K. of Kafka's The Castle is a man on the move, says Waggish, and this is true. The land surveyor is, above all, a man unsure of his employment, his position – he is a person displaced as he wanders among a community to which he does not belong. What does he want? Security? But he has abandoned the country of his birth and has even forgotten this abandonment; once, he says, he was married, he had children, but now? He is the man who has forgotten everything except his position: land-surveyor and the rights which would accrue to him as a holder of such a position. If he was indeed married, he has become one of Kafka's bachelors, an eternal Junggeselle, a 'young-fellow' who has not found his station.
But he moves, he is restless, and he is, in this sense, very different from Joseph K. of The Trial, who was the man who felt sure of his good position as a high-ranking bank official and does not know until too late he has already been thrown out of the world. Rewriting The Castle as a stage play, Max Brod will present K. as a man in search of a loving family; yet there is in K. such a power of contestation that he would reject this security as soon as he found it. Over and again he throws away whatever advantage he gains for himself. The housekeeper’s promise, the benevolence of the mayor, the offer of a job: he is suspicious of all good fortune; nothing satisfies him.
If K. chooses the impossible, it is because he was excluded from everything possible as the result of an initial decision. If he cannot make his way in the world, or employ, as he would like, the normal means of life in society, it is because he has been banished from the world, from his world, condemned to the absence of world, doomed to exile in which there is no real dwelling place.
The choice and the decision had been made for K. before he crossed the wooden bridge through which he gained entrance to the village. Who decided? Fate? is that the word? But The Castle is not a tragedy; it is not fate that will break the tragic hero or heroine against the ultimate limit. Nor is it heroic death that would confront its readers with the magnificent fragility of the human being.
K. is not the magnificent tragic hero. He is febrile, restless, he seeks, but nothing satisfies him. Would the novel have ended with him finding acceptance as a member of the village? Walser comments, 'the novel does not in fact "develop" at all. it simply shows us the unfolding of a relationship whose pattern is implicit right from the first page'. Then integration into the village community was impossible from the start. Would K., then, have defied the village, leaving it behind (at one point, he suggests to Frieda they should elope together)? Even this is impossible. K., who says, early in the novel, 'I want always to be free', is never free of his desire to receive recognition from the castle authorities. 'I want no grace and favours from the castle but my rights' he says, a little further into the book. What does he want? In one sense, K. emobides a new modernity: he confronts the castle, as Boa remarks, 'as an equal and critical partner'; he is, after all, the landsurveyor, whose business it is to 'measure and redefine prevailing relationships'. Unless K's remark is disingenuous and this self-assertive man has duped himself. The drama of the novel - the collision between K., who wants to know he has a place in the village, and the implacable authorities would then be determined: it can only be a matter of frustration, of the alternation between moments of grace and moments of setback. Absurdity: nothing is possible; there can be no progress, no resolution, The Castle might run on forever.
Still, it would seem K. may well have been meant to die. This, indeed, is what Brod remembers Kafka had intended for his hero. To die? I prefer the idea that Kafka could never reach death, that, like the weariness from which he suffered at the moment the secrets of the castle were about to be vouchsafed to him, he would likewise miss his appointment with death. And so he would live on in a phantom version of Kafka's novel: a book with an infinite number of pages; a book which, somewhere, Kafka is still writing.