Ambition fails to accomplish its ends.

from The Castle by Franz Kafka page 200 fiction ~3 min read

'In particular, it’s hard to understand why, when he was so brave as a boy, almost driving us to despair, he has now so entirely lost his courage as a man up there. To be sure, all that pointless standing about and waiting day after day, always starting all over again without any prospect of change, will wear a man down and make him doubtful, and ultimately incapable of anything but that despairing standing about. But why didn’t he put up any resistance even at the start? Particularly since he soon realized that I had been right, and there was nothing there to satisfy his ambition, though there might be some prospect of improving our family’s situation. For everything is in a very low key there, except for the whims of the servants, ambition seeks its satisfaction in work up there, and as the work itself is what matters ambition is lost entirely, there is no room there for childish wishes. But Barnabas thought, as he told me, that he saw clearly how great was the power and knowledge of even those very dubious officials into whose room he was allowed. How they dictated, fast, with eyes half-closed, brief gestures, how they handled the morose servants just by crooking a forefinger, without a word—and at such moments the servants, breathing heavily, smiled happily—or how they found an important place in their books, struck the page ostentatiously, and then, so far as was possible in the cramped space, the others came hurrying up and craned their necks to look. That and similar things gave Barnabas great ideas of these men, and he had the impression that if he ever rose so high as to be noticed by them, and was able to exchange a few words with them, not as a stranger but as a colleague in the office, although one of the most junior rank, then he could do all sorts of things for our family. But it’s never come to that yet, and Barnabas dares not do anything that might bring him within reach of it, although he knows very well that, in spite of his youth, he himself has moved into the responsible position of head of the family on account of the unfortunate circumstances. And now for the last of my confessions; you came here a week ago, I heard someone at the Castle Inn mention it, but took no notice; a land surveyor had arrived—well, I didn’t even know what a land surveyor was. However, next evening Barnabas—whom I usually go a little way to meet at a certain time—comes home earlier than usual, sees Amalia in the living-room, and so takes me out into the road, where he puts his face against my shoulder and weeps for minutes on end. He is the little boy of the old days again. Something has happened that is more than he can deal with. It’s as if a whole new world had suddenly opened up before him, and he cannot bear the happiness and the anxiety of all that novelty. Yet nothing has really happened except that he has been given a letter to you to deliver. But it is the first letter, the first job of work, that he has ever been given.'[1]


  1. This is a part of Olga's conversation with K. ↩︎

—Franz Kafka, The Castle, p. 200