The Castle (German: Das Schloss German pronun­cia­tion: Das Schloß is a 1926 novel by Franz Kafka. In it a protagonist known only as K. arrives in a village and struggles to gain access to the mysterious authorities who govern it from a castle. 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, unresponsive bureaucracy, the frustration of trying to conduct business with non-transparent, seemingly arbitrary controlling systems, and the futile pursuit of an unobtainable goal.

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The Castle

Franz Kafka

Re-Image Publishing

Table of Contents
I. Arrival
II. Barnabas
III. Frieda
IV. First Conversation with the Landlady
V. The Village Mayor
VI. Second Conversation with the Landlady
VII. The Teacher
VIII. Waiting for Klamm
IX. Opposition to Questioning
X. On the Road
XI. At the School
XII. The Assistants
XIII. Hans
XIV. Frieda’s Grievance
XV. At Amalia’s House
XVII. Amalia’s Secret
XVIII. Amalia’s Punishment
XIX. Petitioning
XX. Olga’s Plans

I. Arrival


It was late evening when K. arrived. The village lay deep in snow. There was nothing to be seen of Castle Mount, for mist and darkness surrounded it, and not the faintest glimmer of light showed where the great castle lay. K. stood on the wooden bridge leading from the road to the village for a long time, looking up at what seemed to be a void.
Then he went in search of somewhere to stay the night. People were still awake at the inn. The landlord had no room available, but although greatly surprised and confused by the arrival of a guest so late at night, he was willing to let K. sleep on a straw mattress in the saloon bar. K. agreed to that. Several of the local rustics were still sitting over their beer, but he didn’t feel like talking to anyone. He fetched the straw mattress down from the attic himself, and lay down near the stove. It was warm, the locals were silent, his weary eyes gave them a cursory inspection, and then he fell asleep.
But soon afterwards he was woken again. A young man in town clothes, with a face like an actor’s—narrowed eyes, strongly marked eyebrows—was standing beside him with the landlord. The rustics were still there too, and some of them had turned their chairs round so that they could see and hear better. The young man apologized very civilly for having woken K., introduced himself as the son of the castle warden, and added: ‘This village belongs to the castle, so anyone who stays or spends the night here is, so to speak, staying or spending the night at the castle. And no one’s allowed to do that without a permit from the count. However, you don’t have any such permit, or at least you haven’t shown one.’
K. had half sat up, had smoothed down his hair, and was now looking up at the two men. ‘What village have I come to, then?’ he asked. ‘Is there a castle in these parts?’
‘There most certainly is,’ said the young man slowly, as some of those present shook their heads at K.’s ignorance. ‘Count Westwest’s[1] castle.’
‘And I need this permit to spend the night here?’ asked K., as if to convince himself that he had not, by any chance, dreamed the earlier information.
‘Yes, you need a permit,’ was the reply, and there was downright derision at K.’s expense in the young man’s voice as, with arm outstretched, he asked the landlord and the guests: ‘Or am I wrong? Doesn’t he need a permit?’
‘Well, I’ll have to go and get a permit, then,’ said K., yawning, and throwing off his blanket as if to rise to his feet.
‘Oh yes? Who from?’ asked the young man. ‘Why, from the count,’ said K. ‘I suppose there’s nothing else for it.’ ‘What, go and get a permit from the count himself at midnight?’ cried the young man, retreating a step.
‘Is that impossible?’ asked K., unruffled. ‘If so, why did you wake me up?’
At this the young man was positively beside himself. ‘The manners of a vagrant!’ he cried. ‘I demand respect for the count’s authority! I woke you up to tell you that you must leave the count’s land immediately.’
‘That’s enough of this farce,’ said K. in a noticeably quiet voice. He lay down and pulled the blanket over him. ‘Young man, you’re going rather too far, and I’ll have something to say about your conduct tomorrow. The landlord and these gentlemen are my witnesses, if I need any. As for the rest of it, let me tell you that I’m the land surveyor,[2] and the count sent for me. My assistants will be coming tomorrow by carriage with our surveying instruments. I didn’t want to deprive myself of a good walk here through the snow, but unfortunately I did lose my way several times, and that’s why I arrived so late. I myself was well aware, even before you delivered your lecture, that it was too late to present myself at the castle. That’s why I contented myself with sleeping the night here, and you have been—to put it mildly—uncivil enough to disturb my slumbers. And that’s all the explanation I’m making. Goodnight, gentlemen.’ And K. turned to the stove.
‘Land surveyor?’ he heard someone ask hesitantly behind his back, and then everyone fell silent. But the young man soon pulled himself together and told the landlord, in a tone just muted enough to sound as if he were showing consideration for the sleeping K., but loud enough for him to hear what was said: ‘I’ll telephone and ask.’ Oh, so there was a telephone in this village inn, was there? They were very well equipped here. As a detail that surprised K., but on the whole he had expected this. It turned out that the telephone was installed almost right above his head, but drowsy as he was, he had failed to notice it. If the young man really had to make a telephone call, then with the best will in the world he could not fail to disturb K.’s sleep. The only point at issue was whether K. would let him use the telephone, and he decided that he would. In which case, however, there was no point in making out that he was asleep, so he turned over on his back again. He saw the locals clustering nervously together and conferring; well, the arrival of a land surveyor was no small matter. The kitchen door had opened and there, filling the whole doorway, stood the monumental figure of the landlady. The landlord approached on tiptoe to let her know what was going on. And now the telephone conversation began. The warden was asleep, but a deputy warden, or one of several such deputies, a certain Mr Fritz, was on the line. The young man, who identified himself as Schwarzer, told Mr Fritz how he had found K., a man of very ragged appearance in his thirties, sleeping peacefully on a straw mattress, with a tiny rucksack as a pillow and a gnarled walkingstick within reach. He had naturally felt suspicious, said the young man, and as the landlord had clearly neglected to do his duty it had been up to him to investigate the matter. K., he added, had acted very churlishly on being woken, questioned, and threatened in due form with expulsion from the county, although, as it finally turned out, perhaps with some reason, for he claimed to be a land surveyor and said his lordship the count had sent for him. Of course it was at least their formal duty to check this claim, so he, Schwarzer, would like Fritz to enquire in Central Office, find out whether any such surveyor was really expected, and telephone back with the answer at once.
Then all was quiet. Fritz went to make his enquiries, and here at the inn they waited for the answer, K. staying where he was, not even turning round, not appearing at all curious, but looking straight ahead of him. The way Schwarzer told his tale, with a mingling of malice and caution, gave him an idea of what might be called the diplomatic training of which even such insignificant figures in the castle as Schwarzer had a command. There was no lack of industry there either; Central Office was working even at night, and clearly it answered questions quickly, for Fritz soon rang back. His report, however, seemed to be a very short one, for Schwarzer immediately slammed the receiver down in anger. ‘I said as much!’ he cried. ‘There’s no record of any land surveyor; this is a common, lying vagabond and probably worse.’ For a moment K. thought all of them—Schwarzer, the local rustics, the landlord and landlady—were going to fall on him, and to avoid at least the first onslaught he crawled under the blanket entirely. Then—he slowly put his head out—the telephone rang again and, so it seemed to K., with particular force. Although it was unlikely that this call too could be about K., they all stopped short, and Schwarzer went back to the phone. He listened to an explanation of some length, and then said quietly, ‘A mistake, then? This is very awkward for me. You say the Office manager himself telephoned? Strange, strange. But how am I to explain it to the land surveyor now?’ [3]
K. pricked up his ears. So the castle had described him as ‘the land surveyor’. In one way this was unfortunate, since it showed that they knew all they needed to know about him at the castle, they had weighed up the balance of power, and were cheerfully accepting his challenge. In another way, however, it was fortunate, for it con firmed his opinion that he was being underestimated, and would have more freedom than he had dared to hope from the outset. And if they thought they could keep him in a constant state of terror by recognizing his qualifications as a land surveyor in this intellectually supercilious way, as it certainly was, then they were wrong. He felt a slight frisson, yes, but that was all.
K. waved away Schwarzer, who was timidly approaching; he declined to move into the landlord’s room, as he was now urged to do, merely accepting a nightcap from the landlord and the use of a washbasin, with soap and a towel, from the landlady, and he didn’t even have to ask for the saloon to be cleared, since all present were hurrying out with their faces averted, perhaps to keep him from identifying them in the morning. The light was put out, and he was left alone at last. He slept soundly through until morning, scarcely disturbed once or twice by rats scurrying past.
After breakfast, which like K.’s entire board and lodging, so the landlord told him, was to be paid for by the castle, he thought he would go straight into the village. But when the landlord, to whom, remembering his behaviour yesterday, he had said only the bare minimum, kept hovering around him with a silent plea in his eyes, he took pity on the man and asked him to sit down and keep him company for a while.
‘I haven’t met the count yet,’ said K., ‘but they say he pays well for good work. Is that so? If you’re travelling as far from your wife and child[4] as I am, you want to bring something worthwhile home.’
‘No need to worry about that, sir. There’ve never been any complaints of poor pay.’
‘Well,’ said K., ‘I’m not the timid sort myself, and I can speak my mind even to a count, but of course it’s far better to be on friendly terms with such gentlemen.’
The landlord was perched opposite K. on the edge of the windowsill, not daring to sit anywhere more comfortable, and he kept looking at K. with his large, brown, anxious eyes. To begin with he had moved close to his guest, but now he seemed to want to run away. Was he afraid of being interrogated about the count? Did he fear that, although he was now calling his guest ‘sir’, K. was not to be relied on? K. thought he had better distract the man’s mind. Looking at his watch, he said: ‘Well, my assistants will soon be arriving. Will you be able to accommodate them here?’
‘Of course, sir,’ said the landlord. ‘But won’t they be staying with you up at the castle?’
Was he so easily and cheerfully giving up the prospect of guests, and in particular the custom of K., whom he seemed anxious to send off to the castle?
‘That’s not decided yet,’ said K. ‘First I must find out what kind of work they want me to do. For instance, if I’m to work down here, then it would be more sensible for me to stay down here too. And in addition, I’m afraid that living up in the castle wouldn’t agree with me. I always prefer to be a free agent.’
‘You don’t know what the castle is like,’ said the landlord quietly. ‘True,’ said K. ‘One ought not to judge too early. At the moment all I know about the castle is that up there they know how to pick a good land surveyor. And perhaps there are other advantages there as well.’ And he rose to his feet, to allow the landlord, who was uneasily biting his lip, a chance to be rid of his company. It wasn’t easy to win this man’s trust.
As K. was walking away, he noticed a dark portrait in a dark frame on the wall. He had seen it even from where he lay last night, but at that distance he hadn’t been able to make out the details, and had thought that the real picture had been removed from the frame, leaving only a dark backing. But there was indeed a picture, as he now saw, the head and shoulders of a man of about fifty. The sitter’s head was bent so low on his chest that you could hardly see his eyes, and the reason why he held it like that seemed to be the weight of his high, heavy forehead and large hooked nose. The man’s beard, which was squashed in at his throat by the angle of his head, stood out below his chin. His left hand was spread and he was running it through his thick hair, but he could raise his head no higher. ‘Who’s that?’ asked K. ‘The count?’ He was standing in front of the portrait, and did not even look at the landlord. ‘Oh no,’ said the landlord, ‘that’s the castle warden.’ ‘Well, they have a fine warden at the castle, to be sure,’ said K. ‘A pity his son has turned out so badly.’ ‘No, no,’ said the landlord, drawing K. slightly down to him and whispering in his ear. ‘Schwarzer was putting on airs yesterday; his father is only a deputy warden, and one of the most junior of them.’ At this moment the landlord seemed like a child to K. ‘What a rascal!’ he said, laughing. However, the landlord did not join in his laughter, but said, ‘ His father is powerful too.’ ‘Oh, come along!’ said K. ‘You think everyone is powerful. Including me, I wonder?’ ‘No,’ said the man, diffidently but gravely, ‘I don’t think you are powerful.’ ‘You’re a very good observer, then,’ said K. ‘The fact is, and just between you and me, I really am not powerful. As a result I probably feel no less respect for the powerful than you do, but I am not as honest as you and won’t always admit it.’ And to cheer the landlord and show his own goodwill, he tapped him lightly on the cheek. At this the man did smile a little. He was only a boy really, with a soft and almost beardless face. How had he come to marry his stout, elderly wife, who could be seen through a hatch bustling about the kitchen next door, hands on her hips, elbows jutting? But K. did not want to probe the man any further now, or wipe the smile he had finally won from him off his face; he just signed to him to open the door and stepped out into the fine winter morning.
Now he could see the castle above, distinctly outlined in the clear air, and standing out even more distinctly because of the thin covering of snow lying everywhere and changing the shape of everything. In fact, much less snow seemed to have fallen up on Castle Mount than here in the village, where K. found it as difficult to make his way along the road as it had been yesterday. Here the snow came up to the cottage windows and weighed down on the low rooftops, while on the mountain everything rose into the air, free and light, or at least that was how it looked from here.
Altogether the castle, as seen in the distance, lived up to K.’s expectations. It was neither an old knightly castle from the days of chivalry, nor a showy new structure, but an extensive complex of buildings, a few of them with two storeys, but many of them lower and crowded close together. If you hadn’t known it was a castle you might have taken it for a small town. K. saw only a single tower, and could not make out whether it was a dwelling or belonged to a church. Flocks of crows were circling around it. His eyes fixed on the castle, K. went on, paying no attention to anything else. But as he came closer he thought the castle disappointing; after all, it was only a poor kind of collection of cottages assembled into a little town, and distinguished only by the fact that, while it might all be built of stone, the paint had flaked off long ago, and the stone itself seemed to be crumbling away. K. thought fleetingly of his own home town, which was hardly inferior to this castle. If he had come here only to see the place, he would have made a long journey for nothing much, and he would have done better to revisit the old home that he hadn’t seen for so long. In his mind, he compared the church tower of his childhood home with the tower up above. The former, tapering into a spire and coming down to a broad, redtiled roof, was certainly an earthly building—what else can we build?—but it had been erected for a higher purpose than these huddled, lowbuilt houses and made a clearer statement than the dull, workaday world of this place did. The tower up here—the only visible one—now turned out to belong to a dwelling, perhaps the main part of the castle. It was a simple, round building, partly covered with ivy, and it had small windows, now shining in the sun—there was something crazed about the sight—and was built into the shape of a balcony at the top, with insecure, irregular battlements, crumbling as if drawn by an anxious or careless child as they stood out, zigzag fashion, against the blue sky. It was as if some melancholy inhabitant of the place, who should really have stayed locked up in the most remote room in the house, had broken through the roof and was standing erect to show himself to the world.
Once again K. stopped, as if standing still improved his powers of judgement. But his attention was distracted. Beyond the village church where he now was—in fact it was only a chapel, extended like a barn so that it could hold the whole congregation—lay the school. It was a long, low building, curiously combining the character of something temporary and something very old, and it stood in a fenced garden that was now covered with snow. The children were just coming out, with their teacher. They crowded around him, all eyes were fixed on him, and they were talking away the whole time, so fast that K. couldn’t make out what they were saying. The teacher, a small, narrow-shouldered young man who held himself very upright, but without appearing ridiculous, had already seen K. from a distance—after all, apart from his own little flock K. was the only living soul to be seen far and wide. K., as the stranger here, greeted him first, noticing that despite his small stature he was used to being in command. ‘Good morning, sir,’ he said. All at once the children fell silent, and the teacher probably appreciated this sudden silence in anticipation of his remarks. ‘Looking at the castle, are you?’ he asked, more gently than K. had expected, but in a tone suggesting that he didn’t like what K. was doing. ‘Yes,’ said K. ‘I’m a stranger here; I arrived in the village only yesterday evening.’ ‘Don’t you like the castle?’ the teacher was quick to ask. ‘What?’ K. asked in return, slightly surprised. He repeated the question in a milder tone. ‘Do I like the castle? What makes you think that I don’t?’ ‘Strangers never do,’ said the teacher. Here K. changed the subject, to avoid saying anything the teacher didn’t like, and asked, ‘I expect you know the count?’ ‘No,’ said the teacher, and he was about to turn away, but K. wasn’t giving up, and asked again: ‘What? You don’t know the count?’ ‘What makes you think I would?’ asked the teacher very quietly, and he added in a louder voice, speaking French: ‘Kindly recollect that we’re in the company of innocent children.’ This made K. think he might properly ask: ‘Could I visit you one day, sir? I shall be here for some time, and feel rather isolated; I don’t fit in with the local rustics here, and I don’t suppose I shall fit in at the castle either.’ ‘There’s no distinction between the local people and the castle,’ said the teacher. ‘Maybe not,’ said K., ‘but that makes no difference to my situation. May I visit you some time?’ ‘I lodge in Swan Alley, at the butcher’s house.’ This was more of a statement than an invitation, but all the same K. said: ‘Good, then I’ll come.’ The teacher nodded, and went on with the crowd of children, who all started shouting again. They soon disappeared along a street that ran steeply downhill.
But K. was distracted, fretting at this conversation. For the first time since his arrival he felt real weariness. At first the long journey here had not seemed to affect him at all—and he had walked for days, step after step, on and on!—but now all that physical strain was claiming its due, and at just the wrong time. He was irresistibly drawn to seek new acquaintances, but every new acquaintance left him wearier than ever. If he forced himself to walk at least as far as the entrance to the castle, that was more than enough in his present state.
So he walked on, but it was a long way. For he was in the main street of the village, and it did not lead to Castle Mount but merely passed close to it before turning aside, as if on purpose, and although it moved no further away from the castle, it came no closer either. K. kept thinking that the road must finally bring him to the castle, and, if only because of that expectation, he went on. Because of his weariness he naturally shrank from leaving the road, and he was surprised by the extent of the village, which seemed as if it would never end, with more and more little houses, their window-panes covered by frost- flowers, and with the snow and the absence of any human beings—so at last he tore himself away from the road on which he had persisted and struck out down a narrow alley where the snow lay even deeper. Pulling his feet out of it as they kept sinking in again was hard work. He broke out in a sweat, and suddenly he stopped and could go no further.
But he wasn’t entirely alone after all, there were cottages to his right and his left. He made a snowball and threw it at a window. The front door opened at once—the first door he had seen opening on his entire walk all the way through the village—and he saw an old man in a brown fur jacket, his head on one side, looking both frail and friendly. ‘May I come into your house for a little while?’ asked K. ‘I’m very tired.’ He did not hear what the old man was saying, but gratefully he realized that a plank was being pushed his way. This got him clear of the snow straight away, and a few more paces took him into the parlour of the cottage.
It was a large, dimly lit room. Coming in from outside, he could see nothing at first. K. staggered and nearly fell over a washing-trough; a woman’s hand caught him. He heard a number of children shouting in one corner. Steam billowed out of another, turning the twilight into darkness. K. might have been surrounded by clouds. ‘He’s drunk,’ someone said. ‘Who are you?’ cried a peremptory voice, and added, probably turning to the old man: ‘Why did you let him in? Are we to let in everyone who goes slinking around the streets?’ ‘I’m the count’s land surveyor,’ said K., by way of justifying himself to the still invisible speaker. ‘Oh, it’s the land surveyor,’ said a woman’s voice, and then there was total silence. ‘You know me?’ asked K. ‘Yes, indeed,’ was all the first voice said again, briefly. Knowing who K. was didn’t seem to recommend him to these people. At last some of the steam drifted away, and gradually K. was able to get his bearings. This seemed to be washday foreveryone. Clothes were being washed near the door. But the vapour came from the left-hand corner, where two men were having a bath in steaming water in a wooden tub larger than any K. had ever seen before; it was about the size of two beds. But even more surprising, although it was hard to say just why, was the right-hand corner of the room. Through a large hatch, the only opening in the back wall of the parlour, pale snowy light came in, no doubt from the yard, and cast a sheen like silk [5] on the dress of a woman almost lying, for she looked so tired, in a tall armchair far back in that corner. She had a baby at her breast. A few children were playing around her, obviously village children, although she did not look like a villager herself, but sickness and weariness will make even rustics appear re fined. ‘Sit down,’ said one of the men, a bearded, moustached fellow who kept his mouth open all the time under his moustache, breathing noisily. Raising his hand above the side of the tub, a comical sight, he pointed to a chest, and in doing so splashed hot water all over K.’s face. The old man who had let K. in was sitting on the chest too, lost in thought. K. was glad of the chance to sit down at last. No one bothered about him any more. The woman at the washing-trough, who was blonde, young, and buxom, was singing softly at her work, the men in the tub were stamping their feet and turning this way and that, the children were trying to get closer to them, but were always chased away by great jets of water which did not spare K. either, the woman in the armchair lay as if lifeless, not even looking down at the child at her breast, but gazing vaguely upwards.
K. had probably been watching this unchanging, sad, and beautiful scene for some time, but then he must have fallen asleep, for when a loud voice hailed him he woke with a start and found that his head was resting on the shoulder of the old man beside him. The men had finished bathing in the tub—the children were now splashing about in it, with the blonde woman watching over them—and were standing fully clothed in front of K. The bearded man with the loud voice turned out to be the less important of the two. The other man, no taller than his friend and with a much sparser beard, was a quiet, slow-thinking fellow, sturdy of stature and broad of face, and held his head bent. ‘Mr Land Surveyor, sir,’ he said, ‘forgive the incivility, but you can’t stay here.’ ‘I didn’t want to stay,’ said K., ‘only to rest for a little while. I feel rested now, and I’ll be on my way.’ ‘You’re probably surprised to find us so inhospitable,’ said the man, ‘but hospitality isn’t a custom here, and we don’t need any visitors.’ Slightly refreshed by sleep, and listening a little more attentively than before, K. was glad to hear him speak so frankly. He was moving more easily by this time and, placing his walking-stick now here, now there, he approached the woman in the armchair. He himself was physically the largest person in the room.
‘To be sure,’ said K. ‘Why would you need visitors? But a visitor or so is needed now and then, for instance me, as a land surveyor.’ ‘I don’t know about that,’ said the man slowly. ‘If they sent for you, then they probably do need you, but that’s an exception. As for us ordinary folk, we stick to the rules, and you can’t hold that against us.’ ‘No, no,’ said K. ‘I owe you thanks, you and everyone here.’ And when none of them expected it, he suddenly swung round to stand in front of the woman. She looked at K. from tired blue eyes; a translucent silk headscarf came halfway down her forehead, and the baby was sleeping at her breast. ‘Who are you?’ asked K. Dismissively—and it was not clear whether her disdain was meant for K. or her own answer—she said: ‘I’m from the castle.’
All this had taken only a moment, but already the two men were one on each side of K., forcibly frogmarching him to the door, as if there were no other means of communication. The old man, watching, seemed pleased about something, and clapped his hands. The washerwoman too laughed as she stood among the children, who were suddenly romping noisily.
As for K., he was soon out in the alley, with the two men watching him from the doorway. Snow was falling again, but it seemed a little brighter than before. The bearded man called impatiently: ‘Where do you want to go? This is the way to the castle, that’s the way to the village.’ K. did not answer, but said to the other man, who despite his superior status seemed more approachable: ‘Who are you? To whom do I owe thanks for my rest here?’ ‘I am Lasemann, [6] the master tanner,’ was the reply, ‘and you owe no one any thanks.’ ‘Very well,’ said K. ‘Perhaps we’ll meet again.’ ‘I shouldn’t think so,’ said the man. At this moment the bearded man, raising a hand, called out: ‘Good day, Artur; good day, Jeremias!’ K. turned. So there were people out and about on the village streets after all! Two young men were coming along the road from the castle. They were of medium height, very lean, in close- fitting clothes, and their faces too were very much alike, with dark brown complexions setting off their very black goatee beards. They were walking remarkably fast, considering the present state of the roads, swinging their long legs in time. ‘What’s going on?’ called the bearded man. He had to raise his voice to communicate with them, they were walking so fast, and didn’t stop. ‘We have business here,’ they called back, laughing. ‘Where?’ ‘At the inn.’ ‘I’m going there too,’ shouted K., his voice suddenly rising above all the others. He very much wanted the two men to take him with them. Striking up an acquaintance with them didn’t seem as if it would lead anywhere much, but they would obviously be good, cheerful companions on a walk. However, although they heard what K. said, they simply nodded, walked on, and were gone in a moment.
K. was left standing in the snow, feeling disinclined to haul his foot out of it only to have it sink in again a little further on. The master tanner and his friend, happy to be rid of K. at last, made their way slowly back through the door of the house, which was only standing ajar, still keeping an eye on him. K. was left alone in the all-enveloping snow. ‘If I’d come here by chance and not on purpose,’ he thought, ‘I might fall into despair at this point.’
Then a tiny window opened in a cottage on his left. Closed, it had looked dark blue, perhaps reflecting the snow, and it was so very tiny that, now it had been opened, you couldn’t see the whole face of the person behind it, only that person’s eyes: they were old, brown eyes. ‘There he is,’ K. heard a quavering female voice say. ‘It’s the land surveyor,’ said a male voice. The man came to the window and asked, in not-unfriendly tones, but as if anxious to make sure that all was well with the street outside his house: ‘Who are you waiting for?’ ‘I’m waiting for a sleigh that will give me a lift,’ said K. ‘There won’t be any sleighs coming this way,’ said the man. ‘We don’t have traffic here.’ ‘But this is the road to the castle,’ K. objected. ‘All the same,’ said the man, with a certain implacable note in his voice, ‘we don’t have traffic here.’ Then they both fell silent. But the man was obviously thinking something over, for the window was still open and smoke was pouring out of it. ‘It’s a bad road,’ said K., to help the conversation along. However, all the man said was: ‘Yes, to be sure.’ After a while, however, he did add: ‘I’ll take you in my own sleigh if you like.’ ‘Yes, please do,’ said K., delighted to hear it. ‘How much will you ask?’ ‘Nothing,’ said the man, to K.’s great surprise. ‘Well, you’re the land surveyor,’ he explained, ‘and you belong at the castle. Where do you want to go?’ ‘Why, to the castle,’ K. was quick to say. ‘Oh, then I’m not going,’ the man said at once. ‘But I belong at the castle,’ K. said, repeating the man’s own words. ‘Maybe,’ said the man coldly. ‘Take me to the inn, then,’ said K. ‘Very well,’ said the man. ‘I’ll bring the sleigh round in a minute.’ None of this exchange sounded particularly friendly; it was more like a kind of self-interested, anxious, pettily meticulous attempt to get K. away from where he was standing in front of the man’s house.
The yard gate opened, and a small, flat-bottomed sleigh appeared. It was for carrying light loads, had no seat of any kind, and was drawn by a feeble little horse, behind which the man came into view. Although he wasn’t old he seemed feeble himself, he stooped and walked with a limp, and his face was red, as if he had a cold. It seemed particularly small because of a woollen scarf wrapped tightly around his neck. The man was obviously sick, and had come out of the house only to get K. away from here. K. said something to that effect, but the man dismissed it. All K. learned was that he was Gerstäcker[7] the carrier, he had brought this uncomfortable sleigh because it happened to be standing ready, and getting another one would have taken too much time. ‘Sit down,’ he said, pointing to the back of the sleigh with his whip. ‘I’ll sit beside you,’ said K. ‘I’m going to walk,’ said Gerstäcker. ‘But why?’ asked K. ‘I’m going to walk,’ repeated Gerstäcker, and then succumbed to a fit of coughing which shook him so badly that he had to brace his legs in the snow and hold on to the side of the sleigh. K. said no more, but sat down at the back of the sleigh, the man’s coughing gradually subsided, and they started to move.
The castle up above, now curiously dark, the place that K. had hoped to reach today, was retreating into the distance again. As if suggesting that this was only a temporary farewell, however, a bell rang there with a lively, cheerful note, although the sound was painful too, and made his heart quail momentarily as if threatened with getting what it vaguely desired. But soon the clang of this great bell died away, to be succeeded by the faint, monotonous sound of a smaller bell, perhaps also up at the castle or perhaps in the village. Its note was certainly a more suitable accompaniment to their slow progress with the feeble but implacable driver.
‘You know,’ cried K. suddenly—they were already near the church, the road to the inn was not far away, and K. thought he might venture this remark—‘I’m very surprised to find you willing to drive me on your own responsibility. Is it allowed?’ Gerstäcker took no notice, and continued to walk along beside the horse. ‘Hey!’ cried K., making a snowball from the snow on the sleigh and throwing it. It hit Gerstäcker right on the ear. At this he did stop and turned, but when K. saw him so close—the sleigh had moved a little further on—when he saw the man’s bent form, as if physically mistreated, the red, narrow face with cheeks that somehow looked lopsided, one smooth and the other fallen in, the almost toothless mouth constantly open as if to help him listen better, he found he had to repeat what he had just said in malice but this time with compassion, asking whether Gerstäcker might be punished for giving K. a lift in his sleigh. ‘What are you getting at?’ asked Gerstäcker blankly, but waiting for no further explanation he called to the little horse and they moved on.
When they had almost reached the inn, which K. recognized by a bend in the road, he saw to his surprise that the place was already entirely dark. Had he been out so long? Only one or two hours, by his calculations. And he had left in the morning, and had not felt hungry since. Again, it had been full daylight until a little while ago,
and only now was it dark. ‘Short days, short days,’ he said to himself, slipping off the sleigh and going towards the inn.
On the small flight of steps up to the house he saw a welcome sight: the landlord raising a lantern in the air and shining it in his direction. Fleetingly remembering the carrier, K. stopped. There was a cough somewhere in the darkness; that was him. Well, he’d probably be seeing him again soon. Only when he reached the top of the steps, to be respectfully greeted by the landlord, did he see two men, one on each side of the door. Taking the lantern from the landlord’s hand, he shone it on the pair of them; they were the men he had already met and who had been addressed as Artur and Jeremias. They saluted him. Reminded of the happy days of his military service, he laughed. ‘Well, so who are you?’ he asked, looking from one to the other. ‘Your assistants,’ they replied. ‘That’s right, they’re the assistants,’ the landlord quietly con firmed. ‘What?’ asked K. ‘Do you say you’re my old assistants who were coming on after me and whom I’m expecting?’ They assured him that they were. ‘Just as well, then,’ said K. after a little while. ‘It’s a good thing you’ve come. What’s more,’ he added after another moment’s thought, ‘you’re extremely late. That’s very remiss of you.’ ‘It was a long way,’ said one of them. ‘A long way?’ K. repeated. ‘But I saw you coming down from the castle.’ ‘Yes,’ they agreed, without further explanation. ‘What have you done with the instruments?’ asked K. ‘We don’t have any,’ they said. ‘I mean the surveying instruments that I entrusted to you,’ said K. ‘We don’t have any of those,’ they repeated. ‘What a couple you are!’ said K. ‘Do you know anything about land surveying?’ ‘No,’ they said. ‘But if you claim to be my old assistants, then you must know something about it,’ said K. They remained silent. ‘Oh, come along, then,’ said K., pushing them into the house ahead of him.

II. Barnabas


The three of them were sitting rather silently at a small table in the saloon bar of the inn over their beer, K. in the middle, his assistants to right and left of him. Otherwise there was only a table where some of the local rustics sat, just as they had yesterday evening. ‘I’m going to have a hard time with you two,’ said K., comparing their faces yet again. ‘How am I to know which of you is which? The only difference between you is your names, and apart from that’—he hesitated— ‘apart from that you’re as like as two snakes.’ They smiled. ‘Oh, other people find it easy to tell us apart,’ they said. ‘I believe you,’ said K. ‘I’ve seen that for myself, but then I have only my own eyes, and I can’t distinguish between you with those. So I shall treat you as a single man, and call you both Artur, which is the name of one of you— you, perhaps?’ K. asked one of the assistants. ‘No,’ he said, ‘my name is Jeremias.’ ‘Well, never mind that,’ said K, ‘I shall call you both Artur. If I send Artur somewhere you’ll both go, if I give Artur a job to do you’ll both do it, which from my point of view will be a disadvantage in that I can’t employ you on separate tasks, but also an advantage because then I can hold you jointly responsible forevery thing I ask you to do. How you divide the work between you is all the same to me, only you can’t make separate excuses. To me you’ll be just one man.’ They thought this over and said: ‘We wouldn’t like that at all.’ ‘Of course not,’ said K. ‘Naturally you’re bound to dislike it, but that’s how it’s going to be.’ For some time, he had been watching one of the local rustics prowling around the table, and at last the man made up his mind, went over to one of the assistants, and was about to whisper something in his ear. ‘Excuse me,’ said K., slamming his hand down on the table and standing up, ‘these are my assistants and we are in the middle of a discussion. No one has any right to disturb us.’ ‘Oh, I see, I see,’ said the local man in some alarm, walking backwards to rejoin his company. ‘I want you two to take particular note of this,’ said K., sitting down again. ‘You may not speak to anyone without my permission. I’m a stranger here, and if you’re my old assistants then you are strangers here too. So we three strangers must stick together. Let’s shake hands on it.’ They offered K. their hands only too willingly. ‘Well, never mind about those great paws of yours,’ he said, ‘but my orders stand. I’m going to get some sleep now, and I advise you to do the same. We’ve missed out on one working day already, and work must start early tomorrow. You’d better find a sleigh to go up to the castle and be here outside the inn with it at six in the morning, ready to leave.’ ‘Very well,’ said one of the assistants. But the other objected. ‘Why say “very well”, when you know it can’t be done?’ ‘Be quiet,’ said K. ‘I think you’re trying to start distinguishing yourselves from each other.’ Now, however, the assistant who had spoken first said: ‘He’s right, it’s impossible. No stranger may go up to the castle without a permit.’ ‘So where do we have to apply for a permit?’ ‘I don’t know. Maybe to the castle warden.’ ‘Then we’ll apply by telephone. Go and telephone the castle warden at once, both of you.’ They went to the telephone, made the connection, crowding together eagerly and showing that outwardly they were ridiculously ready to oblige, and asked whether K. might come up to the castle with them next day. The reply was a ‘No’ that K. could hear all the way over to his table, but the answer went on. It ran: ‘Not tomorrow nor any other time either.’ ‘I’ll telephone myself,’ said K., rising to his feet. So far, apart from the incident with that one local rustic, no one had taken much notice of K. and his assistants, but this last remark of his aroused general attention. The whole company stood up with K., and although the landlord tried to fend them off , they crowded around him in a semicircle close to the telephone. Most of them seemed to be of the opinion that K. wouldn’t get an answer. K. had to ask them to keep quiet, telling them he didn’t want to hear their views.
A humming, such as K. had never before heard on the telephone, emerged from the receiver. It was as if the murmur of countless childish voices—not that it was really a murmur, it was more like the singing of voices, very very far away—as if that sound were forming, unlikely as that might be, into a single high, strong voice, striking the ear as if trying to penetrate further than into the mere human sense of hearing. K. heard it and said nothing; he had propped his left arm on the telephone stand, and listened like that.
He didn’t know just how long he stood there, but after a while the landlord plucked at his coat and told him that someone had come with a message for him. ‘Go away!’ cried K., angrily, perhaps into the telephone, for now someone was answering at the other end, and the following conversation took place. ‘Oswald speaking—who’s there?’ asked the speaker in a stern, haughty voice with a small speech defect for which, as it seemed to K., he tried to compensate by dint of extra severity. K. hesitated to give his name; he was powerless against the telephone, leaving the other man free to shout at him and put down the receiver. If that happened, K. would have cut himself off from what might be a not-unimportant means of getting somewhere. K.’s hesitation made the man impatient. ‘Who’s there?’ he repeated, adding, ‘I really would rather you lot down there didn’t do so much telephoning. We had a call only a minute ago.’ Taking no notice of this remark, K. came to a sudden decision and announced: ‘This is the land surveyor’s assistant speaking.’ ‘What assistant? What land surveyor?’ K. remembered yesterday’s conversation. ‘Ask Fritz,’ he said briefly. To his surprise, this worked. But over and beyond that, he marvelled at the consistency among the people up there, for the answer was: ‘Yes, yes, I know. That eternal land surveyor![8] Yes, yes, so what else? What assistant?’ ‘Josef,’ said K. He was slightly taken aback by the way the locals were muttering behind him; obviously they didn’t like to hear him giving a false name. But K. had no time to bother about them, for the conversation called for all his attention. ‘Josef?’ came the answer. ‘No, the assistants are called’—here there was a pause, while someone else was obviously consulted—‘are called Artur and Jeremias.’ ‘Those are the new assistants,’ said K. ‘No, they’re the old ones.’ ‘They are the new assistants, but I’m the old one, and I came on later than the land surveyor and got here today.’ ‘No,’ the other man replied, shouting now. ‘Who am I, then?’ asked K., still keeping calm. And after a pause the same voice, with the same speech defect, yet sounding like another and deeper voice, commanding more respect, agreed: ‘You are the old assistant.’
K. was listening to the sound of the voice, and almost missed hearing the next question: ‘What do you want?’ He felt like slamming the receiver down, expecting no more to come of this conversation. But he was forced to reply at once: ‘When may my boss come up to the castle?’ ‘Never,’ was the reply. ‘I see,’ said K., and he hung up.
The locals behind him had come very close now, and the assistants, with many surreptitious glances at him, were busy keeping them back. However, it seemed to be just for show, and the locals, satisfied by the outcome of the conversation, slowly gave way. Then a man walked through the group from behind it, dividing it in two, bowed to K., and gave him a letter. Holding the letter in his hand, K. looked at the messenger, who just now seemed to him more important than the message itself. He greatly resembled the assistants; he was as slender as they were, his clothes too were close- fitting, he was nimble and spry, and yet he was quite different. K. would far rather have had him as his assistant! The man reminded him a little of the woman with the baby whom he had seen in the master tanner’s house. His clothing was almost white and was probably not silk, but an ordinary winter-weight fabric, yet it had the fine look of a silk suit worn for special occasions. His face was clear and open, his eyes very large. His smile was extraordinarily cheering, and although he passed a hand over his face, as if to wipe that smile away, he did not succeed. ‘Who are you?’ asked K. ‘My name is Barnabas,’ [9] he said, ‘and I am a messenger.’[10] His lips moved in a manly yet gentle way as he spoke. ‘How do you like it here?’ asked K., indicating the rustics, who were still taking an interest in him. They were watching him with their positively tormented faces—their skulls looked as if they had been beaten fl at on top, and their features had contorted into an expression of pain in the process—they were watching him with their thick-lipped mouths open, and yet not watching either, for sometimes their eyes wandered, lingering for a long time on some ordinary object before returning to him. Then K. also pointed to the assistants, who were holding each other close, cheek to cheek and smiling, whether humbly or in derision it was hard to say. He indicated all these people as if to introduce a retinue forced on him by special circumstances, expecting—which implied familiarity, and that mattered to K. just now—that Barnabas would see the difference between him and them. But Barnabas did not respond to the question—although, as could easily be seen, in all innocence—and let it pass him by, like a well-trained servant hearing his master say something that is only apparently addressed to him. He merely looked around as the question required, greeting acquaintances among the locals with a wave of his hand, and exchanged a few words with the assistants, all easily and as a matter of course, without actually mixing with them. K., warned off the subject but undeterred, turned back to the letter in his hand and opened it. It ran as follows: ‘Dear Sir, you are, as you know, taken into the count’s service. Your immediate superior is the village mayor as chairman of the parish council, who will communicate to you all further details concerning your work and your remuneration, and to whom you will be answerable. Nonetheless, I will keep an eye on you myself. Barnabas, the messenger who brings this letter, will make enquiries of you from time to time, find out what your requirements are, and impart them to me. You will find me always ready to oblige you as far as possible. I am anxious to have contented workers.’ The signature was illegible, but printed beside it were the words: ‘Chief Executive, Office X.’ ‘Wait a minute!’ said K. to Barnabas, who was bowing to him, and he called to the landlord to show him his room, saying he wanted to spend a little time alone studying this letter. As he did so, he remembered that although he had taken to Barnabas so much, he was only a messenger, and ordered him a beer. He watched to see how he would take this; he was obviously pleased, and drank it at once. Then K. went with the landlord. They had been able to give him only a little attic room at the inn, which was a small place, and even that had been di ffi cult, for two maids who had been sleeping there before had to be accommodated elsewhere. In fact all that had been done was to clear the maids out of the room, which otherwise appeared unchanged, with no linen on the only bed and just a couple of bolsters and a horse-blanket, left in the state it had been in after last night, with a few pictures of saints and photographs of soldiers on the walls. The room hadn’t even been aired; obviously they hoped that the new guest would not stay long, and they were doing nothing to keep him. But K. didn’t mind; he wrapped himself in the blanket and began rereading the letter by the light of a candle.
It was not all of a piece; there were passages where he was addressed as a free agent whose autonomy was recognized, for instance in the opening greeting and the part about his requirements. But then again, there were passages in the letter where he was openly or by implication addressed as a common labourer, hardly worthy even to be noticed by the chief executive of Office X, who obviously felt he must make an effort ‘to keep an eye on him’, while his superior, to whom he was actually ‘answerable’, was only the village mayor, and perhaps his sole colleague would be the village policeman. These contradictions were certainly so blatant that they must be intentional. Considering that the letter came from such an authority, K. scarcely even entertained the crazy idea that any indecision might have entered into it. Rather, he saw himself offered a choice: it was left to him to make what he liked of the arrangements in this letter, and decide whether he wanted to be a village worker who seemed, but only seemed, to have the distinction of a link to the castle, or apparently a village worker but one whose conditions of work were really determined entirely by the message that Barnabas had brought. K. did not hesitate to choose, nor would he have done so even without his experiences so far. Only as a village worker as far as possible from the gentlemen in the castle could he get anywhere with the castle itself. These villagers, who were still so suspicious of him, would start talking to him once he was, if not their friend, at least one of them, indistinguishable from, say, Gerstäcker and Lasemann—that must be brought about very soon, everything depended on it—and then, he was sure, all paths would be open to him, paths that would have been closed to him forever, and not only closed but invisible, if it had depended solely on the good graces of the gentlemen up above. Of course there was a danger, and it was sufficiently emphasized in the letter, even represented with a certain pleasure as if it were inevitable. It was that his was the status of a labourer. ‘Service’, ‘superior’, ‘work’, ‘conditions of remuneration’, ‘answerable’, ‘workmen’: the letter was full of such terms, and even when something else and more personal was said, it was written from the same point of view. If K. wanted to work here then he could, but if so it must be in deadly earnest, without so much as glancing elsewhere. K. knew that no real compulsion threatened him, he wasn’t afraid of that, least of all here, but he did fear the force of his discouraging surroundings, he feared getting used to disappointment, he feared the imperceptible influence of every passing moment—but he must contend with that danger. The letter did not, after all, gloss over the fact that if there were any disagreements it would be the fault of K.’s recklessness—it was said with delicacy, and only an uneasy conscience (uneasy, not guilty) would have noticed it in those three words ‘as you know’, referring to his entering the employment of the castle. K. had applied for the post, and now he knew that, as the letter put it, he had been accepted into the count’s service.
K. took a picture off the wall and hung up the letter on the nail instead. He would be living in this room, so this was where the letter should hang.
Then he went down to the saloon bar of the inn. Barnabas and the assistants were sitting at a little table. ‘Oh, there you are,’ said K. for no special reason, just because he was glad to see Barnabas, who got to his feet at once. No sooner had K. entered the room than the rustics rose to come closer to him; it had become a habit of theirs to follow him around. ‘What is it you keep wanting from me?’ cried K. They did not take offence, but turned slowly back to their places. One said, by way of explanation as he turned away, but with an inscrutable smile copied by some of the others in the saloon bar: ‘We’re always hearing something new,’ and he licked his lips as if the ‘new’ was something delicious to eat. K. said not a word to smooth things over; it would be good for them to feel a little respect for him, but no sooner was he sitting beside Barnabas than he felt one of the locals breathing down the back of his neck; the man said he had come to fetch the saltcellar, but K. stamped his foot angrily and he went away without it. It was really easy to irritate K.; you would only have to set the rustics against him, for instance, for the persistent attention of some of them bothered him more than the reserve of others. But the attitude of the former showed reserve too, for if K. had sat down at their table, they would certainly have left it. Only the presence of Barnabas kept him from making a scene. But still he turned to them menacingly, and they had also turned to him. However, when he saw them sitting like that, each in his place, without talking, without any visible connection with each other, the only thing they had in common being that they were all staring at him, it struck him that it might not be malice at all that made them pester him, perhaps they really did want something from him but simply could not say it, or then again it could be just childishness. This seemed to be a great place for childishness. Wasn’t the landlord himself childlike as he held a glass of beer in both hands, taking it to one of the guests? He stood still, looked at K., and failed to hear something that the landlady had called out to him from the kitchen hatch.