Posted by: gdevi | April 6, 2016

English 220 Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis Kafka (1883-1924) was born in Catholic Bohemia (in Prague, modern Czechoslovakia), a book and language loving Jewish intellectual born into a shopkeeping business family and a domineering father. Kafka suffered from social and cultural alienation all his life though he was a successful insurance lawyer until his death from tuberculosis at the young age of 41 years. Kafka published only two short stories during his lifetime; The Metamorphosis (1915), and In the Penal Colony (1919). He left  complete manuscripts for three full length novels with instructions to his friend Max Brod that they be burned: the nightmarish existential novels The Trial (1925) and The Castle (1926) and Amerika (1927). Brod did not burn the manuscripts; he recognized genius when he saw it. Max Brod is instrumental to the world recognizing Franz Kafka.

The Metamorphosis tells the story of a young traveling salesman, Gregor Samsa, who wakes up one morning to discover that he had been turned into a giant cockroach. The German word is “ungeziefer,” which translates into “vermin” rather than cockroach. Note the narrative points of views used to tell this story: parts are told in the journalistic prose of a third person narrative, down-to-earth, realistic and factual, and parts told in a third person limited point of view from Gregor’s perspective. The blending of the real with the non-real, often without warning, and in the same paragraph and the sentence, gives the narrative a surrealistic, hallucinatory and nightmarish quality.

Study questions

What are the central events in each of the three sections of the novella?

What is Gregor’s relationship with his father, mother and sister?

Families are economic units where family members can exploit one another. You might recall that in Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Illych, Ivan Illych’s wife says that she hates him but she stays with him because she needs his earnings and money to live the kind of life she wants. In The Metamorphosis, how does Kafka show the role money plays in so-called family relations? How do relationships change in the presence and absence of money?

What is a vermin? What do we do with vermins? What is the state of mind through which a young man sees himself as a vermin?

Discuss the role of humor in the story. The story has significant but uncomfortable humor in it. What is the function of humor in the story?

How do we understand Gregor’s family growing stronger and closer with each other as Gregor weakens and dies?

What is the significance of the final scene with Gregor’s family going on a picnic after they have tossed Gregor’s “corpse” in the rubbish bin?

Discuss with textual examples how Kafka blends realism and fantasy in The Metamorphosis.

What is the function of minor characters like the chief clerk, the tenants and the charwoman?


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