Title: The Metamorphosis
Author: Franz Kafka
Date of Publication: Originally published in 1915, first english translation in 1933
Genre: Absurdist fiction, novella, slipstream fiction
Biographical information about the author (for my knowledge only, but very helpful):
Born to Jewish parents in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Kafka lived through the turmoil of the First World War. The death and destruction which ravaged Central and Western Europe most definitely had an impact on Kafka’s aesthetics. He actually never completed a full-length novel, and is most famous for his novella The Metamorphosis.
Information about the literary period (for my knowledge only, but very helpful):
20th century Existentialism. Existentialism is characterized by the absurd and isolated nature of human existence.
The story begins with Gregor Samsa waking up, and realizing he has turned into a gigantic bug. He tries his hardest to move, but is weird in his new body. In this part, you learn that Gregor is a hard worker who brings home money for his family. His mother, father, and sister Grete all try to get into Gregor’s room. When he does not show up to work, his manger comes to the apartment to see what is wrong. The manager and the family soon discover that Gregor has changed into a bug, and they are all disgusted by him. The father, with a newspaper, urges Gregor back inside his room, hitting him. The door closes behind Gregor, and everything becomes silent. You can see the beginning of Gregor’s alienation from the society and his family. Gregor goes into his room, and his family struggle to support themselves without Gregor. Grete starts to bring food into his room in a caring way, but soon becomes frustrated and wants him out. Whenever
Gregor leaves the room, he is pushed back in, with his father throwing apples one time that permanently debilitates Gregor. The family takes in lodgers, who Gregor scares away when he tries to listen to Grete’s music. After this incident, everyone decides that Gregor must go. Gregor, hearing this, dies to stay out of his family’s way. Freed from Gregor’s burden, the Samsas realize that their lives aren’t as bad as they previously thought, and think about finding Grete a husband.
Memorable quotations significant to meaning:
1. “I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.”
2. “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”
3. “He was a tool of the boss, without brains or backbone.”
4. “What a fate: to be condemned to work for a firm where the slightest negligence at once gave rise to the gravest suspicion! Were all the employees nothing but a bunch of scoundrels, was there not among them one single loyal devoted man who, had he wasted only an hour or so of the firm’s time in the morning, was so tormented by conscience as to be driven out of his mind and actually incapable of leaving his bed?”
5. “He thought back on his family with deep emotion and love. His conviction that he would have to disappear was, if possible, even firmer than his sister’s. He remained in this state of empty and peaceful reflection until the tower clock struck three in the morning. He still saw that outside the window everything was beginning to grow light. Then, without his consent, his head sank down to the floor, and from his nostrils streamed his last weak breath.”
Significance of opening scene :
Here is where we first learn that Gregor Samsa is an insect. From this observation, it becomes clear that there will be a major change in the family dynamics, as well as in Gregor’s life itself. It appears that Gregor will no longer be able to work and continue his life as before, which sets up the main conflict in the novella. All other occurrences in the plot derive from the problem in the opening scene.
Significance of closing scene :
Gregor’s “Death”, as well as his family’s reaction to it, reveal the depth of their affection for him, or rather, the reality of their lack of it. The family is unconcerned about his passing, and welcome it, feeling as if Gregor was a burden to them. They focus instead on Grete, on her beauty and vivaciousness, planning a future for her. This focus, attention, and care for her future was never afforded Gregor, which in and of itself is another reminder of how much Gregor gave the family, and how little he received from them in return.
1. Gregor Samsa – Main Character, becomes a bug, works to Caring, overworked to repay his family debt.
2. Mr. Samsa – Gregor’s Father, his debt is what Gregor pays off. Overbearing, irritable, uncaring, lazy
3. Mrs. Samsa – Gregor’s Mother, attempts to take care of Gregor, Dutiful, loving
4. Grete Samsa – Gregor’s Sister. Begins taking care of Gregor, but soon wants Gregor out of the house.
5.The Charwoman – The housekeeper. She discovers Gregor’s to treat Gregor as if he had intelligence. Disposes of Gregor’s corpse.
The apartment of the Samsa Family, over a period of several months. It is never clear exactly what city this apartment is in.
The apple – Original sin, the sins of the father cast upon the son.
The three lodgers – The holy trinity, also possibly the new responsibilities the family had to take on.
The father’s uniform – Authority, work, consequences of Gregor no longer working.
The charwoman’s feather – Capitalism, the importance of appearances.
Grete’s violin – A symbol of Gregor’s love for his family and of leisure which he never had.
Gregor as a Bug – His uselessness and how his family sees him, as he can no longer produce for them.
Themes for discussion :
The importance of communication, the importance of family, identity, familial duty, duty towards one’s self, money and monetary value, work