Classics: The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Hi, friends. Today’s book is short and bizarre but is considered a Modernist classic.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

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The Metamorphosis (published in 1915) tells the story of an inexplicably curious ailment that Gregor Samsa wakes up with one morning–he looks down to realize that he has transformed into a beetle. As a hard-working salesman who supports his whole family, Gregor needs to find a way to return to his normal self, but he has no idea what to do.

The initial events are weirdly humorous because Gregor’s mindset is pragmatic; once he figures out how to turn his unfamiliar body and get off the bed without injuring himself, he’ll get dressed and run down to the train station; though he’ll be late to work, he’ll apologize profusely. Of course, Gregor doesn’t get that far.

His family panics once they see what he’s become, but they can’t communicate because Gregor can’t be understood. Over the next few months, Gregor loses his humanity little by little as he spends 99% of his time alone in his room. The Samsa family must adjust to and endure living with Gregor the beetle until the problem finally gets fixed.

Trench_warfare
Trench Warfare

As with most Modernist art, much of the meaning here is enigmatic and symbolic. Having read it twice now, I interpret that many situations in this novel symbolize/reflect “the Modernist struggle.” When I use that phrase, I refer to the changes brought by the technological Industrial Revolution (factories, urbanization) plus WWI disillusionment.

For example, when Gregor wakes up as a beetle, he’s concerned with getting to work rather than questioning the supernatural ludicrousness of his metamorphosis. That extreme pragmatism in response to insanity could reflect people working their tails off just to survive back home while countless young men engaged in the first global-scale war at a point in history where the world had seemed to be progressing rapidly and endlessly. That’s just my assessment, though. 😉 I’ll stop before I accidentally write a literary analysis essay.

Additional Details

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Franz Kafka

The Metamorphosis was originally written in German; the original title is Die Verwandlung. In the German text, Gregor refers to himself as ungeheures Ungeziefer, which translates as “monstrous vermin.” How exactly to translate that phrase has been a concern in capturing the precise image Kafka wanted. Insect? Bug? Beetle? Cockroach?

Interpretations of this work vary greatly. Many use a religious, psychological, or sociological lens to examine its meanings. Others have suggested a father complex, and some have pointed to the mirroring between Gregor and his sister Grete.

In the film The Producers (which is hilarious), when Bialystock and Blum search for “the worst play ever written,” Bialystock reads aloud the first sentence from the book–“Gregor Samsa awoke one morning to find that he had been transformed into a giant cockroach.”–then tosses the script aside, saying “Nah, it’s too good!”

The term “Kafkaesque” means “characteristic or reminiscent of the oppressive or nightmarish qualities of Franz Kafka’s fictional world.”

Thanks for reading! Have you read The Metamorphosis? How do you feel towards Modernist art? Admittedly, I’m dismissive of a lot of it because the line between abstract/symbolic/minimalistic/bizarre vs. being a poor excuse for art gets fuzzy with Modernism.

12 comments

  1. Nice review Lily. I have not read Metamorphosis, but I have read a lot of Ionesco and Brecht. I prefer the more Marxist inspired Modernism. A great example is Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. I appreciate the movement in the arts, but I think it needs the turbulence of war or some other cataclysmic event to make sense. It just doesn’t work for me in times of tranquility.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Pam. I agree that Modernist art works best in the context of societal chaos–only then does it make sense to be truncated or extremely symbolic or plain weird. Outside of that context, Modernist art often just seems lazy and ridiculous.

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      1. It is!!!! I’ve worked on accepting I can’t beat myself up and resting is good versus spending 2-3 hrs every day was a lot of work for me (in addition to writing, etc) Now, I’m content settling down some days and reading 🙂 it has helped me a lot!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. you know that’s a good idea! Also I wanted to say thank you! I went through some posts all the way till beginning of November taking off the part #. Especially for the Bible Summary posts maybe this will be more inviting for readers as I do have the chapter section listed anyways. Tomorrow is Pt. 2 of my Temptation series but I’ve taken off the Pt. 2 in the title and may have to remake the feature image and take off the Pt. 2 in the corner. (or leave it and then don’t do it in further series that follow each other.) 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I feel happy knowing that someone as well-established in the blogging community as you could benefit from my tips. 🙂 Me personally–I will see someone’s “Part 3” of something, knowing full well that I didn’t read the first 2, and read it anyways. But the average person probably wouldn’t! So, your audience could become pretty limited by the time you get around to Part 5 because those who didn’t read the first 4 feel out of the loop. Also, there’s been a lot of times where I read a Part # post and thought to myself “ya know, I see the connection between all these parts, but a person could still read one of these posts out of the series context and still get something from it.”

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      4. Very true! And I feel like if in the post itself a previous part is referenced that may very well be easier. But each post should not be so cryptic that no one can take anything out of it without the other. I always do summaries anyways most of the time at the beginning in case people forgot what they read or didn’t see the previous one. 🙂

        Hey, we can all grow from tips 😉 we don’t know everything ❤

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