First edition cover
|Original title||Die Verwandlung|
|Genre(s)||novella, absurdist fiction|
|Publisher||Kurt Wolff Verlag, Leipzig|
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 into a monstrous vermin. It is never explained in the story why Samsa transforms, nor did Kafka ever give an explanation.
One day Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman, wakes up to find himself transformed into a "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. He looks at the wall clock and realizes that he has overslept and missed his train for work. He ponders on the consequences of this delay, and is 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 Gregor. 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 the door. All his family members think that he is ill and ask him to open the door. He tries to get out of bed but he is incapable of moving his body. While trying to move, he finds that his office manager, the chief clerk has showed up to check on him. He finally rocks his body to the floor and calls out that he will open the door shortly.
Feeling offended by Gregor's delayed response in opening the door, the clerk warns him of the consequences of missing work. He adds that his 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 was unaware of the fact that his voice has also transformed) and 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 the sight of Gregor's appearance, the manager bolts out of the apartment, while Gregor's mother faints. 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.
Gregor wakes 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 favorite foods. 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 conservatorium to pursue violin lessons, something that everyone else including Grete considered to be a dream. Gregor was however pretty determined to do so on the same Christmas before which the metamorphosis occurs. His incapability of being the provider of his family as well as his shattered dreams in respect to his sister coupled with his speechlessness reduces his thought process to a great respect. 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 a 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 it permanently. Gregor manages to get back into his bedroom but is severely injured.
One evening, the cleaning lady leaves Gregor’s door open while the boarders 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 thus caused 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 they 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 amount of burden his existence puts on each one in the family, tells her parents that 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 that 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. Months of spare living as a result of Gregor’s condition have left them with substantial savings. They decide to move to a smaller apartment than the present one to further save their finances, an act which 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.
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 to an insect. After the metamorphosis, Gregor becomes unable to work and a claustrophile. 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. 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." Kafka, when asked, would deny the significance of this correlation.
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 more and more 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 planned on making the announcement on Christmas Eve. To help provide an income for the family after Gregor's transformation, she starts working as a salesgirl.
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. Mr. Samsa may have been based on Kafka's father, who treated Kafka harshly.
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 of Gregor's new form.
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. 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.
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" 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 is "transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect" whereas David Wyllie says "transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin".
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."
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. Ungeziefer also denotes a sense of separation between himself and his environment: he is unclean and must therefore be secluded.
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."
- 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.
Adaptations to other media
There are many film versions of the story, mostly short films, including a 1975 TV version by Jan Němec, a 1977 animation by Caroline Leaf, a 1987 TV movie by Jim Goddard, a 1993 video by Carlos Atanes, and a longer (80-minute) 2002 version directed by Russian theatrical director Valery Fokin. In 2012 Director Chris Swanton completed the feature film length version of Metamorphosis the Movie (2012), featuring Maureen Lipman, Robert Pugh and Alistair Petrie.
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. It returned to the Lyric Hammersmith in January 2013, starring Garðarsson as Gregor Samsa.
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.
Allusions/references from other works
- 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.
- Marc Estrin's debut surrealist novel Insect Dreams: The Half Life of Gregor Samsa (2002) "resurrects Kafka's half-cockroach Gregor character" vis-à-vis the world between 1915 and 1945.
- Lance Olsen's novel Anxious Pleasures: A Novel After Kafka retells Kafka's novella from the points of view of those inside his family and out.
- Amos Oz refers to the silence of Gregor Samsa in his A Tale of Love and Darkness after his father discovers that he – the young Amos – has arranged his books by their height.
- In 2002 a Russian version titled Prevrashchenie was directed by Valery Fokin with Yevgeny Mironov as Gregor.
- In 1995, the actor Peter Capaldi, with his short-film Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life, tied for an Oscar for Live Action Short Film with Trevor. 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.
- In David Cronenberg's 1991 film Naked Lunch, based both on the novel of the same name by, and the life of, William S. Burroughs, Judy Davis' character "Joan", after having been caught by Peter Weller's protagonist "Bill Lee", injecting bug powder directly into her heart explains, breathing deeply - "It's a Kafka high...you feel like a bug."
- 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 The Sensational Spider-Man #41, Peter Parker references "The Metamorphosis" while speaking to the supervillain Mephisto, saying that he hopes he doesn't wake from his supposed dream to find himself in the form of Gregor Samsa as a cockroach.
- Widespread Panic alludes to this work in their song "Imitation Leather Shoes" off of the album Don't Tell the Band.
- My little brother is an insect / He likes to crawl around his room / His mother shudders at the sight of him / His pappy is a businessman / Every move he makes is torture / He cannot speak words any more / Our sister likes to flip him on his back / And watch little brother squirm
- A radio play on CBC's Wiretap, 'Help Me, Doctor', depicts the character Gregor Samsa, in correspondence with Dr. Seuss about his ailment.
- In the Home Movies episode "Director's Cut", Dwayne makes a rock opera based on "The Metamorphosis".
- An episode of Oggy and the Cockroaches, "Metamorphosis", is a parody of the story in which - thanks to the mischievous cockroaches who constantly bedevil him - Oggy swallows a piece of irradiated chocolate and temporarily turns into a cockroach himself.
- In Smallville episode 1.02, Metamorphosis, a character named Greg is transformed into a bug. One of the other character comments that Greg has "gone Kafka."
- In the fighting game Skullgirls, the character Filia has a parasite named Samson posing as her hair. One of her signature moves is the "Gregor Samson", in which Samson transforms into a giant roach and charges at the opponent.
- In Bad Mojo, the player character named Roger Samms is transformed into a cockroach and has to explore the game world from the point of view of an insect.
- In Wizardry 8, one of the first boss monsters that the player can encounter is a giant insect creature named Gregor.
- In the XSLT processor software Xalan Gregor Samsa is used as identifier with the first paragraph from "The Metamorphosis" as comment. Later Sun Microsystems copied Xalan into its Java runtime. As of 2012, this code is still part of the Oracle Java distribution.
- Kafka (1996, 3).
- Kafka (1996, 3 & 75).
- Ryan McKittrick speaks with director Dominique Serrand and Gideon Lester about Amerika
- Kafka, Franz (1996). The Metamorphosis and Other Stories, ISBN 1-56619-969-7. (p. xi).
- 'Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Deutschen'. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag. 1993. p. 1486. ISBN 3423325119.
- ISBN 0-684-19426-0
- Briefe und Tagebücher 1915 (Franz Kafka) — ELibraryAustria
- Nabokov, Vladimir (1980). Lectures on Literature. New York, New York: Harvest. p. 260.
- Howard, Brian: Metamorphosis (1983), work details at Boosey & Hawkes
- "Vesturport – Metamorphosis". Vesturport. Retrieved 15 October 2011.
- Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis adapted by Peter Kuper.
- ISBN 1-932961-09-7
- San Francisco Chronicle
- Prevrashchenie at the Internet Movie Database
- Kenley-Letts, Ruth (1993). "Franz Kafka's "It's a Wonderful Life" (1993)". New York Times. Retrieved August 4, 2012.
|German Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- Die Verwandlung at DigBib.org (text, pdf, HTML) (German)
- The Metamorphosis, translated 2009 by Ian Johnston of Malaspina University-College, Nanaimo, BC
- The Metamorphosis at Project Gutenberg, translated by David Wyllie
- The Metamorphosis via LibriVox (audiobook, Ian Johnston translation)
- Lecture on The Metamorphosis by Vladimir Nabokov