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The Castle by Franz Kafka Plot Analysis

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The Castle by Franz Kafka is one of his greatest literary works. There are many ways to approach this novel. Based on the events going on in Kafka’s life at the time of writing, which included a nervous breakdown, a psychoanalytic approach is most worthy. That being said, the question that begs to be asked is, “What is the Castle?” The castle can be seen to represent many things, such as a father or even God himself. What that all boils down to is the fact that the castle represents anambiguous type of authority.

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The Castle was left unfinished by Kafka and yet it seems somehow complete in its incomplete state. It is the very epitome of the term Kafkaesque. This term means that something is nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical, generally relating to bureaucracy. The way The Castle ends mid-sentence makes it feel as if it were a section of an unending, illogical bureaucracy that the reader only sees a small piece of but that almost definitely continues on in circles forever. From the very start of the novel, the castle represents some unknown force of authoritative power. “It was late in the evening when K. arrived. The village was deep in snow. The Castle hill was hidden, veiled in mist and darkness, nor was there even a glimmer of light to show that a castle was there. On the wooden bridge leading from the main road to the village, K. stood for a long time gazing into the illusory emptiness above him.”  The description of the castle as “hidden, veiled in mist and darkness” lends an air of secrecy and deceit to the structure. Also calling the castle “illusory emptiness” plays on the fact that authority is not something that can be seen by the eye. And yet even in its absence the castle commands respect and exudes an authoritative feeling. This is why it is described as “above” K. and why he stands “for a long-time gazing” at the place where the castle should be. K. would not waste so much of his time if there weren’t a good reason. His reason is that the castle is the target that K. endeavors to reach.

While the castle itself represents Authority, some of the officials from the castle represent authoritative people or ideas that were present in Kafka’s life. For example, Klamm would almost definitely represent Kafka’s father. His father was described as a “huge, selfish, overbearing businessman.” No other character fits the bill so perfectly as Klamm. “At a desk in the centre of the room, seated in a comfortable round-backed easy chair, starkly lit by an electric lightbulb dangling in front of him, was Mr. Klamm.”This description puts the man on show already. He is basically in a spotlight, at the center of the room, in this large and imposing chair almost as if he is in a throne. This fits with both the importance K. puts on the castle’s authority and the importance that Kafka put on his father. “A fat, big-bodied man of medium height. The face was still smooth but the cheeks already sagged slightly with the weight of age.” (Kafka 36) He is described almost exactly like Kafka’s own father. But the similarities don’t end with looks. Kafka did not know either of his parents very well. They both daily spent twelve or more hours away from the home. So, here is Klamm, a man that K. hasn’t even met properly and yet he wants to be accepted by him. Just like his father who was almost as unreachable, Kafka makes it K.’s utmost desire to meet, and get along with, this man. K. does not know if Klamm is worth respecting, much like Kafka with his father, and he almost automatically gives him that respect anyway.

Kafka would also see his father as a rival. This plays out in The Castle when K. basically steals the woman of Klamm. K. is not trying to take Frieda away from Klamm because he loves her. He has a dual purpose. On the one hand, he wants to be able to get one over on his “father” by stealing his mistress. On the other hand, K. is trying to use Frieda to further his own ends of getting closer to the castle. He believes that Frieda has connections and that Klamm will see this and respect him. This is a classic problem that occurs in one with an Oedipal complex. This is supported when Frieda reveals that she is with K. and his response to it. “And as if Frieda had drawn strength from K.’s assent she clenched her fist, pounded on the door, and called out: ‘I’m with the land surveyor! I’m with the land surveyor!’ At this Klamm fell silent. K., though, rose to a kneeling position beside Frieda and looked around in the dim, pre-dawn light. What had happened? Where were his hopes? What could he expect of Frieda now, with everything given away? Instead of advancing with the greatest care, in keeping with the magnitude of the enemy and the objective, he had spent the night romping in pools of beer, the smell of which was now overpowering. ‘What have you done?’ he said aloud. ‘Now we’re both lost.’”  He shows his hand thinking that using Frieda was “advancing with greatest care” as he was using her. He cannot think of a woman as an equal or that she may be a new ally in his quest which is a common side effect of the Oedipus Complex. He also says that they are both lost because of his fear of Klamm as the father figure. He believes that his theft of Klamm’s mistress, if known publicly, is a weakness rather than a strength because it open’s him to Klamm’s retribution. This is the castration complex.

Something else that supports the idea that the castle represents authority is the fact that that authority extends to anyone associated to the castle. Even the lowliest of the low. The main things that castle officials are seen actually doing is drinking, dancing, and sleeping with the young women of the village. Firstly, that these villagers would allow this is astonishing as the officials are said by Frieda to be “the most contemptible, most disgusting thing I know.” Why then, would the villagers allow this? And not only do they allow it, it is viewed as some kind of honor to be with one of the castle officials. “I was Frieda’s greatest honour, one I shall be proud of till my dying day, that  used to at least call Frieda’s name.”  This is caused by the perceived authority of even the lowest ranking castle officials. With the officials’ power to do anything that they want, the villagers either had to rebel against it or make it a good thing. Now the women of the village that sleep with city officials are seen as respectable because of their association. If the power of the castle itself can translate to power for the officials and their staff, the authority that the castle holds must be very powerful indeed.

One of the most striking uses of the castle’s authority comes in the form of the treatment of Barnabas’ family. Barnabas’ sister Amalia was propositioned by a castle official through a letter after both had attended a ball. “The letter was written in the most vulgar language, using expressions I’d never come across before and only half guessed at from the context” Olga, Amalia’s sister told K. Amalia does something no one else in the village would even think to do as they would be too afraid. She “tore it up, threw the pieces at the man outside, hitting him in the face, and closed the window.”  Because of this reaction, the whole family became ostracized by the castle and village. The interesting bit is when K. argues with Olga about the actual culprit behind the shunning of the family. Olga is certain that the shunning of her family is “all engineered from the Castle.”  K., however, insists on the fact that their punishment is instead because the “senseless fear of the people [their] malicious pleasure in hurting a neighbor.”  Olga still believes that the entire issue was “due to the influence of the Castle.”  Even when telling the story later, however, Olga reveals that the villagers’ fear of the castle is the cause of the family’s hardships and treatment. This negates her earlier assertion that the castle itself is the problem. We never actually see the castle do anything. The castle never uses the power it supposedly has. This begs the question of whether the castle has the authority or if it is indeed the villagers that have the most power. If the villagers simply stopped listening to the commands of the castle, would it lose its authority?

That is the central issue of the novel. Authority rests where the people place it. The villagers are just too blind to see this. And so, the castle is the symbol of authority and that will never change. K. will continue to try and gain the castle’s approval and will continuously be twisted and turned around. 

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