The Metamorphosis

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search
The Metamorphosis  

First edition cover
Author Franz Kafka
Original title 'Die Verwandlung'
Translator see individual articles
Country Austro-Hungarian Empire
Language German
Genre(s) Philosophical novella
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 widely considered 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 an insect (see Lost in translation, below).


[edit] Plot summary

Gregor Samsa awakes one morning in his family's apartment to find himself inexplicably transformed overnight into a gigantic insect. Gregor does not immediately recoil from his insect form, but instead chooses to lament his job by saying, "How am I going to get to work?" and the general misery of the rainy weather outside. Indeed, the narrative establishes the poor conditions as the cause of his bed-ridden state. Gregor works as a traveling salesman, and, as it is usual for traveling salesmen to move constantly from place to place, he is accustomed to waking up in unfamiliar surroundings and various circumstances. The true reality of his metamorphosis is complete when he sees his many legs waving in the air. But from then on he resists any conscious recognition regarding his change or the fact that a change indeed happened—everything but the recognition of his separation from the others. The problem Gregor has at the beginning of the story is that his family and a messenger from his boss are knocking at the door, concerned for him, and he's unable to flip off his back onto the floor.

The weight on Gregor’s life is that he is the financial head of the household; nobody else apparently works in his family (or is able to work); their whole present and comfortable existence relies upon Gregor’s employment at the "firm." Most of the weight is the debt which his father owes to the employer for whom Gregor now works.

Gregor is unable to speak in his insect form, and never successfully communicates with his family at all after his physical appearance is revealed to them. He is alienated by being suffered the usage of a voice of some other thing. However, he seems to retain his cognitive faculties, though his family remains unaware of this.

Curiously, his condition does not arouse a sense of surprise or incredulity in the eyes of his family, who merely despise it as an indication of impending burden. However, most of the story revolves around his interactions with his family, with whom he lives, and their shock, denial, and repulsion whenever he reveals his physical condition. Horrified by his appearance, they take to shutting Gregor into his room, but do try to care for him by providing him with food and water. Grete, the sister, takes charge of caring for Gregor, initially working hard to make him comfortable. Nevertheless, they seem to want as little to do with him as possible. Grete and the mother shrink back whenever he reveals himself, and Gregor's father pelts him with apples when he emerges from his room one day. One of the apples becomes embedded in his back, causing an infection.

Time passes while he is confined to his room. Gregor's only activities are looking out of his window and crawling up the walls and on the ceiling. Financial hardship befalls the family, and Grete's caretaking deteriorates. Gregor’s perception diminishes throughout the course of the story. It is apparent that Gregor’s physical size is getting smaller and smaller (small enough to cover a picture frame), and so too the size of his personal identity seems to shrink. Due to his infection and his hunger, he is no longer able to crawl up the walls and is soon barely able to move at all.

Aside from being an untouchable entity in his new state, Gregor decides to hide underneath a sheet when somebody has to come into his room. As much as he tries to imprison himself within his room, his family become the jailers, locking Gregor in from the outside. Devoid of human contact, Gregor alternates between concern for his family and anger at them for neglecting him. One day Gregor emerges to the sound of his sister's violin with the hope of getting his much-loved sister to join him in his room and play her violin for him. He has a fantasy about him telling Grete that he plans to send her to the conservatory to study violin. But her rejection of him is total when she says to the family, We must try to get rid of it. We've done everything humanly possible to take care of it and to put up with it, no one can reproach us in the slightest.

The sister then determines with finality that the insect is no longer Gregor, since Gregor would have left them out of love and taken their burden away. Gregor returns to his room and collapses, finally succumbing to his wound and to his self-induced starvation.

The point of view shifts as, upon discovery of his corpse, the family feels an enormous burden has been lifted from them, and start planning for the future again. Fantastically, the family suddenly discovers that they aren't doing badly at all, both socially and financially, and the brief process of forgetting Gregor and shutting him from their lives is quickly accomplished. The final sentence echoes the first: while the opening lines document Gregor's physical metamorphosis, the novella ends with mention that Grete too has changed, having become a "good looking, shapely" girl who will soon be old enough to marry.

[edit] Characters

[edit] Gregor Samsa

Gregor is the main character of the story. He works hard as a travelling salesman to provide for his sister and parents. He wakes up one morning as a giant insect.

[edit] Grete Samsa

Grete is Gregor's younger sister, who becomes his caretaker after the metamorphosis. At the beginning Grete and Gregor have a strong relationship but this relationship fades with time. While Grete originally volunteers to feed him and clean his room, throughout the story she grows more and more impatient with the task to the point of deliberately leaving messes in his room out of spite. She plays the violin and dreams of going to the conservatorium, a dream that Gregor was going to make come true. He was going to announce this on Christmas Eve. To help provide an income for the family after Gregor's transformation she starts working as a salesgirl in a shop. She seems more sympathetic at the beginning but with the passage of time her feelings fade away.

[edit] Herr Samsa

Gregor's father owes a large debt to Gregor's boss, which is why Gregor can't quit his hated job. He is lazy and elderly while Gregor works, but when, after the metamorphosis, Gregor is unable to provide for the family, he is shown to be an able-bodied worker.

[edit] Frau Samsa

Gregor's mother is a nervous and asthmatic housewife. She faints or nearly faints every time she sees Gregor, although she tries to defend him from her husband's harsh treatment.

[edit] Tenants

Three tenants are invited to live with the Samsas to supplement their income. They are fussy and cannot stand dirtiness, eventually leading to the point when they discover Gregor and threaten the family with a lawsuit, apparently believing he's just an extraordinarily large insect.

[edit] Lost in translation

The opening sentence of the novella is famous in English:

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.
Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer verwandelt.

Kafka's sentences often deliver an unexpected impact just before the full stop—that being the finalizing meaning and focus. This is achieved due to the construction of certain sentences in German that require that the verb be positioned at the end of the sentence; in the above sentence, the equivalent of 'transformed' is the final word, 'verwandelt'. Such constructions are not replicable in English, so it is up to the translator to provide the reader with the same effect found in the original text.[1]

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"[2]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. Literally, the end of the line should be translated as "transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin." This is the phrasing used in the David Wyllie translation[3] and Joachim Neugroschel.[4]

However, "a monstrous vermin" sounds unwieldy in English and 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."[5] While this shows his concern not to give precise information about the type of creature Gregor becomes, the use of the general term "insect" can therefore be defended on the part of translators wishing to improve the readability of the end text.

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. It has become such a common misconception that Ungeziefer, in the literal "vermin" sense of the word, can be comprehensively defined as an unclean animal (or any entity) unsuitable for sacrifice. Ungeziefer also denotes a sense of separation between him and his environment: he is unclean and therefore he shall be excluded. Vermin can either be defined as a parasite feeding off the living (as is Gregor's family feeding off him), or a vulnerable entity that scurries away upon another’s approach (as in Gregor's personified self). Moreover, Gregor came to the illusion he is vermin at the moment when he woke up late for work. Having this, he felt what a slob he is on the inside and his imagination reflected his inner most feelings as everyone could see. The maid's use of Mistkäfer can be interpreted as a description of Gregor's new lifestyle after his metamorphosis: sedentary, slob-like, a nuisance, etc.

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 - if only he had known it. Nabokov left a sketch annotated "just over three feet long" on the opening page of his (heavily corrected) English teaching copy.[6] In his accompanying lecture notes, Nabokov discusses the type of vermin Gregor has been transformed into, concluding that Gregor "is not, technically, a dung beetle. He is merely a big beetle. (I must add that neither Gregor nor Kafka saw that beetle any too clearly.)"[7]

[edit] Adaptations to other media

There are several film versions, including:

A stage adaptation was performed by Steven Berkoff in 1969. Another stage adaptation was performed in 2006 by the Icelandic company Vesturport, showing at the Lyric Hammersmith, London. That adaptation is set to be performed in the Icelandic theater fall of 2008.[8] [9] Another stage adaptation was performed in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2005 by the Centre for Asian Theatre.[10] That performance is still continuing in Bangladesh. The Lyric Theatre Company is toured the UK in 2006 with its stage adaptation of Metamorphosis, accompanied by a unique soundtrack performed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. American comic artist Peter Kuper illustrated a graphic-novel version, first published by the Crown Publishing Group in 2003.[11]

[edit] Allusions/references from other works

[edit] 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.[citation needed]
  • "Metamorphosis" the play written and directed by David Farr and Gisli Õrn Gardasson, was recently produced at the Lyric Hammersmith in London. It featured death defying acrobatics and aerial dance by the character of Gregor, who literally crawled across the ceiling. It also features a score composed by musicians Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.

[edit] Film

  • The 2009 film The Reader features Ralph Fiennes reading from Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" to a woman who is illiterate
  • In 2007 filmmaker Ari Mark adapted the story into a 13 minute version in which main character Stanley Leiber (played by actor Hal Peller) awakens with a sharp pain in his skull and discovers that he has been profoundly transformed during the night
  • 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.
  • Mark Damon's Foresight Unlimited has boarded[citation needed] the $9m Franz Kafka adaptation Metamorphosis starring Daniel Brühl (playing Franz Kafka), Anna Paquin and Stephen Rea. Limor Diamant wrote and will direct Metamorphosis, which weaves together the celebrated tale of a man who transforms into a giant bug with a parallel account of Kafka's heartbreaking writing process. Ram Bergman is producing.
  • In 1968's "The Producers", Bialystock and Bloom are reviewing plays, looking for their 'sure fire flop.' Bialystock opens a folder and reads, " 'Gregor Samsa awoke one morning to find he had been turned into a giant cockaroach'(sic) Too good!"

[edit] Animation

  • The dialogue-driven cartoon Home Movies did a tribute to "The Metamorphosis" in "Director's Cut", an episode in the first season of the show. The characters performed a rock opera style retelling of the short story.[12]
  • In The Venture Bros. episode "Mid-Life Chrysalis", Dr. Venture's transformation into a caterpillar slightly mirrors that of Gregor Samsa's transformation. Quote: "Gentlemen, what you are about to see is a nightmare inexplicably torn from the pages of Kafka!"
  • A reference appears in the 2006 Aardman Animation feature film Flushed Away when a refrigerator falls through the floor of the protagonist Rita's home and a giant cockroach appears reading a copy of The Metamorphosis.
  • In the short-lived tv animated series [Extreme Ghostbusters][13], seaseon 1, episode 11 (The Crawler), the bug monster (that resembles a giant insect) calls himself Gregor Samsa when trying to seduce Janine to be his queen in his human form.

[edit] Comics

  • Notorious 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. In addition, in one of the episodes, Lisa attends a place called "Cafe Kafka", which is shown to be a popular place for college students, and features several posters of cockroaches in Bohemian-like poses.
  • Pete Kuper (illustrator of Spy vs. Spy, The System, Kafka's Give It Up!) also adapted Kafka's Metamorphosis, published by Three Rivers Press.

[edit] Television

  • In the TV series, My So-Called Life, an episode called "The Zit" uses The Metamorphosis. The characters are studying the story in English class and at the same time going through adolescent body/beauty angst. The story is referred to a few times during the episode and then finally explained by Brian to Jordan at the end (because Jordan hasn't done the reading and has to take a test).

[edit] Music

  • Gregor Samsa is the name of an American post-rock band.
  • The Rolling Stones' 1975 album Metamorphosis features cover art of the band members with insect heads.
  • The Houston rock band, Edge wrote a song based on the Franz Kafka's story "The Metamorphosis", eventually leading to the title of their 4th full length album entitled "Venus in Furs", the painting that hangs on Gregor's wall.

[edit] Video Games

  • Bad Mojo is a 1996 computer game, the storyline of which is loosely based on Metamorphosis.

[edit] References

[edit] External links

Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Personal tools