is God for most people.
K is informed by the Castle through a messenger that a surveyor is not required by it. K is unwanted, in other words. But K sticks to the place. He decides to gain access to the Castle which shocks the people of the village. No one but a few officials have access to the Castle. The village people meet these officials at the Inn. The landlady of that Inn tells K, “You are not from the Castle, you are not from the village, you aren’t anything.”
But the Castle lets K be, and even gives him two assistants. Not knowing what exactly their duties are, these assistants turn out to be a nuisance to K rather than any assistance. K’s direct superior in the Castle is a man named Klamm. Who is Klamm? No one knows. No one has seen him directly. Not even Barnabas who is Klamm’s messenger has seen him.
K is determined to meet Klamm. He strikes up a friendship with Frieda, who is Klamm’s former mistress from the village, in order to establish a link with Klamm. That doesn’t work, however.
K remains an unhappy, irascible person who aggressively challenges both the arrogant officials and the silly village people. K’s rationality or apparent superiority won’t work here. “I know you can disprove anything,” says Frieda, “but in the end nothing is disproved.”
The world of The Castle is our own world. It is absolutely absurd. People follow certain conventions without ever questioning their validity. They subject themselves to the authority of the officials who claim to get their power from the Castle. If somebody dares to question the officials, that person will be victimised as it happens to Amelia. Amelia refuses to offer her sexual services to the officials and hence her entire family is ostracised by the village.
Kafka shows us how we are free and yet not free. Our freedom is terribly limited by certain social and political institutions. There is also the control of some weird supernatural power that no one really understands.
What do you do in such a world? Kafka won’t answer. The Castle is said to be an unfinished novel. Kafka died while writing it due to tuberculosis. The novel ends with a conversation between K and his landlady.
“What actually is it you are?” “Land Surveyor.” “What’s that?” K explained, the explanation made her yawn. “You’re not telling the truth. Why don’t you tell the truth?” “You don’t tell the truth either.”
And then the conversation glides into a mention of the landlady’s clothes which K describes as “made of good material, pretty expensive, but old-fashioned, fussy, often renovated, worn and not suitable either for your age or for your figure or for your position.” The landlady is highly offended. She accuses K of being “either a fool or a child or a very wicked, dangerous person.” She drives him away but then adds, “I am getting a new dress tomorrow, perhaps I shall send for you.”
That’s the last sentence of the novel. What a way to end a metaphysical novel! Of course, Kafka had left the last sentence incomplete and it is his friend Max Brod who gave the conclusion to the novel. Brod says that Kafka actually wanted to end the novel with K dying in the village and the village people eventually accepting him as a new citizen.
Who is that new citizen? Someone who questions absurd beliefs and practices? Someone who makes his freedom more meaningful? Someone who redefines his life?
The Castle forces us to look at the absurdities we live day in and day out.
PS. This is part of a series being written for the #BlogchatterA2Z Challenge. The previous parts are:
Next to come: A Doll’s House