Franz Kafka was creating his works from 1911 to 1924. This period was the disturbing beginning of the twentieth century. The feeling of tragedy and instability in the world sounded in every novel and short story. It is not a coincidence that everyone’s attention turned to Kafka only in 1940s, when the world was embraced by the flames of a new war. It was the time when totalitarianism has swept Europe, and people have felt strongly their vulnerability and the fragility of their own existence. The society was no longer perceived as common. Consequently, a man no longer saw it as support and protection since they felt the threat posed by it. The faith in God and mind was lost. The world began to seem absurd.
First of all, it should be noted that Franz Kafka is a very extraordinary writer. Perhaps, he can be considered as the weirdest of those who worked in the twentieth century. He is one of the writers, whose works are quite difficult to understand and uncover. Primarily, this is due to the fact that his lifetime and posthumous fate in no way made his work inferior. Someone sees him as a Jewish preacher, and someone considers Kafka as a prophet of existentialist; someone sees him as an avant-garde writer, while others see him as a conservative one. Someone is looking for the key to his mysteries in psychoanalysis. The real Kafka is always seemed to slip out of the boundaries of a clear attitude. According to W.G. Sebald, “the smooth surface of Kafka’s work has remained an enigma in spite of what his interpreters have managed to dredge from its depths. It has preserved its integrity against the advance of criticism” (22).
Later years of the artist occurred in the period of the expressionist art. Neil H. Donahue states that “Kafka plays a special role in the development of narrative technique in Expressionism, evident in the way he intensifies the ambiguity of the parabolic-allegorical forms of narration, widely used by Expressionists” (81). As expressionists, Kafka in his work destroys traditional presentations of art and structure. However, his work cannot be attributed to a particular literary direction. In fact, he faces the literature of the absurd. Kafka’s style does not absolutely coincide with the expressionistic one as his statement is alienated and ascetic, and it is present illogicality, which the author uses as a stylistic means to embellish his works. “His parables, stories, and novels seem to epitomize the problems of modern life. With the stark clarity of a nightmare, he depicted the horror and uncertainty of human existence” (Glossary: German Expressionism, n.p.). The plot of the novel The Castle is a good example of surrealist literature. Its pattern is extremely simple and, at the same time, is extremely difficult due to its parabolic and symbolic ambiguity. The novel is based on the surrealism, which makes one tremble, not understand, and, at the same time, continue reading. Surrealism is one of the brightest and ambiguous trends in literature and art in general.
Franz Kafka can be considered as a writer of alienation. The feature, which was characteristic of the literature of the twentieth century, is fully manifested in the works of the brilliant writer. Alienation and loneliness became a philosophy of the author’s life.
The Castle is the last and unfinished novel by Franz Kafka. It was published posthumously. The novel, like any real work, is unique. Its idea cannot be reduced to a single thought. A dystopia, the display of the totalitarian society, the conflict between the state and the individual can be seen in The Castle. However, except such global issues, Kafka speaks about his personal problem. Apparently, this problem of the person does not fit the world of people around him. Thus, he feels like a stranger in this world.
The scene of action cannot fit specific geographical realities as it absorbs the whole world, namely the castle is a type of heavenly world and the village is the earth. Throughout the novel, different characters emphasize that there is no big difference between the village and castle.
In The Castle, Kafka depicts a system or structure, which has all the hallmarks of a totalitarian society, namely isolation, strict oligarchy, bureaucratic formalism, rigid control, surveillance and denunciations, intolerance, and hostility to anything that comes from the outside. Here, as in many other works, Kafka does not indicate a place or time of action that creates versatility. With this approach, any particular historical period and local or national traditions cannot be blamed for what is happening.
A huge bureaucratic machine of The Castle works round the clock. At first glance, it seems that this work makes sense and provides a procedure; however, the farther surveyor K. feels lonesome in the castle world so that the more clearly the absurdity of local laws and regulations emerges. The only thing that works correctly is control. Thus, it is a terrible motionless world, which is like a quagmire. For residents of the village, this system is accurate and faultless.
Frequently, Kafka writes about society and man in opposition to each other. In the novel The Castle, the sense of respect, admiration and envy to officials is accompanied by pity and, sometimes, even ironic feeling. In fact, this is the main absurdity that was disclosed by Kafka. People suffer in such a system, which they build up themselves. Few of the inhabitants of the village inspire respect or sympathy. The owners of the castle treat them badly, but, in fact, the villagers consider themselves worthy of such treatment. Complaining about the hard life and dreams of a better one, the villagers still perceive their lives as normal. Totalitarian regime is based on such self-abasement. In such society, a person feels like they and administrative staff is a single organism. According to Stephen D. Dowden, “the consensus that K.’s duel with the castle was the revolt of a rebel against an oppressive counterworld gradually faced in favor of a psychologized version” (36).
The motive of alienation is one of the dominant motives in the novel. Born in a family of a merchant and being under the rule of his father, Franz Kafka did not dare to devote himself to literary work. He was forced to end the Faculty of Law and work as a clerk in an insurance agency. He was an artist and an outcast in his own family. Kafka felt constant sense of being different as well as constant environmental resistance. In his life, Kafka was the same stranger as surveyor K. in the village. Initially, The Castle was written in the first person. It is not by accident that protagonist is designated by initial K. The castle does not like strangers. According to Peter Goldman, “in The Castle, K. becomes seriously and deeply involved with the lives of the people in the village. The Castle puts the question of meaning within a social context, where it rightfully belongs” (n.p.).
The house of Barnabas is the only place, where K. is welcomed, which is owing to the fact that they fell into the renegades too. Nevertheless, people are drawn to K. since he is chosen by Frida; Olga is not indifferent to him; Barnabas is sincerely trying to help him; Brunswick’s wife wonders about the surveyor, and little Hans says that he wants to become like him. It is interesting that in this case, Hans, like all residents of the village, is looking at K. from top to bottom, as a senior on the junior. The boy, unlike the others, considers the humiliating situation of the surveyor as a temporary position and is sure that K. will surpass everyone in the future. It seems that everyone in the village feels this superiority of the stranger, the superiority of a free man. Therefore, they make an effort to humiliate him.
During long years of working in the insurance company Kafka was oppressed by the way of life that he had to live. He even had thoughts of suicide. Only after learning that he was terminally ill, the writer found the strength to rebel against his father, go to Berlin, and start a new life. Thus, Kafka made his choice and realized the need to create himself. In the same way, the surveyor K. makes the choice based not on abstract rules but on the situation. In the novel The Castle, it is not difficult to see the ideas of existentialism, which is a philosophy of social responsibility. People are free because no religion and no general secular morality specify what to do. Blind obedience to norms leads to absurdity. Attention to the fate, search for meaning, a sense of anxiety, despair and abandonment, disunity and lack of understanding, and the deadlock, in which one individuality restricts the freedom of the other are existentialism questions, which are raised in literary works of the early twentieth century.
From the details of the human’s reality, the writer created a completely surreal world. The basic concept of surrealism is the combination of dreams and reality. The main category of surreal aesthetics is the so-called automatic writing, i.e. creativity without mind control, relying only on the subconscious impulses. William Burrows states that
the atmosphere and mood of the novel are what carry it - but they are hard to describe. This is what Kafka does: he destabilizes us by writing about the familiar, the banality of daily existence, but disguising it so it appears to us a strange dream or fairytale (n.p.).
In the works of Kafka, in dreamlike nature is often noticed incoherence, duplicity, vagueness, mystery, symbolism. In The Castle, dreams and reality are intertwined. There are snowy desert region, a mysterious unattainable castle, strange people, labyrinths of office corridors, crumbling mountains of papers, among others.
However, this world is made up of ordinary things. The features of real people can be recognized in the characters. Everything happens in a simple life setting since the style is clear and detailed. Mystery coexists with reality. Moreover, the identity of the protagonist remains unclear until the end. In the novel, he falls asleep, wakes up, and always spends the night in a new place. It is rarely possible to sleep for him that underlines the impression of daydreams. Fatemeh Azizmohammadi emphasizes that “The Castle is an allegory for Kafka’s nightmare of the unconscious world. K, the protagonist of the novel, finds himself in a vicious circle. He starts his journey into the dark jungle of the Unconscious” (2243).
The situation around the surveyor is constantly changing. It depends not only on current events but also on the point of view of other characters. The hostess of the inn Frida, Olga, and Pepi have own understanding of things. Sometimes, the surveyor is simply confused. Fabulous transformations occur with his assistants. The echo of officials’ negotiations in the handset and their voices in the hotel corridor are transformed into children’s shouts and singing. It turns out that there is no abstract reality, probably could not be. The Castle is a novel of feeling. Events are presented either in the perception of the main character or the retelling of other characters. One vision is superimposed on the other, which creates a sense of versatility and variability. Reality is reflected in the magnifying mirror of The Castle and divided into several small reflections in representations of its characters.
Abnormal circumstances caught heroes of Kafka in the most unexpected moment and the most inconvenient place and time, forcing them to feel fear and to tremble. The absurd hero lives in a world of absurd, trying to get out in the world of human beings. The idea of a constant balancing between natural and unusual, individual and the universe, tragic and mundane, and the absurd and logic, defining its sound and meaning, is the leitmotif of the novel. Throughout the book The Castle, grotesque incompatibility of human and transcendent, divine immensity, alienation, indescribable illogicality, reluctance to express oneself, cruelty, and immorality of the higher power is amplified by all means and all colors. The peculiarity of author’s style is that he embodied blatant irrationality, incoherence, and the absurdity of the content, retaining the traditional structure of the linguistic message, grammar, syntactic coherence and consistency.
Kafka does not mitigate reality. On the contrary, he sharpens its negative sides. The novel The Castle, like all Kafka’s works, is pessimistic. The writer even sneers about the darkest aspects of life. He takes human imperfection for granted. Kafka has created a surreal fantasy world, where monotonous absurdity and gray life are particularly evident. From all the above-mentioned, it can be concluded that the art world of Franz Kafka is very unusual since there are a lot of fantastic and fabulous, coupled with a terrible and horrific, brutal and absurd real world. Franz Kafka emphasizes in the novel that “illusions are more common than changes in fortune” (203).
The Castle is one of the most important and mysterious philosophical novels of the 20th century. It raises an important theological problem of man’s way to God. The novel combines the features of literature of expressionism, modernism and existentialism, but surrealism is mostly presented in this work. The Castle is a largely metaphorical and even fantastic work.