The Metamorphosis

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This article is about the literary work by Franz Kafka. For the biological process, see Metamorphosis. For other uses, see Metamorphosis (disambiguation).
Metamorphosis
Metamorphosis.jpg
First edition cover
Author Franz Kafka
Original title Die Verwandlung
Country Austria–Hungary
Language German
Genre Novella, absurdist fiction
Publisher Kurt Wolff Verlag, Leipzig
Publication date
1915
Original text
Die Verwandlung at German Wikisource
Translation Metamorphosis at Wikisource

The Metamorphosis (German: Die Verwandlung, also sometimes translated as The Transformation) is a novella by Franz Kafka, first published in 1915. It has been cited as one of the seminal works of fiction of the 20th century and is studied in colleges and universities across the Western world. The story begins with a traveling salesman, Gregor Samsa, waking to find himself transformed (metamorphosed) into a large, monstrous insect-like creature. The cause of Samsa's transformation is never revealed, and Kafka himself never gave an explanation. The rest of Kafka's novella deals with Gregor's attempts to adjust to his new condition as he deals with being burdensome to his parents and sister, who are repulsed by the horrible, verminous creature Gregor has become.

Plot[edit]

Part I[edit]

One day, Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman, wakes up to find himself transformed into an ungeheures Ungeziefer, literally "monstrous vermin", often interpreted as a giant bug or insect. He believes it is a dream and reflects on how dreary life as a traveling salesman is. As he looks at the wall clock, he realizes he has overslept and missed his train for work. He ponders the consequences of this delay. Gregor becomes annoyed at how his boss never accepts excuses or explanations from any of his employees no matter how hard-working they are, displaying an apparent lack of trusting abilities. Gregor's mother knocks on the door, and he answers her. She is concerned for Gregor because he is late for work, which is unorthodox for him. Gregor answers his mother and realizes that his voice has changed, but his answer is short, so his mother does not notice the voice change. His sister, Grete, to whom he was very close, then whispers through the door and begs him to open it. He tries to get out of bed but is incapable of moving his body. While trying to move, he finds that his office manager, the chief clerk, has shown up to check on him. He finally rocks his body to the floor and calls out that he will open the door shortly.

Offended by Gregor's delayed response in opening the door, the clerk warns him of the consequences of missing work. He adds that Gregor's recent performance has been unsatisfactory. Gregor disagrees and tells him that he will open the door shortly. Nobody on the other side of the door could understand a single word he uttered (Gregor is unaware that his voice has also transformed), and they conclude that he is seriously ill. Finally, Gregor manages to unlock and open the door with his mouth. He apologizes to the office manager for the delay. Horrified by Gregor's appearance, his mother faints, and the manager bolts out of the apartment. Gregor tries to catch up with him, but his father drives him back into the bedroom with a cane and a rolled newspaper. Gregor injures himself squeezing back through the doorway, and his father slams the door shut. Gregor, exhausted, falls asleep.

Part II[edit]

Gregor awakens and sees that someone has put milk and bread in his room. Initially excited, he quickly discovers that he has no taste for milk, once one of his favorites. He settles himself under a couch. The next morning, his sister comes in, sees that he has not touched the milk, and replaces it with rotting food scraps, which Gregor happily eats. This begins a routine in which his sister feeds him and cleans up while he hides under the couch, afraid that his appearance will frighten her. Gregor spends his time listening through the wall to his family members talking. They often discuss the difficult financial situation they find themselves in now that Gregor can't provide for them. Gregor had plans of sending Grete to the conservatory to pursue violin lessons, something everyone else - including Grete - considered a dream. His incapability of providing for his family, coupled with his speechlessness, reduces his thought process greatly. Gregor also learns that his mother wants to visit him, but his sister and father will not let her.

Gregor grows more comfortable with his changed body. He begins climbing the walls and ceiling for amusement. Discovering Gregor's new pastime, Grete decides to remove some of the furniture to give Gregor more space. She and her mother begin taking furniture away, but Gregor finds their actions deeply distressing. He tries to save a picture on the wall of a woman wearing a fur hat, fur scarf, and fur muff. Gregor's mother sees him hanging on the wall and passes out. Grete calls out to Gregor—the first time anyone has spoken directly to him since his transformation. Gregor runs out of the room and into the kitchen. The father throws apples at Gregor, and one of them sinks into a sensitive spot in his back and remains lodged there, paralyzing his movements for a month and damaging him permanently. Gregor manages to get back into his bedroom but is severely injured.

Part III[edit]

One evening, the cleaning lady leaves Gregor's door open while three boarders, whom the family has taken on for additional income, lounge about the living room. Grete has been asked to play the violin for them, and Gregor - who usually took care to avoid crossing paths with anyone in the flat - in the midst of his depression and resultant detachment, creeps out of his bedroom to listen. The boarders, who initially seemed interested in Grete, grow bored with her performance, but Gregor is transfixed by it. One of the boarders spots Gregor, and the rest become alarmed. Gregor's father tries to shove the boarders back into their rooms, but the three men protest and announce that they will move out immediately without paying rent because of the disgusting conditions in the apartment.

Grete, who has by now become tired of taking care of Gregor and is realizing the burden his existence puts on each one in the family, tells her parents they must get rid of Gregor, or they will all be ruined. Her father agrees, wishing Gregor could understand them and would leave of his own accord. Gregor does, in fact, understand and slowly moves back to the bedroom. There, determined to rid his family of his presence, Gregor dies.

Upon discovering Gregor is dead, the family feels a great sense of relief. The father kicks out the boarders and decides to fire the cleaning lady, who has disposed of Gregor's body. The family takes a trolley ride out to the countryside, during which they consider their finances. They decide to move to a smaller apartment to further save money, an act they were unable to carry out in Gregor's presence. During this short trip, Mr. and Mrs. Samsa realize that, in spite of going through hardships which have brought an amount of paleness to her face, Grete appears to have grown up into a pretty and well-figured lady, which leads her parents to think about finding her a husband.

Characters[edit]

Gregor Samsa[edit]

"Gregor Samsa" redirects here. For the post-rock band, see Gregor Samsa (band). For their eponymous EP, see Gregor Samsa (EP).

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 finding himself transformed into an insect. After the metamorphosis, Gregor becomes unable to work and is confined to his room for the remainder of the story. 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 partly based upon Kafka himself. As when Kafka suffered from insomnia, he feared he was repulsive and a burden to his family, during which time his sister was his caretaker.[3]

Grete Samsa[edit]

Grete is Gregor's younger sister, who becomes his caretaker after his 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 increasingly 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 had planned on making the announcement on Christmas Day. To help provide an income for the family after Gregor's transformation, she starts working as a salesgirl.

Mr. Samsa[edit]

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[edit]

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 at Gregor's new form.[citation needed]

Translation[edit]

Dependency tree illustrating the difference in syntax between the first sentence of Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" in translation by Ian Johnston and in the original German

Kafka's sentences often deliver an unexpected impact just before the period—that being the finalizing meaning and focus. This is achieved from the construction of sentences in the original German, where the verbs of subordinate clauses are put at the end.[citation needed] 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 ungeheuren 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 High 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 by Joachim Neugroschel[6] is: "Gregor Samsa found himself, in his bed, transformed into a monstrous vermin",[citation needed] whereas David Wyllie says" "transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin".[7]

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.[citation needed] Ungeziefer also denotes a sense of separation between himself and his environment: he is unclean and must therefore be secluded.[citation needed]

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. 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".[9]

Publications[edit]

  • First print: Die Verwandlung. In: Die Weißen Blätter. Eine Monatsschrift. (The White Pages. A Monthly). ed. René Schickele. "Jg. 2" (1915), "H. 10" (October), ps. 1177–1230.
  • Sämtliche Erzählungen. paperback, ed. Paul Raabe. S. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt am Main and Hamburg 1970. ISBN 3-596-21078-X.
  • Drucke zu Lebzeiten. ed. Wolf Kittler, Hans-Gerd Koch and Gerhard Neumann, S. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1996, ps. 113-200.
  • Die Erzählungen. (The stories) ed. Roger Herms, original version S. Fischer Verlag 1997 ISBN 3-596-13270-3
  • Die Verwandlung. with a commentary by Heribert Kuhn, Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1999, ISBN 978-3-518-18813-2. (Suhrkamp BasisBibliothek, 13: Text und Kommentar)
  • Die Verwandlung. Anaconda Verlag, Köln 2005. ISBN 978-3-938484-13-5.
  • Metamorphosis. Hardcover, 2009 New Translation, Arcturus Publishing Limited. Forward by William Aaltonen ISBN 978-1-84837-202-3
  • The Metamorphosis: A New Translation by Susan Bernofsky. Paperback, 2014, W. W. Norton & Company. Introduction by David Cronenberg. ISBN 978-0393347098.

Adaptations to other media[edit]

Film[edit]

There are many film versions of the story, mostly short films, including:

Print[edit]

  • In the Simpsons book Treehouse of Horror Spook-tacular, Matt Groening included a spoof of The Metamorphosis, entitled "Metamorphosimpsons".
  • Jacob M. Appel's Scouting for the Reaper contains a telling of the novella in which a rabbi attempts to arrange a "proper Jewish burial" for Gregor.[12]
  • Lance Olsen's book, Anxious Pleasures: A Novel After Kafka, retells Kafka's novella from the points of view of those inside his family and out.
  • 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.[13]
  • Marc Estrin's debut surrealist novel, Insect Dreams: The Half Life of Gregor Samsa (2002),[14] "resurrects Kafka's half-cockroach Gregor character"[15] vis-à-vis the world between 1915 and 1945.
  • East Press published a manga version of the story in 2008 as part of their Manga de Dokuha line.[16]

Stage and opera[edit]

  • Steven Berkoff performed a stage adaptation in 1969. Berkoff's text was also used for the libretto to Brian Howard's 1983 opera Metamorphosis.[17]
  • Another stage adaptation was performed in 2006 as a co-production between the Icelandic company Vesturport and the Lyric Hammersmith, adapted and directed by Gísli Örn Garðarsson and David Farr, with a music soundtrack performed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.[18] It returned to the Lyric Hammersmith in January 2013, starring Garðarsson as Gregor Samsa.
  • An adapted stage production was devised and directed by Samara Hersch as part of the Helium Season for The Malthouse Theatre in October 2014 [19]

Television[edit]

  • In Home Movies episode 1.06, "Director's Cut", Brendon and the crew produce a rock opera musical adaptation of the novel.

Radio[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Kafka (1996, 3).
  2. ^ Kafka (1996, 3 & 75).
  3. ^ Ryan McKittrick speaks with director Dominique Serrand and Gideon Lester about Amerika
  4. ^ Kafka, Franz (1996). The Metamorphosis and Other Stories. p. xi. ISBN 1-56619-969-7. 
  5. ^ 'Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Deutschen'. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag. 1993. p. 1486. ISBN 3423325119. 
  6. ^ ISBN 0-684-80070-5
  7. ^ Kafka, Franz. "Metamorphosis". Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  8. ^ Briefe und Tagebücher 1915 (Franz Kafka) — ELibraryAustria
  9. ^ Nabokov, Vladimir (1980). Lectures on Literature. New York, New York: Harvest. p. 260. 
  10. ^ Kenley-Letts, Ruth (1993). "Franz Kafka's "It's a Wonderful Life" (1993)". New York Times. Retrieved August 4, 2012. 
  11. ^ Prevrashchenie at the Internet Movie Database
  12. ^ "The Vermin Episode," Scouting for the Reaper, Black Lawrence Press, 2014
  13. ^ Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis adapted by Peter Kuper.
  14. ^ ISBN 1-932961-09-7
  15. ^ San Francisco Chronicle
  16. ^ http://www.amazon.co.jp/dp/4872579119/
  17. ^ Howard, Brian: Metamorphosis (1983), work details at Boosey & Hawkes
  18. ^ "Vesturport – Metamorphosis". Vesturport. Retrieved 15 October 2011. 
  19. ^ "Quiet start for Samara Hersch’s stage version of Kafka’s Metamorphosis". The Australian. 
  20. ^ http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/470/transcript
  21. ^ http://www.cbc.ca/player/Radio/WireTap/Season+4/ID/1562458114/

External links[edit]

Online editions

Commentary