The Metamorphosis
Metamorphosis  
Kafka Starke Verwandlung 1915.jpg
First edition cover
Author(s) Franz Kafka
Original title Die Verwandlung
Country Austria–Hungary
Language German
Genre(s) Philosophical novella, absurdist fiction
Publisher Kurt Wolff Verlag, Leipzig
Publication date 1915

The Metamorphosis (German: Die Verwandlung) is a novella by Franz Kafka, first published in 1915. It is often cited as one of the seminal works of short fiction of the 20th century and is widely studied in colleges and universities across the western world. The story begins with a traveling salesman, Gregor Samsa, waking to find himself transformed into a monstrous insect-like creature.

Contents

Plot summary

Gregor Samsa wakes up to find that he has been transformed into a giant insect-like creature. Gregor briefly examines his new body, but wonders only momentarily about what has happened to him. His attention quickly switches to observing his room, which he finds very ordinary but a bit small, and a framed magazine clipping of a woman in fur hanging up on the wall. Since he cannot turn on his side, Gregor cannot fall asleep, so instead he begins thinking about his job. He is a traveling salesman, and he hates traveling because he dislikes worrying and getting up early. Gregor's boss at work is extremely tyrannical, and Gregor wants to quit the job but cannot do so until he has paid off the debts that his parents owe the boss.

Gregor wants to get up to go to work, but suddenly realizes that he is already late and must have missed the alarm. He cannot call in sick because he has not missed a day of work in five years and it would look suspicious. Gregor's mother calls to him, and he answers her, noticing that his voice is changing. Gregor's father and Grete, his sister, realize that he is still at home and try to enter his room, but he has locked his doors and they cannot get in. Gregor attempts to get out of bed, but finds this very difficult. He realizes that he is now very late, and lies back hoping that some clear thinking will resolve the situation. Suddenly the doorbell rings and the chief clerk comes into the apartment. Angry that his firm sends the chief clerk himself if he is only a little late, Gregor finally swings himself out of bed.

As the family entreats Gregor to open the door, he refuses. Mrs. Samsa insists that Gregor must be ill or he would not be acting like this. The chief clerk loses his temper and tells Gregor that he is shocked by his attitude, insisting that his position in the company is not unassailable because his work has been poor lately. Gregor is angered by this speech, and insists that he is simply feeling slightly indisposed but will soon return to work. He retorts that his business has not been bad lately. Because of the changes in Gregor's voice, no one outside understands a word he says. Fearing he is ill, his parents send Grete and the servant girl to get the doctor and the locksmith. With great difficulty Gregor manages to open the door by himself.

Seeing Gregor, the chief clerk backs away while his father begins to weep. Gregor begs the chief clerk to explain the situation at the office and to stand up for him. He says that he will gladly come back to work and asks the chief clerk not to leave without agreeing with him. Gregor tries to stop the clerk so as to keep him from leaving with such a negative view of things, but then his mother, backing away, knocks over a coffee pot, causing a commotion and giving the chief clerk an opportunity to get away. Gregor's father picks up a walking stick to drive Gregor back into his room. Gregor gets stuck in the doorway, and his father shoves him through, injuring him in the process, and slams the door behind him.

Gregor wakes up at twilight and smells food. He realizes that his sister had brought him milk with bread in it. Gregor attempts to drink the milk, but finds that he is repulsed by the taste. Gregor notices that his father is not reading the paper to the family as he usually does and there is complete silence in the apartment. He wants someone to come in his room, but the doors are locked from the outside and no one will enter. Gregor climbs under the couch, where he feels more comfortable, and decides that he has to help his family through this difficult situation. Gregor's sister brings him a variety of foods in order to determine what he will eat. She throws away everything he does not finish, even if he has not touched it. Gregor hides under the couch to protect Grete from having to see him.

Assuming that Gregor cannot understand anything, no one talks to him directly, so he learns what is happening by listening to their conversations through the door. He finds out that the family has money saved from his father's business, which had collapsed five years ago. Gregor had not known about this money, and when his father's business fell apart, he had thrown himself into his work in order to provide for his family. The family's initial excitement of receiving his earnings had worn off, however, and he remained intimate only with Grete, whom he had wanted to send to the Conservatory to study the violin.

Gregor watches his movements carefully, since any noise he makes distracts his family. He learns from their conversations that in addition to money from the business, the family has also saved money from his salary, but it is not enough to live off of for very long. Gregor feels deep shame every time money is mentioned. He finds that his vision is getting worse, so that he can no longer see across the street. Every time Grete walks into the room, she runs to open the window, which bothers Gregor. Realizing that his sister is uncomfortable in his presence, Gregor figures out a way to cover himself with a sheet to keep out of sight. Gregor's parents never come into his room, and when his mother begs to see her son, the others hold her back.

Gregor discovers that he enjoys climbing the walls and the ceiling. Noticing this, his sister decides to give him more space by clearing the furniture from his room, and she asks her mother to help. Gregor's mother says that this will make it look like they are giving up on Gregor's recovery, but Grete disagrees. Hearing his mother's voice, Gregor realizes the importance of the furniture to him. The noise that the women make upsets him, and he decides to come out of hiding to save the framed picture on the wall from being taken. Seeing him, his mother faints and Grete runs out of the room for medicine to revive her with. Gregor follows and when his sister sees him she runs into his room and slams the door, trapping Gregor outside. His father arrives to find him out of his room and begins throwing apples at him. One of these lodges itself in Gregor's back, almost crippling him. As he loses consciousness, his mother begs her husband to spare her son's life.

Gregor's injury makes the family decide to be more accepting of him, and they leave his door open so he can watch them. They are very quiet most of the time and extremely tired from the jobs they have taken. No one bothers with Gregor too much. They have replaced the servant girl with a charwoman. Gregor, lying in his room, resorts to his memory. The family considers moving, but cannot because they do not know how to move Gregor. He becomes angry that he is being neglected. Grete barely cleans his room and does not bother very much with his food anymore. When his mother tries to clean the room in Grete's absence, this triggers a family fight.

The charwoman, discovering Gregor, is not repulsed but rather spends her time teasing him, which annoys him to no end. Three lodgers have moved into the apartment, and the excess furniture, as well as all superfluous junk, is moved into Gregor's room so that he barely has room to move. He also stops eating almost entirely. The door to his room is now usually kept closed because of the lodgers, but Gregor does not care any more and often ignores it even when it's open.

The lodgers, who are domineering and receive too much service and respect from Gregor's parents, ask Grete to play the violin in the living room when they hear her practicing. She begins to play, but the lodgers are soon tired of this and move away to show that they are disappointed with her playing. Gregor, however, is drawn to the music and crawls out of his room to get closer, dreaming of getting Grete to play for him in his room and of telling her about his plans to send her to the Conservatory. The lodgers suddenly notice Gregor and give notice immediately, saying they will not pay for the time they have lived there.

Grete steps forward and tells her parents that they have to get rid of Gregor. He is persecuting them and trying to drive them out of the apartment and, if he really were Gregor, he would have left of his own accord and let them live their lives in peace. Suddenly realizing that he feels only love and tenderness for his family, Gregor understands that his sister is right and he should disappear. He returns to his room, waits until sunrise, and dies.

Gregor's family is happy, but they also mourn his passing. Mr. Samsa instantly kicks the lodgers out and the family decides to take the day off from work and go for a stroll. They feel relieved and the future seems bright to them. The parents notice that their daughter has grown up and decide that it is time to find her a husband. At the end of their trip, she is the first to stand up and stretch.

Characters

Gregor Samsa

Gregor is the main character of the story. He works as a traveling salesman in order to provide money for his sister and parents. He wakes up one morning as a large insect-like creature. After the metamorphosis, Gregor is unable to work. This prompts his family to begin working once again.

The name "Gregor Samsa" appears to derive partly from literary works Kafka had read. The hero of The Story of Young Renate Fuchs, by German-Jewish novelist Jakob Wassermann (1873–1934), is a certain Gregor Samsa. The Viennese author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose sexual imagination gave rise to the idea of masochism, is also an influence. Sacher-Masoch (note the letters Sa-Mas) wrote Venus in Furs (1870), a novel whose hero assumes the name Gregor at one point. A "Venus in furs" literally recurs in The Metamorphosis in the picture that Gregor Samsa has hung on his bedroom wall.[1] The name Samsa is similar to Kafka in its play of vowels and consonants: "Five letters in each word. The S in the word Samsa has the same position as the K in the word Kafka. The A "is in the second and fifth positions in both words."[2]

Gregor Samsa appears to be based upon Kafka himself. As when Kafka suffered from Insomnia he feared he was repulsive and a burden to his family, during this time his sister was his caretaker.[3]

Grete Samsa

Grete is Gregor's younger sister, who becomes his caretaker after the metamorphosis. Initially Grete and Gregor have a close relationship but this quickly fades. While Grete initially volunteers to feed him and clean his room, she grows more and more impatient with the burden and begins to leave his room in disarray out of spite. She plays the violin and dreams of going to the conservatory, a dream Gregor had intended to make happen. Gregor planned on making the announcement on Christmas Eve. To help provide an income for the family after Gregor's transformation she starts working as a salesgirl.

Mr. Samsa

Mr.Samsa is Gregor's father. After the metamorphosis, he is forced to return to work in order to support the family financially. His attitude towards his son is harsh; he regards the transformed Gregor with disgust and possibly even fear.

Mrs. Samsa

Mrs Samsa is Grete and Gregor's mother. She is initially shocked at Gregor's transformation, however she wants to enter his room. This proves too much for her, thus giving rise to a conflict between her maternal impulse and sympathy and her fear and revulsion of Gregor's new form.

Translation

Kafka's sentences often deliver an unexpected impact just before the full stop—that being the finalizing meaning and focus. This is achieved from the construction of sentences in the original German, which requires that the participle be positioned at the end of the sentence. For example, in the opening sentence, it is the final word, verwandelt, that indicates transformation:

Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer verwandelt.

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect-like creature.

These constructions are not directly replicable in English, so it is up to the translator to provide the reader with the effect of the original text.[4]

English translators have often sought to render the word Ungeziefer as "insect", but this is not strictly accurate. In Middle German, Ungeziefer literally means "unclean animal not suitable for sacrifice" [5] and is sometimes used colloquially to mean "bug" – a very general term, unlike the scientific sounding "insect". Kafka had no intention of labeling Gregor as any specific thing, but instead wanted to convey Gregor's disgust at his transformation. The phrasing used in the David Wyllie translation[6] and Joachim Neugroschel[7] is "transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect."

However, in Kafka's letter to his publisher of 25 October 1915, in which he discusses his concern about the cover illustration for the first edition, he uses the term Insekt, saying "The insect itself is not to be drawn. It is not even to be seen from a distance."[8]

Ungeziefer has sometimes been translated as "cockroach", "dung beetle", "beetle", and other highly specific terms. The term "dung beetle" or Mistkäfer is in fact used in the novella by the cleaning lady near the end of the story, but it is not used in the narration. Ungeziefer also denotes a sense of separation between himself and his environment: he is unclean and must therefore be secluded.

Vladimir Nabokov, who was a lepidopterist as well as writer and literary critic, insisted that Gregor was not a cockroach, but a beetle with wings under his shell, and capable of flight. Nabokov left a sketch annotated "just over three feet long" on the opening page of his (heavily corrected) English teaching copy.[9] In his accompanying lecture notes, Nabokov discusses the type of insect Gregor has been transformed into, concluding that Gregor "is not, technically, a dung beetle. He is merely a big beetle."[10]

Adaptations to other media

There are many film versions of the story, mostly short films, including a 1975 TV version by Jan Němec, a 1977 animation by Caroline Leaf, a 1987 TV movie by Jim Goddard, a 1993 video by Carlos Atanes, and a longer (80-minute) 2002 version directed by Russian theatrical director Valery Fokin.

A stage adaptation was performed by Steven Berkoff in 1969. Berkoff's text was also used for the libretto to Brian Howard's 1983 opera Metamorphosis.[11] Another stage adaptation was performed in 2006 as a co-production of the Icelandic company Vesturport and the London-based Lyric Hammersmith, adapted and directed by Gisli Örn Gardarsson and David Farr, with a music soundtrack performed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, premiering at the Lyric Hammersmith in London. That production has since been performed in 2007 in the National Theatre of Iceland in Reykjavik, Iceland, in a 2008 UK tour in London, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, Plymouth, and again London, also in 2008 in Seoul, South Korea, and Dublin, Ireland, in 2009 in Hong Kong, China, and in Hobart, Tasmania, Wollongong, and Sydney, all Australia, in 2010 in Bogotá, Colombia, Reykjavik, Iceland, and New York City, USA, and in 2011 in Saint Petersburg and Norilsk, both Russia.[12] Another stage adaptation was performed in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2005 by the Centre for Asian Theatre.[13] As of March 2007, that performance was still continuing in Bangladesh.

American cartoonist Robert Crumb drew a comic adaptation of the novella, which is included in the 1993 book Introducing Kafka, an illustrated biography of Kafka also known as Kafka for Beginners, R. Crumb's Kafka, or simply Kafka. American comic artist Peter Kuper illustrated a graphic-novel version, first published by the Crown Publishing Group in 2003.[14]

Allusions/references from other works

Stage

  • Philip Glass composed incidental music for two separate theater productions of the story. These two themes, along with two themes from the Errol Morris film The Thin Blue Line, were incorporated into a five-part piece of music for solo piano entitled Metamorphosis.

Literature

  • Marc Estrin's debut surrealist novel Insect Dreams: The Half Life of Gregor Samsa (2002)[15] "resurrects Kafka's half-cockroach Gregor character"[16] vis-à-vis the world between 1915 and 1945.
  • Brian Keenan's autobiography An Evil Cradling makes reference to Kafka 'My thoughts were preoccupied by my loss of humanity. Was I a kind of Kafkaesque character transformed out of human form into some animal? Something to be locked away from the world?
  • Lance Olsen's novel Anxious Pleasures: A Novel After Kafka retells Kafka's novella from the points of view of those inside his family and out.

Film

  • The 2011 short film Metamorphosis, directed by David Yohe and written by Jason Goldberg is inspired by Kafka's literary classic about a teenage boy transforming into a human-sized cockroach. Nick Searcy, Patricia Bethune and Matt Angel star.
  • Both the 1968 version and the 2005 version of the film The Producers include a scene where the two protagonists are searching for a sure flop. The opening for the play of Metamorphosis is read and rejected for being too good.
  • The 2008 film The Reader features Ralph Fiennes reading aloud from Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis.
  • In 2002 a Russian version titled Prevrashchenie was directed by Valery Fokin with Yevgeny Mironov as Gregor.[17]
  • In 1995, the actor Peter Capaldi won an Oscar for his short-film Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life. The plot of the film has the author (played by Richard E. Grant) trying to write the opening line of Metamorphosis and experimenting with various things that Gregor might turn into, such as a banana or a kangaroo. The film is also notable for a number of Kafkaesque moments.
  • In 1993 Carlos Atanes directed The Metamorphosis of Franz Kafka, a controversial adaptation based on The Metamorphosis as well on biographical details from Kafka's family.
  • in Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale, Jeff Daniels's and Jesse Eisenberg's characters make several references to The Metamorphosis.
  • The novella is referenced in the 1986 film The Fly when Seth Brundle, nearing the end of his own metamorphosis into "Brundlefly", says to Ronnie Quaife, "I'm an insect...who dreamt he was a man...and loved it. But now the dream is over...and the insect is awake."
  • In the Mel Brooks film Space Balls, the commander orders crewman "Kafka" to begin the metamorphosis on the spaceship.

Comics

  • American cartoonist Robert Crumb drew an illustrated adaptation of the novella which appears in the book Introducing Kafka.
  • In the comic book Johnny the Homicidal Maniac by Jhonen Vasquez, the eponymous Johnny is plagued by a roach that keeps appearing in his house no matter how many times he kills it (whether or not this roach is immortal or simply many different roaches is up to interpretation) and is affectionately named "Mr. Samsa".
  • In The Simpsons book Treehouse of Horror Spook-tacular, Matt Groening did a spoof on the metamorphosis, entitling it "Metamorphosimpsons".
  • Peter Kuper (illustrator of Kafka's Give It Up!) also adapted Kafka's Metamorphosis.

Music

My little brother is an insect / He likes to crawl around his room / His mother shudders at the sight of him / His pappy is a businessman / Every move he makes is torture / He cannot speak words any more / Our sister likes to flip him on his back / And watch little brother squirm
  • The christian rock band Showbread references The Metamorphosis in their song titled "Samsa Meets Kafka" on their album No Sir, Nihilism Is Not Practical.
  • Extreme metal band Imperial Vengeance adapted the story into the penultimate track of their 2011 album Black Heart of Empire, "Of Insect and Allegory".

Television

  • On the TV Show Home Movies, the characters create a rock opera based on Metamorphosis.
  • In one episode of the television show Arthur (TV series), Brain dreams that he is a giant cockroach because he is scornfully refereed to as a 'pest' by his friends for being domineering.

References

External links

Online editions

Commentary



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