Franz Kafka’s The Castle is incredibly thought-provoking and stimulating, to say the least. Set in a snow-covered village controlled by a very ambiguous and bureaucratic Castle, the protagonist known only as K. embarks on a quest to gain authorization to be in the village and fulfill the job that he claims to have been called for, land-surveying. As the story progresses, K. encounters more and more hindrances standing in the way of him having any type of legitimate or official communication with the Castle or any of its officials. There are about as many interpretations of what the Castle actually symbolizes or stands for as there are Kafka readers and aficionados. Considering Kafka’s enigmatic and dark writing, this is hardly surprising. He utilizes a puzzling and mysterious style of writing that, as a result, allows for many meanings, connotations, inferences, suggestions and conclusions to be derived from the text. Such writing style includes elements of “mystery, transcendence and the infinite”, characteristics that Kafka “saw in the human world” (Smetana, 1991). Similarly, Kafka’s writing in The Castle incorporates somewhat morbid and cheerless themes to match the style. Perhaps the most obvious one that can be inferred from the subtext is that of power and authority in society.
There are several facts and instances indicating that the Castle exerts some sort of power on the villagers, at least it seems that way at first. For one thing, the village is property of the Castle. Also, K. is constantly instructed and reminded of the importance of getting clearance from the Castle to carry out his job, or even to continue being in the village. As soon as he arrives, he is told by Schwarzer that he needs authorization from the Castle to be in the village. Moreover, K. is antagonized by the whole village for not paying the proper respect for Castle officials and secretaries on more than one occasion, and for not following the norms of the villagers when dealing with officials and the Castle. This is portrayed in K. refusal to be questioned by Klamm’s secretary Momus. This shows that the Castle and its officials are not to be taken lightly and frivolously, something that all the village people agree on. Finally, just the general attitude that the village holds of the Castle, the attitude that is eminent throughout the whole story whenever the Castle or an official is mentioned, the attitude that was so cruelly manifested by the villagers’ reactions when Amalia turned down Sortini’s offer, indicates an undeniable supremacy the Castle holds in the minds of everyone in the village.
However, upon further contemplation of the subtext, the supposed power that the Castle possesses becomes doubtful. Does the Castle truly have power over the villagers, or is it just a figment created in their minds? Power can sometimes be a confusing concept. The traditional meaning of power is having the ability or official capacity to exercise control or authority. To explain power further and relate it to K., the Castle and the village, more elaborate definitions of power might be more applicable. One approach to understand power is to describe it as domination, where the person or the group with power can force another person or group to do something which otherwise they wouldn’t do. In this case, the gain of the person or group with the power is the loss of the other person or group. In another view, power can be defined as empowerment, or the capacity to act. This basically means empowerment of others. In this view, the emphasis is primarily on power to, whereas in the first view (power as domination) the emphasis is on power over. The two views are not necessarily mutually exclusive (Haugaard, 2010).
There are several pieces of evidence and suggestions indicating that the so called authority and power of the Castle do in fact only exist in the villagers’ minds and are not actually put into action or exercised by the Castle or its officials. For starters, there are no instances in the book that resemble either of the two definitions of power mentioned above. The Castle neither dominates, nor does it empower the village and its people. In fact, “the particular configuration of the Castle depends entirely on individuals, and it varies and displays internal contradictions according to villagers’ perceptions and actions” (Smetana, 1991). This is shown in the very early pages of the book, when K. arrives to the village and the Landlord allows him to spend the night without asking any questions, whereas Schwarzer demands a permit on behalf of the Castle. Also, it is shown when the mayor treats K. very graciously and discusses his right to receive courteous treatment, but the teacher is abusive and obnoxious, Barnabas and his family are friendly, but K. is thrown out from Lasemann’s house (Smetana, 1991). These contradictions among the village people all support the notion that power of the Castle lies merely in their interpretations and imaginations.
There are other specifics throughout the book that also indicate that the Castle doesn’t essentially exercise any kind of power, at least not in the ways the villagers claim. The mere fact that K. spent days in the village without having the proper documents or permits to justify his staying is proof enough. At his arrival he is told to acquire an official permit, indicating that there will be consequences for not doing so. Yet, not a single objection or opposition came from the Castle or the officials for his being there. Furthermore, Amalia’s refusal of Sortini’s letter and all its vulgarity is further proof of the lack of exercised power of the Castle and its officials. Amalia and her family only faced hostility and rejection from the villagers, while no kind of reprimand was discussed by the Castle or Sortini.
Haugaard, M. (2010). Democracy, political power, and authority. Social Research, 77(4), 1049-1074,1466. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.aus.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/858876369?accountid=16946
Smetana, R. (1991). The peasantry and the castle: Kafka’s social psychology. Twentieth century literature, 37(1), 54-58. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.aus.edu/stable/441904?seq=1