The Metamorphosis (1912) Franz Kafka


Franz Kafka
born July 3, 1883, Prague, Bohemia, Austria-Hungary [now in Czech Republic]
died June 3, 1924, Kierling, near Vienna, Austria

Czech-born German-language writer of visionary fiction, whose posthumously published novelsóespecially Der Prozess (1925; The Trial) and Das Schloss (1926; The Castle)óexpress the anxieties and alienation of modern man.

Towards an interpretation of The Metamorphosis (1912)


Biographical notes: Kafka in 1911-12

During the previous year, Kafka had become a silent partner in his father's manufacturing business, an asbestos factory. Despite Kafka's objections, his father was pressuring him to spend more time at the factory overseeing the operation (and preventing theft!) Kafka, meanwhile, was holding down his regular job as a 'writer' for an insurance company and staying up late into the evening composing his own fiction in the upstairs room of his crowded family apartment. 

Kafka had recently gotten his first big break in the publishing business. His close friend, Max Brod, had submitted some of Kafka's shorter stories to a German publishing firm (without Kafka's permission). The firm had responded positively, and their representatives were encouraging Kafka to put together enough material for a collection of short stories. Kafka was excited by the opportunity, but he did not believe that any of his stories measured up to his exacting standards of literary quality.

During 1911, Kafka had also been active as a producer for a Yiddish theatre company which had arrived in Prague (and promptly run out of funds). Kafka became close friends with the troupe's leader, and tried to arrange a benefit performance at a local community hall. (The evening was a fiasco!) Kafka identified closely with the unabashed ethnicity and uninhibited sensuality of this brand of theatre. He enjoyed the acerbic irony and wild humor of the troupe's use of the Yiddish language. His father, though, was an assimilated Jew who resented his son's association with these ghetto clowns. He openly insulted Kafka's friends during one visit of the troupe to Kafka's home.

In September of 1912, Kafka was invited to Max Brod's home to put the finishing touches on the portfolio of stories to be sent to the German publishing house. That night he met Felice Bauer, the daughter of a Berlin businessman, who had at the age of twenty-five had earned an executive position in a company selling Dictaphones. That first night Kafka invited Felice to accompany him and his friends on a planned trip to Palestine the next summer. A few weeks later, Kafka summoned the courage to write a letter to Felice in Berlin. That night, Kafka stayed up all night and wrote The Judgment. He wrote nearly a hundred letters to Felice over the next few months, their correspondence becoming increasingly passionate. At the same time Kafka began work on a novel, Amerika, that would never be finished (or published in Kafka's lifetime). In November, after receiving a letter from Felice that he interpreted as indicating her interest in another man, Kafka wrote The Metamorphosis over a three week span.


Narrative Point of View:

Kafka locates his narrative perspective deep within Gregor Samsa's disturbed psyche. Gregor clearly does not fully grasp what is happening to him. The reader, however, can glimpse Kafka's true perspective by paying close attention to incongruous details in the story and by persistently questioning assumptions that Gregor would have us accept at face value. To interpret this story, the reader must translate Gregor's reality into our own. The truth is disclosed in snatches inferred from Gregor's radically dislocated perspective.

Of Bugs and Vermin:

Virulent anti-Semitic propaganda in Central Europe frequently depicted Jews as vermin which must be exterminated to protect the health of humanity.


Humor:

Take careful note of the humor Kafka uses to balance the ghastliness of this horror story. Remember that Gogol believed that ridicule was the one weapon that the Devil could not resist in his on-going struggle for possession of our souls.



The Metamorphosis: Part One

Key Question: What has caused Gregor's transformation into 'an enormous bug'?

  1. Where is the story set? 
  2. What time does Gregor usually get up to go to work?
  3. What is weird about the way Gregor responds to his situation (ie, BEING A BUG!!!)?
  4. What is Gregorís job?
  5. Why hasnít he quit?
  6. Who comes to Gregorís home at 7:00 a.m. to inquire why he is still in bed?
  7. What does Gregor usually do with his free time?
  8. How does Gregor finally succeed in opening the door?
  9. What happens when Gregor tries to apologize for not getting to work on time?
  10. What happens to Gregor when his Father forces him back into his bedroom?

The Metamorphosis: (Part Two) 

Key Question: Can Gregor get better? If so, how?

  1. Why won't Gregor eat the milk and bread that have been left in a bucket for him?
  2. What daily routine develops with Gregor and his sister? 
  3. Why does the room smell so badly?
  4. What does Gregor do to spare his sister the sight of his buggy body?
  5. What facts about the family's financial situation have been kept from Gregor?
  6. What had Gregor planned to give his sister for Christmas?
  7. Why does Gregorís mother disagree with Gregorís sister plan to remove all the furniture? 
  8. What does Gregor do when they try to remove his writing desk?
  9. What kind of metamorphosis has Gregor's father been through? 
  10. How does Gregor get injured this time?

Extra Credit: Which other characters whom we have studied this year regressed into the magical world of infancy in their quest for complete power?


The Metamorphosis: ( Part Three) 

Key Question: What causes Gregorís death? 

  1. How has the family adjusted to the loss of Gregorís income?
  2. How does the family treat Gregor now?
  3. Who is the only family member still on his side?
  4. What does the new cleaning woman think of Gregor?
  5. What does Gregor do as a last ditch attempt to recover control over his family?
  6. What is strange about the response of the lodgers to the sight of Gregor?
  7. Who is it that makes the final decision that Gregor must go?
  8. What is Gregorís last thought before he expires?
  9. What does the cleaning woman do when she finds him?
  10. How does Gregorís family respond to the news?