Existential Despair

The Castle (1926) and
The Trial (1925)
by Franz Kafka (1883-1924)

Franz Kafka was Everyman in the sense that he was unable to become self-reliant and achieve the insight that would have delivered him into the freedom of P-A. He was paralyzed by fear and as a consequence, for him, life was suffering. “Kafka was always afraid of making decisions; Fate had to make them for him.”[i]  Kafka lived a life in Thoreau’s language of a quiet and sometimes not so quiet desperation.

In all of Kafka’s work, including the two unfinished novels cited above, we sense the protagonist (which is always Kafka himself) and most of the other characters are struggling to distinguish illusion from reality. In The Castle “the villagers seize and elaborate upon the few facts available to them, adding their own interpretative explanations in such a way as to make all efforts to distinguish fact from fiction problematic.”[ii]  Kafka’s work is peopled with characters who, like most of us, are struggling to awaken from P-B, to distinguish reality from illusion.

The castle in Kafka’s narrative symbolizes P-A which nearly everyone in the story intuits has some mystical meaning that nobody can articulate. The bleakness of their world is “perceived against the contrasting background of the idealized castle [which] remains remote and impregnable—the fit symbol of all that lies mysteriously beyond the merely human.”[iii]

But our protagonist, Kafka and his friends, are unable to move from the ego-state of children to that of adults and allow their identity to be dictated by their false selves in the context of P-B. Trapped by their inability to ask profound questions, “K. and the others [are unable] to act in any way other than absurdly.”[iv]  They want, as children do, for some authority to do the work entailed in the Hero’s Journey for them. “He demands that [those in the castle] validate his existence and validate too, the identity for which he prefers not to have to take responsibility.”[v]

Of The Trial, one critic says “the book explores the themes of guilt, anxiety, and moral impotency in the face of some ambiguous external force.”[vi]  To begin with, guilt is only experienced by living in the past and anxiety by living in the future both of which are not where the authentic experience of life happens. The past and future is where the life of the false self happens and where it is able to maintain control of our lives and keep us out of the NOW where the True self has control. There is no such thing as an “ambiguous external force” only the illusion of one. As far as “moral impotency” is concerned, good and bad are P-B illusions. The heart of our identity in P-A is that of a compassionate being wherein so-called moral behavior is natural and needn’t be compelled by the fear inherent in religious precepts.

Most of us can identify with Kafka’s dilemma in that our experience in P-B is to move “from scene to scene as if in a trance. Reality itself becomes a vague concept.”[vii]  Until we shift the narrative that provides our context we will be stuck with a sleepwalker-like identity and experience “alienation from a sense of wholeness.” Kafkaesque alienation is the common human condition today and he never discovered in his short life a way out of that nightmare. We are fortunate to have discovered what he was looking for. It is called Simple Reality.

Existential Despair

[i]     Hibbard, Addison, and Horst Frenz. Writers of the Western World. New York: Houghton, 1954, page 1186.

[ii]     Magill, Frank N. [ed.]. Masterpieces of World Literature. New York: Harper, 1989, page 132.

[iii]    Ibid., page 133.

[iv]    Ibid.

[v]     Ibid.

[vi]    Ibid., page 882.

[vii]   Ibid., page 884.


Find a much more in-depth discussion printed books by Roy Charles Henry.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *