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by Franz Kafka


I

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. He was lying on his hard, as it were armor-plated, back and when he lifted his head a little he could see his dome-like brown belly divided into stiff arched segments on top of which the bed quilt could hardly keep in position and was about to slide off completely. His numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his bulk, waved helplessly before his eyes.

What has happened to me? he thought. It was no dream. His room, a regular human bedroom, only rather too small, lay quiet between the four familiar walls. Above the table on which a collection of cloth samples was unpacked and spread out - Samsa was a commercial traveler - hung the picture which he had recently cut out of an illustrated magazine and put into a pretty gilt frame. It showed a lady, with a fur cap on and a fur stole, sitting upright and holding out to the spectator a huge fur muff into which the whole of her forearm had vanished! Gregor's eyes turned next to the window, and the overcast sky - one could hear rain drops beating on the window gutter - made him quite melancholy. What about sleeping a little longer and forgetting all this nonsense, he thought, but it could not be done, for he was accustomed to sleep on his right side and in his present condition he could not turn himself over. However violently he forced himself towards his right side he always rolled on to his back again. He tried it at least a hundred times, shutting his eyes to keep from seeing his struggling legs, and only desisted when he began to feel in his side a faint dull ache he had never experienced before.

Oh God, he thought, what an exhausting job I've picked on! Traveling about day in, day out. It's much more irritating work than doing the actual business in the office, and on top of that there's the trouble of constant traveling, of worrying about train connections, the bed and irregular meals, casual acquaintances that are always new and never become intimate friends. The devil take it all! He felt a slight itching up on his belly; slowly pushed himself on his back nearer to the top of the bed so that he could lift his head more easily; identified the itching place which was surrounded by many small white spots the nature of which he could not understand and made to touch it with a leg, but drew the leg back immediately, for the contact made a cold shiver run through him.

He slid down again into his former position. This getting up early, he thought, makes one quite stupid. A man needs his sleep. Other commercials live like harem women. For instance, when I come back to the hotel of a morning to write up the orders I've got, these others are only sitting down to breakfast. Let me just try that with my chief; I'd be sacked on the spot. Anyhow, that might be quite a good thing for me, who can tell? If I didn't have to hold my hand because of my parents I'd have given notice long ago, I'd have gone to the chief and told him exactly what I think of him. That would knock him endways from his desk! It's a queer way of doing, too, this sitting on high at a desk and talking down to employees, especially when they have to come quite near because the chief is hard of hearing. Well, there's still hope; once I've saved enough money to pay back my parents' debts to him - that should take another five or six years - I'll do it without fail. I'll cut myself completely loose then. For the moment, though, I'd better get up, since my train goes at five.

He looked at the alarm clock ticking on the chest. Heavenly Father! he thought. It was half-past six o'clock and the hands were quietly moving on, it was even past the half-hour, it was getting on toward a quarter to seven. Had the alarm clock not gone off? From the bed one could see that it had been properly set for four o'clock; of course it must have gone off. Yes, but was it possible to sleep quietly through that ear-splitting noise? well he had not slept quietly, yet apparently all the more soundly for that. But what was he to do now? The next train went at seven o'clock; to catch that he would need to hurry like mad and his samples weren't even packed up, and he himself wasn't feeling particularly fresh and active. And even if he did catch the train he wouldn't avoid a row with the chief, since the firm's porter would have been waiting for the five o'clock train and would have long since reported his failure to turn up. The porter was a creature of the chief's, spineless and stupid. Well, supposing he were to say he was sick? But that would be most unpleasant and would look suspicious, since during his five years' employment he had not been ill once. The chief himself would be sure to come with the sick-insurance doctor, would reproach his parents with their son's laziness and would cut all excuses short by referring to the insurance doctor, who of course regarded all mankind as perfectly healthy malingerers. And would he be so far wrong on this occasion? Gregor really felt quite welt apart from a drowsiness that was utterly superfluous after such a long sleep, and he was even unusually hungry. As all this was running through his mind at top speed without his being able to decide to leave his bed - the alarm clock had just struck a quarter to seven - there came a cautious tap at the door behind the head of his bed.

"Gregor," said a voice - it was his mother's - "it's a quarter to seven. Hadn't you a train to catch?" That gentle voice! Gregor had a shock as he heard his own voice answering hers, unmistakably his own voice, it was true, but with a persistent horrible twittering squeak behind it like an undertone, that left the words in their clear shape only for the first moment and then rose up reverberating round them to destroy their sense, so that one could not be sure one had heard them rightly. Gregor wanted to answer at length and explain everything, but in the circumstances he confined himself to saying:

"Yes, yes, thank you, Mother, I'm getting up now." The wooden door between them must have kept the change in his voice from being noticeable outside, for his mother contented herself with this statement and shuffled away. Yet this brief exchange of words had made the other members of the family aware that Gregor was still in the house, as they had not expected, and at one of the side doors his father was already knocking, gently, yet with his fist.

"Gregor, Gregor," he called, "what's the matter with you?" And after a little while he called again in a deeper voice: "Gregor! Gregor!" At the other side door his sister was saying in a low, plaintive tone:

"Gregor? Aren't you well? Are you needing anything?" He answered them both at once:

"I'm just ready," and did his best to make his voice sound as normal as possible by enunciating the words very clearly and leaving long pauses between them. So his father went back to his breakfast, but his sister whispered:

"Gregor, open the door, do." However, he was not thinking of opening the door, and felt thankful for the prudent habit he had acquired in traveling of locking all doors during the night, even at home. His immediate intention was to get up quietly without being disturbed, to put on his clothes and above all eat his breakfast, and only then to consider what else was to be done, since in bed, he was well aware, his meditations would come to no sensible conclusion. He remembered that often enough in bed he had felt small aches and pains, probably caused by awkward postures, which had proved purely imaginary once he got up, and he looked forward eagerly to seeing this morning's delusions gradually fall away. That the change in his voice was nothing but the precursor of a severe chill, a standing ailment of commercial travelers, he had not the least possible doubt.

To get rid of the quilt was quite easy; he had only to inflate himself a little and it fell off by itself. But the next move was difficult, especially because he was so uncommonly broad. He would have needed arms and hands to hoist himself up; instead he had only the numerous little legs which never stopped waving in all directions and which he could not control in the least. When he tried to bend one of them it was the first to stretch itself straight; and did he succeed at last in making it do what he wanted, all the other legs meanwhile waved the more wildly in a high degree of unpleasant agitation. "But what's the use of lying idle in bed," said Gregor to himself.

He thought that he might get out of bed with the lower part of his body first, but this lower part, which he had not yet seen and of which he could form no clear conception, proved too difficult to move; it shifted so slowly; and when finally, almost wild with annoyance, he gathered his forces together and thrust out recklessly, he had miscalculated the direction and bumped heavily against the lower end of the bed, and the stinging pain he felt informed him that precisely this lower part of his body was at the moment probably the most sensitive.

So he tried to get the top part of himself out first, and cautiously moved his head towards the edge of the bed. That proved easy enough, and despite its breadth and mass the bulk of his body at last slowly followed the movement of his head. Still, when he finally got his head free over the edge of the bed he felt too scared to go on advancing, for after all if he let himself fall in this way it would take a miracle to keep his head from being injured. And at all costs he must not lose consciousness now, precisely now; he would rather stay in bed. But when after a repetition of the same efforts he lay in his former position again, sighing, and watched his little legs struggling against each other more wildly than ever, if that were possible, and saw no way of bringing any order into this arbitrary confusion, he told himself again that it was impossible to stay in bed and that the most sensible course was to risk everything for the smallest hope of getting away from it. At the same time he did not forget meanwhile to remind himself that cool reflection, the coolest possible, was much better than desperate resolves. In such moments he focused his eyes as sharply as possible on the window, but, unfortunately, the prospect of the morning fog, which muffled even the other side of the narrow street, brought him little encouragement and comfort. "Seven o'clock already," he said to himself when the alarm clock chimed again, "seven o'clock already and still such a thick fog." And for a little while he lay quiet, breathing lightly, as if perhaps expecting such complete repose to restore all things to their real and normal condition.

But then he said to himself: "Before it strikes a quarter past seven I must be quite out of this bed, without fail. Anyhow, by that time someone will have come from the office to ask for me, since it opens before seven." And he set himself to rocking his whole body at once in a regular rhythm, with the idea of swinging it out of the bed. If he tipped himself out in that way he could keep his head from injury by lifting it at an acute angle when he fell. His back seemed to be hard and was not likely to suffer from a fall on the carpet. His biggest worry was the loud crash he would not be able to help making, which would probably cause anxiety, if not terror, behind all the doors. still he must take the risk.

When he was already half out of the bed-the new method was more a game than an effort, for he needed only to hitch himself across by rocking to and fro - it struck him how simple it would be if he could get help. Two strong people - he thought of his father and the servant girl - would be amply sufficient; they would only have to thrust their arms under his convex back, lever him out of the bed, bend down with their burden and then be patient enough to let him turn himself right over on to the floor, where it was to be hoped his legs would then find their proper function. Well, ignoring the fact that the doors were all locked, ought he really to call for help? In spite of his misery he could not suppress a smile at the very idea of it.


continue: The Metamorphosis 2

     In works of fiction an author often expresses himself through the characters in the story. A perfect example of this symbolism is found in The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. The similarities found between Franz Kafka and the story's central character, Gregor Samsa, occur in three main areas. Firstly, the domineering fathers of Kafka and Samsa controlled their lives and affected their every decision. Secondly, Franz Kafka shares many similar personality traits as the main character of the story, Gregor Samsa. Lastly, an even stronger link is the relation of the effects of Kafka's and Samsa's illnesses on their lives.

     In his father's eyes, Franz Kafka was always a failure. His father, Hermann Kafka strongly disapproved of Franz's budding writing career. Hermann's hot head and short temper led him frequently to beat the budding young writer (Delafaette 1). Similarly, in The Metamorphosis, Gregor's father is the first person who physically attacks Gregor in his insect state. Gregor's father is also the chief cause of Gregor's death, when he throws the apple onto the "vermin's" back. The apple infects Gregor and slowly rots, causing Gregor to experience a slow and painful death. Through out the novella, Gregor's father is portrayed as a man with complete control over his family and children. Mr. Samsa has complete control of the family, both emotionally and financially. The father at his discretion appropriated the income of the family. It can be interpreted that Gregor has been the subject of perennial abuse from his father. The fear of abuse is indicated in the line when Gregor states "…he was afraid of exasperating his father by the slowness of such a rotation and at any moment the stick in his father's hand might hit him a fatal blow on the back or on the head." Although in this context his father's exasperation is because of Gregor's insect state, it is clear that Gregor understands and fears his father's temper. Likewise, Kafka was subserviently tied to his father during much of his life. In the case of Kafka, however, the control was more emotional than financial (Kafka 2). The demoralizing influence of their fathers, however, was the same for both Kafka and Samsa.

     By the end of the novel, Gregor Samsa feels alienated by the indifferent, and sometimes hostile world around him. Kafka also felt this alienation through out his life. In fact, most of Kafka's works are known to symbolize his anxiety and loneliness in the apathetic world in which he lived. Kafka, like many German Jews of his time, felt much isolation in the society around him (Delafaette 1). This feeling of isolation is perfectly portrayed in The Metamorphosis. Kafka writes, "In a room where Gregor forded it all alone over empty walls no one…was likely ever to set foot." It is safe to assume Kafka felt the same feeling of loneliness that Samsa did for much of his life. The feeling of helplessness that Kafka experienced during his life is characterized in Samsa. Samsa feels trapped in his desk job, which his family depends on. To the outside world, Samsa seemed to be perfectly happy with his life, despite the dissatisfaction that raged inside of him. As an insect, Samsa feels he is powerless to make any changes to his roach-like state, and instead lives in seclusion, seemingly at peace with his horrible fate. Kafka also externally appeared to be in accord with his surroundings, though that probably was not the case.

     Many people believe that Kafka's contraction of tuberculosis in 1917 was somehow a direct result of the unhappiness inside of him (Delafaette 1). Whether this belief is true or not is trivial, because regardless of that fact there is a clear relation between Kafka's sickness and Samsa's metamorphosis into a bug-like state. Like Kafka, Samsa's days mostly consisted of his work related to his occupation, leaving little time for anything else. In the case of Kafka, a more direct connection between his contraction of tuberculosis seems to be his diligence in his work and the lack of care towards his general health. Kafka worked for many years for a semipublic Worker's Accident Insurance with generally good health until his sickness. At that point his obsession with his job and writing was so developed that he had become abnormal, something far from human. Likewise, Samsa's metamorphosis occurs at a point in time when most of his life is devoted towards his occupation. Samsa develops also into something "not human", in the most literal sense of the phrase. The tuberculosis that afflicted Kafka spread slowly into his larynx, and after a long and painful death, Kafka died in June of 1924 (Kafka 4). The rotting apple in Samsa's back can be seen as the tuberculosis that gave Kafka so much pain. Like the tuberculosis, the infection in Gregor's back slowly overtook his body, and gradually as Gregor's body weakened, so did his views of life and the society in which he lived. When Kafka's journal was discovered, some entries towards the end of the journal described his utterly gruesome and painful death. Although the public was never meant to see the entries, it has been reported that the vivid description of Samsa's death is not unlike that which was found in the journal (Kafka 4). If this is true, then the connection between the illnesses of Kafka and Samsa must be more than simple coincidence.

     The Metamorphosis is more than an exposition of Franz Kafka's thoughts of modern man in society. It is in fact a symbol of Franz Kafka's life and how he felt towards society during his time. Kafka's emotional dependence on his family is clear when viewing Samsa as a symbol of his persona. One cannot help but grieve for Kafka when viewing Samsa's horrible fate as one and the same with the author. The Metamorphosis is the most literal portrayal of the inner feelings of Kafka during the most painful and emotional moment of his life. This fact is supported by Kafka's journals, which leave no ambiguity towards the nature of his death. This reason is why Samsa and Kafka are so similar, and it is why The Metamorphosis is such a classic post-modern work.

Delafaette, Quill. Franz Kafka. Homepages.go.com. 23 Nov 2000. http://homepages.go.com/~quilllit/kafka.html.

Kafka, Leni. Biography. Fortunecity.com. 23 Nov 2000. http://victorian.fortunecity.com/vermeer/287/biography.htm.

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

"When Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect."

Perhaps Kafka's finest and most typifying sentence, this opening line of The Metamorphosis hits the reader like a blunt object. The first thing I'd like to note is the evocation of horror by means of the blase, the typically Kafkan mode of punctuation-by-banality. Samsa does not scream, and he is not afraid. He's barely confused. "A gigantic insect? Oh." Like Josef K. discovering the whipping men in the closet of his office, we are merely informed of what is, without any attempts at the elucidation of the reason. And it is the question we mean to ask right here, and don't, cannot, that haunts the reader throughout the remainder of the text. A question that we had expected to arise as a reflex does not come, and from here stems a sense of vertigo.

And there we've had it. That's the metamorphosis. The story climaxes in its very first sentence, establishing an uncanny and perhaps unprecedented sort of structure. The volume slowly fades with each page from here on. The entire shape of the novella is thrown off, is irregular, is mangled.

The mention of Samsa's having awoken from "uneasy dreams" appears at first to allude to a symptom of his overnight mutation, but it must also be understood as a flight from unreality. Samsa has awoken. The implication that Samsa has returned to the true is unavoidable. Perhaps the uneasy dreams from which he'd awoke were the dreams of his humanity. Perhaps he's come to confront his true form. Kafka explicitly states: "It was no dream." The uneasy dreams have subsided. This, Gregor Samsa, is what you have become.

Why an insect? Throughout the story we see Samsa painted as a fellow preoccupied with the practical side of life, a man leading a life of pure utility. In the frame in his room, which he would later throw his insect body against to protect from his family, was a cutout of a woman from a magazine. This frame, how it is situated, how Samsa reacts to it, ought to have been reserved for a picture of a girlfriend or a scene from his own life, but instead it is inhabited by fantasy, by what Samsa does not have, does not want, does not know to hunger for.

This theme is reinforced by just about everything we learn of Samsa over the course of the remainder of the text. His obsession with his sister's music is not a passion he can enjoy directly, but rather a passion he can only enjoy through his sister. In other words, his love of her musical endeavors is a love of the fulfillment of his own duty more than it is a personal passion. Samsa can only approach music through this harmless backdoor of his responsibility, that which must be done, rather than as a choice, as a will, as a desire.

We learn that Samsa's enslavement to his boss is on account of the debts of his parents. Samsa fantasizes about talking back to his boss, a fantasy his character would be unable to realize. He would continue to bear the burden of the debts of his parents indefinitely. Fulfilling his responsibilities. Boarding this train and that, this train and that, like clockwork. He does not get sick, he does not take days off. His sexuality and any hobbies and any interests, all inklings of all passions, seem to have left him. He is a busy man. He is busy living like an insect. Perhaps becoming an insect could teach him to live like a man.

Kafka’s The Metamorphosis critiques aspects of the society of the early twentieth century. These include the overattachment to career and financial success, and the assimilation or destruction of differing ideal systems. He addresses these by creating a ridiculous, yet very metaphorical situation. The protagonist, Gregor Samsa, “found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” That is, one day he simply woke up to find that he had become a big bug. This displays Gregor’s disassociation with the rest of his society, and maybe more importantly, with himself.

The first part of the novella supports this well by almost sarcastically showing the demands that his job places on him and the returned vigor he has always put into it. He generally wakes up at four o’clock in the morning, but turning into a bug has made him late. “Heavenly Father! He thought. It was half-past six o’clock and the hands were quietly moving on…” After realizing how late he is, Gregor considers the possibility of feigning sickness. However, “…during his five years’ employment he had not been ill once.” Obviously, Gregor is a person very much concerned with his work. He is actually characterized this way directly when his boss comes to investigate his delinquency. Here, his mother says, “he’s not well, sir, believe me. What else would make him miss a train! The boy thinks of nothing but his work.” This is how society views, and expects to view Gregor and his attitude towards work. Despite this, Gregor’s personal view towards work is quite different. Almost in complaint against having to wake up, he thinks, “If I didn’t have to hold my hand because of my parents I’d have given notice long ago, I’d have gone to the chief and told him exactly what I think of him. That would knock him endways from his desk.” He views his occupation and the other employees with contempt and disgust. “The porter was a creature of the chief’s, spineless and stupid.” His attitude towards his own job is one of being “condemned.” Feeling this way about his work, Gregor is already in conflict with the views of society.

In this way, Gregor’s transformation into a bug can be viewed as an extension of his true feelings. Just as he feels downtrodden and oppressed by his work, insects are stepped upon and crushed. Gregor identifies with the insects under his feet, because he knows how it feels to be stepped on. So, Gregor the insect, can be seen as a symbol for his own real views.

After Gregor is transformed into a bug, and his true feelings come out, he becomes clearly unsuited for work. His only entertainment comes from running and climbing about the walls and ceiling, and doing other very “bug-like” things. In attempting to continue his human activities, such as getting out of bed, turning a key, or even getting through a door, Gregor managed mostly to damage his insect body. In turning a key to unlock a door, Gregor’s bug jaws “manage to set the key in motion, heedless of the fact that he must be damaging them somewhere, since a brown fluid issued from his mouth, flowed over the key and dripped on the floor.” He now exists with his real views unleashed, and he is unable to interact with his previous world.

Just as Gregor cannot find a way to communicate with his family, his family, upon seeing his insect form and his true attitude towards work, has a completely different view of him. The reaction of his father, who, “knotted his fist with a fierce expression on his face as if he meant to knock Gregor back into his room, then looked uncertainly round the living room, covered his eyes with his hands and wept till his great chest heaved” was especially interesting. At first, they see his transformation as something terrible. They think he has become something less than human. Upon hearing Gregor speak, the chief clerk says, “That was no human voice.” They are at once angry, ashamed, terrified and sad because of the transformation, which they view as a death rather than a metamorphosis.

Using this as a base, Kafka constructs his social criticism.

During Gregor’s metamorphosis and the days after, his mother held up the belief that he might somehow, “get better”, or improve in his condition. When his sister wants to move all of his furniture out of his room as an attempt to better accommodate his insect form, his mother replies, “doesn’t it look as if we were showing him, by taking away his furniture, that we have given up hope of his ever getting better and are just leaving him coldly to himself? I think it would be best to leave his room exactly as it has always been, so that when he comes back to us he will find everything unchanged and be able all the more easily to forget what has happened in between.” However, she abandons this belief to her daughter’s resolve, and begins to move furniture out anyway. Through this circumstance, we see that the person who most wanted Gregor’s recovery has abandoned him to his insect body, and the disassociation it closely resembles. Kafka uses this to show how, much like Gregor’s mother abandoned him, society disregards those that are not in touch with it. Those that do not fit in, the bugs, are cast out and left for dead, no matter how much someone might wish for their recovery.

Gregor’s new insect shape is disgusting even to himself. He agrees with society in that he should get up early, work hard, and live for his company and family. He is disturbed by this to the point that, “…whenever the need for earning money was mentioned Gregor let go is hold on the door and threw himself down on the cool leather sofa beside it, he felt so hot with shame and grief.” Finding that he doesn’t fit in with that makes him feel horrible, like a big bug. Kafka uses this story to show that this a self destructive value. Believing that one should work as hard as possible every day and those that do not are disgusting bugs caused Gregor some very serious problems. For instance, believing that he is an insect, and slowly dying. The abandonment of Gregor by his father shows that society does not grasp this idea, that a negative, strained, relationship with work is destructive. When Gregor undergoes his metamorphosis and no longer supports the family, his father shuns him, and begins to work in a similar job himself, just as vigorously as Gregor had. “…he slept fully dressed where he sat, as if he were ready for service at any moment and even here only at the beck and call of his superior.” This might very well lead him down a similar path.

The last person to truly abandon Gregor is his sister. This is represented by a series of changes in her character. At the start of Gregor’s transformation, she is very close to him, and he plans to send her to the Conservatorium to play the violin. She is related, in all her early aspects, to the ideals that Gregor might hold, such as individualism and a focus on art rather than work. As the story progresses, she changes to become more able to support the family now that Gregor cannot. She takes on responsibility first by caring for Gregor, and later by getting a job and working daily. Her earlier individualistic and aesthetic principles are lost. This is displayed in the scene where she plays the violin for several lodgers, but no one appreciates the music except for Gregor. The lodgers, “…were making it more than ovious that they had been disappointed in their expectation of the performance and only out of courtesy suffered a continued disturbance of their peace.” It is made clear to Gregor’s sister that a career in violin playing is an impossibility. At the end of the story, her character has changed almost completely. Her parents quickly, “come to the conclusion that it would soon be time to find a good husband for her.” Here, she is shown in stark contrast to the values put forward by Gregor, who would have sent her to the Conservatorium. Kafka uses this to illustrate how society, in a way, defeats or assimilates those who stand in opposition. Gregor’s sister shows how culture can absorb and force people into its own value system using a basic need like money.

In The Metamorphosis, Kafka creates the very metaphorical situation of Gregor Samsa, who finds himself transformed into a giant bug as he wakes up one morning. Through this transformation, he critiques such aspects of society as work ethics, and the way differing ideals and values are treated.

(from knowledge I've gathered regarding this, one of my favourite novels . . .)

Background

Originally published in German as Die Verwandlung1, Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis is the longest, and perhaps the most famous of his novels.2 Written in twenty days, between November 17th and December 7th of 1912 (Kafka was then 29 years old), it was first presented by Kafka in a reading to his friends on December 24th, a reading that provoked laughter due to the macabre, cold narrative style.

As with almost all of Kafka's work, the gap between manuscript and publication was a long and difficult one. Ideas were floated about to publish it coupled with The Verdict and the first chapter of the novel America, then known as Der Heizer. This compilation was to be titled Sons (Söhne). Later, another idea was raised: to publish it with The Verdict and The Penal Colony, as a compilation titled Punishments(Strafen) Finally, nearly three years after being written, Metamorphosis was published by Kurt Wolff's magazine Die weissen Blätter(The White Pages). The common "misunderstood genius recognized only by posterity" situation was only partly true in Kafka's case, as he won the Fontane Literature Prize that year.

The Book

When reading Kafka's Metamorphosis, it is too easy to focus only on the immediately obvious - the man-into-insect transformation, the cruelty the family demonstrates towards Gregor Samsa once he has been transformed - while ignoring Kafka's art, his construction of the story, and the subtle humor that permeates the story. The beginning of the story is shocking: (translation may vary)

When Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect3.

Still, Kafka doesn't take the easy road out by plunging into "imagination" or "dreams": It was no dream.

The rest of the story follows a similar thread - Kafka presents us this absurd situation as fact and, more often than not, the reader simply accepts this fact and moves on.

Kafka's criticism was of capitalism and its dreary routine; Gregor is burdened throughout his life by the pressures of money and work. He works not for himself or by his own choice, but to pay off his father's debts (Kafka's tense relationship with his father is well-documented, his father never recognizing Kafka's career as author as a valid one, his destructive influence something like Brian Wilson's father's). His first thoughts on realizing his terrible transformation are not of himself, but of how he will get to his job; his mother's concern at first is not for him, but for the fact that he will be late to that job. And among the few who visit the house? A representative from that job

Kafka writes in long phrases, punctuated often by dialogue. The characters are all a bit larger-than-life, which is to be expected in this Expressionistic work. The scene, for example, of Gregor's father finally taking a stand and kicking out the tenants could just as well be accompanied by fast-paced classical music and a sped-up film reel.

The crucial moment, and the closest this novel comes to a climax4 is the violin scene, where at the tenants' request, Gregor's sister comes out to play violin for them. Gregor, in his human form, had been a strong supporter of his sister's music playing:

With his sister alone had he remained intimate, and it was a secret plan of his that she, who, unlike himself, loved music and could play the violin movingly, should be sent next year to study at the Conservatory, despite the great expense that would entail and which would have to be made up in some other way.

One evening, while Gregor's sister is playing violin in the kitchen, Gregor's parents hear noises from the living room:

"Is the violin playing disturbing you, gentlemen? It can be stopped at once." "On the contrary," said the middle boarder, "wouldn't the young lady like to join us here and play where it is much more pleasant and comfortable?"

She does come out and, enticed by this music, Gregor slowly crawls out of his room, where he has remained since his transformation. This is the most human we find him in the novel, and it is at this precise moment that we could perhaps contemplate a de-metamorphosis, a return to his previous form. However, disaster strikes:

"Mr. Samsa!" cried the middle boarder to Gregor's father, and pointed, without wasting any more words, at Gregor, now working himself slowly forward. The violin fell silent, the middle boarder first smiled to his friends with a shake of the head and then looked at Gregor again. Instead of driving Gregor out, his father seemed to think it more important to begin by soothing down the boarders, although they were not at all agitated and apparently found Gregor more entertaining than the violin playing. He hurried toward them and, spreading out his arms, tried to urge them back into their own room and at the same time to block their view of Gregor. They now began to be really a little angry, one could not tell whether because of the old man's behavior or because it had just dawned on them that without knowing it they had such a neighbor as Gregor in the next room. They demanded explanations of his father, they waved their arms like him, tugged uneasily at their beards, and only with reluctance backed toward their room.

Thus, the chain of events leading up to Gregor's death and the family's taking back control of their household is set off.

Metamorphosis is, in short, a tour de force of human cruelty, Kafka's narrative strength carrying the novel's grotesque, incongruous elements with grace. The end of the book manages to heighten the book's despairing atmosphere even further:

They[Mr. and Mrs. Samsa]grew quieter and half unconsciously exchanged glances of complete agreement, having both come to the conclusion that it would soon be time to find a good husband for [their daughter]. And it was like a confirmation of their new dreams and excellent intentions that at the end of their ride their daughter sprang to her feet first and stretched her young body.

In other words, Grete Samsa is about to undergo the terrible process of alienation that led to her brother's metamorphosis.

Notes

[1] A title with double meaning in its original language, as it means both metamorphosis and also (or so I am told) is used in theatre to describe a change of scenery.

[2] The Trial, although somewhat incomplete, surpasses it artistically, in my opinion.

[3] Kafka was adamant that the insect in question would remain unclassified, and that under no circumstance would the cover depict the "monstrous vermin" in question.

[4] Gregor's death is highly anticlimatic and reported by Kafka with the kind of calm, passive tone that is present throughout the novel:

The first broadening of light in the world outside the window just entered his consciousness. Then his head sank to the floor of its own accord and from his nostrils came the last faint flicker of his breath.

No dramatic, blazing death here; Gregor goes out with a whimper.

Sources

[1] Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis, originally Die Verwanderlung, translator unknown. 

        The Kafka Project (http://www.kafka.org) accessed 01/01/03.
[2] Carone, Modesto. "A mais célebre novela de Kafka". Companhia das Letras, 1997.

Although it is obvious from the text that Gregor awakes as a giant bug at the start of The Metamorphosis, the reader never learns the reason for the transformation. Its cause can only be gleaned from hints and symbolism interspersed throughout the novella, that tell about Gregor’s past life and circumstances. These references suggest that, to his family, Gregor never really changes except in the physical sense; they look upon him the same way before his metamorphosis as they do afterwards. Gregor has always been a vermin; his change is merely an ostentation of what he already is.

To his family, Gregor has always been like a vermin, treated with disdain and contempt. His family makes this known in several subtle, almost subconscious ways. One of the most important of these occurs near the beginning of the story when Gregor misses the train and the office manager arrives at his home. Gregor is still locked in his room and Mrs. Samsa, seeing his supervisor quickly exclaims that “...he’s so stubborn.” (Kafka 10), “and that there’s certainly something wrong with him, even though he says...there isn’t” (Kafka 10). This statement, which Gregor’s mother utters before the manager can do more than greet her, shows the subconscious revulsion and loathing she has for her son. While his mother shows her abhorrence for Gregor through her speech, his father shows it through his actions. Gregor starts working after his father’s business collapses, suffering for the sins of his father by working off his debts. Mr. Samsa, instead of acknowledging Gregor’s sacrifice and trying to make his labors as short as possible, hoards some of the money away. In doing this, he greedily takes money which would make the day that Gregor “can get rid of his job...much closer” (Kafka 28). Gregor is vermin-like not only to his family, but to his employers as well. When the office manager comes to Gregor’s home, he tells Gregor through his door that he views him as possessing “...incomprehensible obstinacy...” (Kafka 11), and that his “...performance of late is very unsatisfactory” (Kafka 12). These admonitions show how the company, in addition to Gregor’s family, is beginning to view him as an unwanted pest.

Gregor’s metamorphosis is not brought about by special circumstances but is rather the actualization of his existence as a vermin. This is made known to the reader in several places throughout the novella. At the very beginning of the book, “...Gregor Samsa wakes up...changed into a monstrous vermin” (Kafka 3). However, in its original German, ‘monstrous vermin’ literally means an unclean animal that is unfit for sacrifice. Gregor sacrifices himself for his family before the beginning of the novella, working hard to pay off debts and to feed his family. However, since they view him as something unclean, his inability to sacrifice himself manifests by turning him into a bug that can not work for money. Another instance that argues for this point is in the second part of the story when Gregor thinks to himself that “in no time his successes on the job are transformed...into hard cash that can be plunked down on the table...in front of his...family” (Kafka 27). With this statement, Gregor shows the reader how his human accomplishments can be transformed into inhuman objects. This situation mirrors his own in which his human efforts to aid his family transform him into something that they view as inhuman. This theme is revealed again when Grete tells her parents how “...Gregor realizes long ago that it isn’t possible for human beings to live with such a creature...” (Kafka 52). However, the reader learns earlier in the novella that Gregor had in fact lived apart from his family, “...locking all the doors during the night even at home,” (Kafka 6) as well as getting on the train before the rest of his family wakes up. From this we can see an unconscious urge in Gregor to separate himself from his family because they can not live with him, whom they view as a vermin.

Gregor’s transformation is the physical realization of his status as a social vermin, something unfit to be around humans or to benefit them. This vermin status is not sudden coming with his metamorphosis, but rather something that is with him in an intangible form since his family and company started taking him for granted. Gregor’s change is a delayed reaction that had been set in motion at the time that he became unclean; he had always been unclean and him becoming a bug was merely a manifestation of this.

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