Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka : A hundred year old German classicBy Subhashree Hari
December 19, 2018
Metamorphosis is said to be one of the most famous and also greatest short story in the history of literary fiction.
The author of this short story, Franz Kafka was a German-language writer of several novels and short stories. Only a few of his works were published during his lifetime, all his unfinished works were published later by his friend Max Brod.
Kafka’s famous literary death wish was
“ Dearest Max, my final request: Everything I leave behind in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters from others and my own, sketches and so forth to be burned completely and unread…” And clearly, his dear friend ignored this completely and went on to publish everything Kafka wrote. It is fascinating that over a hundred years later we are still talking about this author, who apparently did not want his works to be published at all!
Kafka’s works typically featured isolated protagonists who face bizarre circumstances and thereby exploring themes of alienation, existential anxiety, guilt, and absurdity. His best-known works include The Metamorphosis, The trial, and The Castle.
Kafkaesque has entered the English language to describe situations like those mentioned in his works. (Example: Working there felt like being trapped in a Kafkaesque nightmare.)
Kafka is often regarded as one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. The nature of his prose allows multiple interpretations and critics have placed his writings in literary schools. His works are perfect for extensive debates and discussions, once I finished metamorphosis I referred to a lot of sites to understand the various theories.
Translation – A huge hurdle
Kafka often made extensive use of a characteristic particular to the German language which permits long sentences that sometimes can span an entire page. (An older version of German) He also used words that had several meanings which made precise translation in English extremely difficult.
For example the word Ungeziefer as “insect” in Middle German, however, Ungeziefer literally means “an animal unclean for sacrifice”; in today’s German it means vermin. It is sometimes used colloquially to mean “bug”. So multiple interpretations are possible.
The metamorphosis (My reading experience)
The metamorphosis is a novella which was first published in 1915.
It is the story of Gregor Samsa, a traveling sales rep working really hard to support his family. One day he wakes up to find himself metamorphosed into a bug and the story continues. The author gives intricate details of his new transformed life and how the family deals with it. There is no explanation for this transformation I took the analogy for some medical illness but it could be anything. At the beginning of the novella, they mention it is more of an autobiographical work. Franz Kafka was a German speaker in Czech Prague and a Jew living in highly anti-Semitic times. Kafka also felt enormous pressure to become a successful businessman like his father. To even think of feeling like a bug and being treated in such a way gave me chills. It was tough to imagine the story from the author’s perspective.
This was one of those books that give a different experience to every reader and something different to take away from. I saw a couple of reviews where readers could totally relate to Gregor and being treated in a similar way. I couldn’t relate personally to Gregor but I understood the family dynamics and could connect with the author.
At the beginning of 2018, I took a bookish resolution to read more classics and this was my first classic of 2018. I feel besides the story itself the history of the book also adds a lot to one’s reading experience. I look forward to reading other Franz Kafka books.