The Castle (German: Das Schloss, later also Das Schloß) is a novel by Franz Kafka. In it a protagonist, known only as K., struggles to gain access to the mysterious authorities of a castle who govern the village for unknown reasons. Kafka died before finishing the work, but suggested it would end with K. dying in the village; the castle notifying him on his death bed that his “legal claim to live in the village was not valid, yet, taking certain auxiliary circumstances into account, he was permitted to live and work there”. Dark and at times surreal, The Castle is often understood to be about alienation, bureaucracy, the seemingly endless frustrations of man’s attempts to stand against the system, and the futile and hopeless pursuit of an unobtainable goal.
The obvious thread throughout The Castle is bureaucracy. The extreme degree is nearly comical and the village residents’ justifications of it are amazing. Hence it is no surprise that many feel that the work is a direct result of the political situation of the era in which it was written, which was shot through with anti-Semitism, remnants of the Habsburg bureaucracy, etc.
But even in these analyses, the veiled references to more sensitive issues are pointed out. For instance, the treatment of the Barnabas family, with their requirement to first prove guilt before they could request a pardon from it and the way their fellow villagers desert them have been pointed out as a direct reference to the anti-Semitic climate at the time.
In a review of the novel found in The Guardian, William Burrows disputes the claim that The Castle deals with bureaucracy, claiming that this view trivialises Kafka’s literary and artistic vision, while being “reductive”. He claims, on the other hand, that the book is about solitude, pain, and the desire for companionship.