Places: The Castle

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Das Schloss, 1926 (English translation, 1930; restored German edition, 1982; new English translation, 1998)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Allegory

Time of work: Early twentieth century

Places DiscussedBridge

Bridge. Castle, TheWooden bridge connecting the main approach to the village on which the protagonist, K., pauses in the opening moments of the novel. The bridge is a transitional point between K.’s previous life, about which only a few details are provided, and his new life in the village. For a long time he stands on the bridge, “gazing upward into the seeming emptiness.” Although K. is ostensibly a traveler with no immediately identifiable goal, his gaze upward into apparent emptiness foreshadows the presence of the castle.

Bridge Inn

Bridge Inn. Named after the bridge near which it stands, this inn is K.’s first point of contact with the villagers and the castle. His unannounced arrival creates suspicion among the peasants and elicits a rebuke by a castle official, who explains that he cannot stay on castle property without permission. The inn, normally a welcome place for travelers, instead becomes the initial source of K.’s alienation in the village.

Village

Village. Unnamed place in an unspecified country in which the narrative is centered. Franz Kafka never elucidates K.’s reasons for going to the village. Although K. claims to have been summoned there by the castle’s Count Westwest to do surveying work, he does not know, or pretends not to know, of the castle when an official interrogates him on his arrival. From the moment his position within the village is challenged, K. begins to defend his presence; he claims an affiliation with the castle in his capacity as a commissioned land surveyor and tries to legitimize his position by becoming engaged to Frieda, a barmaid at the Gentleman’s Inn who is the former mistress of Klamm, a high castle official.

The village also represents a community from which K. is excluded on the most fundamental levels. K. attempts to create a place for himself within that community, which leads him to his interminable and ultimately unsuccessful efforts to reach the castle.

Westwest’s Castle

Westwest’s Castle. The castle represents a legitimizing authority, whose approval is necessary for K.’s future as a citizen of the village. Throughout the novel, the castle is both the focus of his ambition and an enemy that must be conquered. His efforts to gain access to the castle and its officials resemble, in comic and tragic ways, the efforts of a knight to breach a fortress. That his goal is misplaced seems evident from his initial examination of the castle’s physical structure. His early impressions about its grandeur are contradicted when he gets a closer look and finds that it is “neither an old knight’s fortress nor a magnificent new edifice, but a large complex, made up of a few two-story buildings and many lower, tightly packed ones.” As the story progresses, K. discovers more details about the castle and its officials that undermine their largely self-proclaimed authority. However, he remains undeterred in his desire to reach the castle.

Gentleman’s Inn

Gentleman’s Inn. Village inn frequented by castle officials that affords K. his closest proximity to the workings of the castle. From the inn, K. almost reaches the castle but is overcome by sleep during an interview with Bürgel, a castle secretary. The Gentleman’s Inn also provides the only substantive information about castle procedures. Following his interview with Bürgel, K. witnesses clerks delivering and retrieving files from castle officials in their sleeping chambers. Kafka’s repeated use of bedrooms as settings for business affairs suggests a blurring of the distinction between public and private life.

Chairman’s bedroom

Chairman’s bedroom. Prior to his visit to the chairman of district number ten, K.’s provisional supervisor, K. meditates on the relationship between life and work within the village. Nowhere else has he ever seen official and private lives so closely intertwined, so closely in fact, “that it sometimes seemed as though office and life had switched places.” This point is illustrated by K.’s interview with the chairman, who receives him in his bedroom because he is too ill to get out of bed. There, K. discovers the chaos and inefficiency of the castle’s administrative officials. Paperwork is strewn throughout the chairman’s house. The chairman also informs K. that his summons as a surveyor was based on an administrative error, which was explained in a memo that has since been lost.

Klamm’s sleigh

Klamm’s sleigh. Horse-drawn vehicle for traveling on snow owned by Klamm. K. tries to initiate a meeting with the mysterious Klamm by waiting for him inside the sleigh by the Gentleman’s Inn. Sumptuously appointed with pillows and furs, the sleigh represents the wealth and comfort of the castle’s highest officials. K.’s invasion of the sleigh symbolizes his failure to reach the castle by force or deception. After K. refuses to abandon his vigil, the sleigh is eventually unyoked, and K. goes back in the inn feeling that his small victory in standing up to Klamm’s coachman and secretary was a hollow one.

Schoolhouse

Schoolhouse. Village school in which K. gets a janitorial position after being denied his surveyor post. There, he and Frieda, along with his two assistants, move into the cramped quarters of the schoolhouse, establishing some semblance of a family household. However, K.’s quarters are daily intruded upon by the arrival of the students. After being frustrated in his attempt to legitimate his position as a surveyor, K. seeks to establish himself as a needed member of the village community in his role as school janitor. However, his continued efforts to reach the castle eventually drive away Frieda.

Gerstäcker’s cottage

Gerstäcker’s cottage. Dimly lit home in which the unfinished novel suddenly ends. Although it is unclear what kind of ending Kafka envisioned for the novel, it is evident in K.’s willingness to accept Gerstäcker’s invitation to stay in his cottage that he is still looking for any opportunity to gain an advantage in his quest for the castle, despite his continued failures and growing exhaustion.

BibliographyFickert, 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.
Categories: Places