The Metamorphosis 1915 Franz Kafka Biographical Historical and

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The Metamorphosis (1915) Franz Kafka

The Metamorphosis (1915) Franz Kafka

Biographical, Historical, and Conceptual Contexts

Biographical, Historical, and Conceptual Contexts

Parallels to Kafka’s Life • Although it is debatable exactly to what extent the

Parallels to Kafka’s Life • Although it is debatable exactly to what extent the characters in The Metamorphosis are drawn directly from Kafka’s life, certain parallels cannot be overlooked. • It has been suggested, in fact, that Kafka used writing to express ideas he was not able to express in his real life; ranging from social analysis and criticism to feelings of anxiety and inadequacy—in this light, Gregor, Kafka’s anti-hero turned “gargantuan pest” in The Metamorphosis, can be interpreted as a projection of some of Kafka’s darker feelings about himself.

Franz Kafka • • • Born in 1883 into a middle-class, German-speaking Jewish family

Franz Kafka • • • Born in 1883 into a middle-class, German-speaking Jewish family in Prague Before he was six years old he witnessed the deaths of his two younger brothers, leaving him with a keen sense of mortality. Studied law Worked at an insurance company in order to support his parents Developed an inferiority complex partly due to his difficult, neurotic relationship with his tyrannical father – His father was domineering and cold; his mother loving, but non-committal – He developed a strong emotional dependence on his family, which would last his entire life. This idea is mirrored in The Metamorphosis, in Gregor’s dependence on his sister and mother and his acquiescence to his father. • • • Had very little time to devote to his writing Contracted tuberculosis in 1917 and was supported by his sister and parents Feared being perceived as both physically and mentally repulsive – Parallels can be seen in the Gregor Samsa, who, upon awaking to find himself transformed into a bug, is more concerned about the shame and infamy the discovery of his grotesque form will bring to his family, than he is about his own physical well-being. • • • Developed an intense relationship with Czech journalist and writer Milena Jesenska and later became Dora Diamant’s lover Suffered from clinical depression, social anxiety, and several other illnesses triggered by stress Died in 1924 from starvation when his tuberculosis worsened and could not

Kafka’s Alienation • Felt he was an outsider – Jewish in Catholic Prague •

Kafka’s Alienation • Felt he was an outsider – Jewish in Catholic Prague • Part of the religious minority— Anti-Semitism was rising in most of Europe – Sickly – Lonely • Perceived human beings as being trapped by authority in a hopeless world • Became frustrated at having to support his family • Had to work in a meaningless bureaucratic job where he was just another pencil pusher Franz Kafka

Kafka’s Father & Mother • One of the most noted parallels from Kafka’s life

Kafka’s Father & Mother • One of the most noted parallels from Kafka’s life involves the father character in The Metamorphosis • Hermann Kafka worked long hours, and has been described by biographers as determined, domineering, selfish, and aggressive. – Like the character Gregor, Kafka’s father worked as a traveling salesman, but unlike Gregor, Kafka’s father was able to rise out of this lowly position to start his own business. • The mother in the story is a passive, delicate woman who faints whenever confronted with intense situations. She is the only character to support Gregor throughout the story. • Kafka’s own mother was probably very similar to this, a mother who would always look on her son with sympathetic eyes, but who would never attempt to restrain the abusive father.

Dependence on Family • Kafka was emotionally dependent on his parents, and—as is still

Dependence on Family • Kafka was emotionally dependent on his parents, and—as is still common in many parts of Europe—lived with his parents for some time as an unmarried adult; never able to fully break away on his own. • Kafka never married, and his relationships with women were often troubled. – Much of his emotional needs were satisfied by his mother and his sisters. – This is similar to the situation of Gregor Samsa, who, in the course of working his life away to support his entire family, has neglected any considerations for his own personal happiness or fulfillment. – Gregor rationalizes away his need for women, but this results in a deep emotional dependence on the mother and a sort of perverse attraction to the sister, which is hinted at throughout the book, but never stated outright. • Kafka’s own attitude toward sexuality was rather confused, fluctuating between self-imposed abstinence and consorting with prostitutes. The Metamorphosis , read in a certain light, is laden with symbols of sexual ambivalence and confusion.

Modern Alienation: Fragmentation • The city – Dehumanization • Modern means of production—division of

Modern Alienation: Fragmentation • The city – Dehumanization • Modern means of production—division of labor – Sense of worthlessness • Acceleration of life and travel – Mechanization • Class stratification

Prague • Part of the Germanic Austro. Hungarian Empire • Catholic city where Czech

Prague • Part of the Germanic Austro. Hungarian Empire • Catholic city where Czech was spoken – Segregated its Jewish population into a Germanspeaking ghetto • Founded on seven hills and dominated by “The Castle, ” looming high over the city as a symbol of authority • Highly dense city, with narrow, labyrinth-like streets – Associated with the traditions of magic and mysticism The Jewish Ghetto

Expressionist Literature • Seeks to reproduce not objective reality but the subjective reality which

Expressionist Literature • Seeks to reproduce not objective reality but the subjective reality which people, objects, and events arouse in us – Depicts a psychological or spiritual reality through distortion and/or exaggeration – Presents the distorted, exaggerated situation as if it were completely real • Emphasizes visionary experience – Pierces the surface of things to reveal essences – Explores how to transcend the material world • Replaces concrete particulars with allegorical forms • Marked by the shift in focus, away from the bigger picture of the human race at large, and onto the individual. • Themes of Isolation, Angst, Alienation and Disillusion all came to characterize early Existential thought.

Existentialist Literature • A philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual

Existentialist Literature • A philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe • This philosophy regards human existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one’s acts.

The Existential Framework (As it relates to The Metamorphosis 1. Existence precedes essence: an

The Existential Framework (As it relates to The Metamorphosis 1. Existence precedes essence: an existentialist would define existence from the inside, out; and focus was shifted from the world at large to the individual’s experience inside the confines of that world. – – – In The Metamorphosis, it can be said that Gregor’s primary failure is his neglect of self-definition; or in other terms, his spinelessness, which is manifested symbolically in his insect form. He is passive; he seeks to define his existence, not by searching within himself, but by the world around him: his family and his job, society at large and its views. Inside the Existential framework, Gregor is a total failure, and he becomes a victim to forces in the world around him.

The Existential Framework (As it relates to The Metamorphosis 2. The Look: This is

The Existential Framework (As it relates to The Metamorphosis 2. The Look: This is central to Existentialist thought. This idea is centered on the idea that something as simple as being conscious of being observed by another creature, whether human or animal, has a profound effect on the way the receiver of that look perceives his or her environment. – – The sister’s affection that Gregor covets almost more than anything else can be considered a look of approval. Through the look, roles of power are established. • – Gregor is always the one to look away. It has been suggested that the idea of social judgment is central to the entire story—that Gregor’s change was only a symbolic manifestation of the way society made him feel, as though the eyes of social judgment.

The Existential Framework (As it relates to The Metamorphosis 3. Beyond Good and Evil

The Existential Framework (As it relates to The Metamorphosis 3. Beyond Good and Evil (beyone rationalism and moralizing): The idea that there is NO absolute good or NO absolute evil in the world. All was relative, created by human beings in their attempts to rationalize and make sense of the world. – This notion is manifested in the novella by Kafka’s lack of judgment of his characters. – There is no guilt placed upon the characters for turning their backs on Gregor.

The Existential Framework (As it relates to The Metamorphosis 4. Existential Angst: Describes the

The Existential Framework (As it relates to The Metamorphosis 4. Existential Angst: Describes the internal conflict experienced by every conscious individual due to the fact that the world is not a rational place and existence can be maintained only by constant struggle. 5. The Difficulties of Communication: Communication is a prime source of Existential angst because that communication always involves struggle. – – There is no pure communication. In every instance, something is inherently lost because the tolls of communication are imperfect. Gregor is unable to communicate; his words become intelligible

The Existential Framework (As it relates to The Metamorphosis 6. The Irrational World: Central

The Existential Framework (As it relates to The Metamorphosis 6. The Irrational World: Central to the framework is the notion that at any moment, everything could change. There are no givens in life. There are no universal truths. There is no certainty. – 7. Gregor’s transformation—coming out of sleep to find that things were far from the way he had left them—is a powerful illustration of this idea, this fear of the existentialist thinker. The Grotesque (also the absurd, or bizarre): A reaction against Romantic writing that presented an ordered and benevolent world, where things worked out in the end all loose ends tired together neatly. – Gregor needed his family to give his life a purpose. They, in turn, relied on him for their sustenance. When he could no longer provide for them, he became repulsive, or grotesque. Kafka’s turning Gregor into an insect to illustrate this idea is an example of his bizarre sense of humor and irony.

Kafkaesque • The word Kafkaesque has made its way into common usage and now

Kafkaesque • The word Kafkaesque has made its way into common usage and now is understood to mean anything having to do with alienation, absurdity, anxiety, or isolation—themes that came to characterize Kafka’s life and works. • It is this type of hyper-consciousness of being—a lost, confused, alienated, exposed creature in a hostile world—that was at the heart of some aspects of Existentialist thought. – Perhaps people had experienced these feelings before, but something about the day and age—the changing social paradigms and obligations, the onset of the Industrial Age, the rise in drug and alcohol use—that all came together in a way that was unique and created a general feeling of anxiety that Kafka managed to capture better than many of his peers—even if he never really intended to do so.

The Title • Meta: to change • Morphe’: Form

The Title • Meta: to change • Morphe’: Form

Meaning of The Metamorphosis

Meaning of The Metamorphosis

Gregor Samsa represents a specific type of behavior—the fear of being alive with all

Gregor Samsa represents a specific type of behavior—the fear of being alive with all of its risks/rewards and the embrace of an inauthentic code of behavior—which, in the end, is transformed into the acceptance of life with all of its vicissitudes.

The Inward Passage: The Real Metamorphosis • This is a novel about Gregor Samsa

The Inward Passage: The Real Metamorphosis • This is a novel about Gregor Samsa who learns about who he really is through an overwhelming psychological experience that turns him inward. • His first step in this journey is disobedience: – Refuses to go to work – Refuses to follow the rules of etiquette • In his new condition, Gregor begins his soul searching: – Accepts that he has conformed to his family’s and employer’s demands – Realizes the inauthenticity and meaninglessness of his life • Once he sheds his previous self, Gregor begins to delve into his own unconscious and confront the truth of his life. • Gregor evolves from psychological immaturity to the courage of self responsibility. • For the very first time in his life, Gregor becomes blissful and becomes a mature person. • Gregor dies with this realization, a transformed human being

Thematic Contexts

Thematic Contexts

Mythic: Ovid • Ovid’s Metamorphoses is a collection of Greek and Roman myths written

Mythic: Ovid • Ovid’s Metamorphoses is a collection of Greek and Roman myths written in narrative poetic form. – Each of the stories that Ovid presents contains some sort of transformation or metamorphosis. • Probably written between 2 and 8 CE • The work emphasizes tales of transformation in which a person or lesser deity is permanently transformed into an animal or plant. • Kafka’s story, however, explores the life and destiny of Gregor Samsa while Ovid only depicts the act of the metamorphosis itself

Biological: Metamorphosis • Takes place in distinct stages: – larval stage – then enter

Biological: Metamorphosis • Takes place in distinct stages: – larval stage – then enter an inactive state called pupa or chrysalis – finally emerge as adults • Gregor’s transformation parallels this metamorphosis.

Psychological: Depression • Illness that can challenge the ability to perform even routine daily

Psychological: Depression • Illness that can challenge the ability to perform even routine daily activities, characterized by the following: – – – Loss of interest or pleasure Sustained fatigue without physical exertion Lack of energy and motivation Feelings of guilt or hopelessness Self-centeredness • Psychosis, a more extreme case of depression, is characterized by the loss of contact with reality: – Having visions – Hearing voices – Feeling sensations that have no basis in fact • Gregor’s behavior parallels all of these descriptors.

Form of The Metamorphosis

Form of The Metamorphosis

The Form of The Metamorphosis: Parable • Uses this literary form as a neutral,

The Form of The Metamorphosis: Parable • Uses this literary form as a neutral, detached point of view from which to examine human behavior • Conveys truth in a less offensive, more engaging form than a direct assertion • Appeals to the understanding, the emotions, and the imagination—to the whole person • The Plot is almost HUMDRUM in its realistic description of family tensions and economic worries.

Definition of Parable • At its simplest, a parable is a metaphor or simile

Definition of Parable • At its simplest, a parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought. " (C. H. Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1961, p. 5)

Parable: The Complexity of Life • The meaning of most parables is not so

Parable: The Complexity of Life • The meaning of most parables is not so obvious, or at least it shouldn't be. • Most parables contain some element that is strange or unusual. • Parables do not define things precisely but, rather, use comparisons. – Takes the familiar and applies it to the unfamiliar – Makes the unfamiliar more comprehensible

Central Symbol of the Beetle/Vermin • A subjective fantasy that best describes Gregor’s self-loathing:

Central Symbol of the Beetle/Vermin • A subjective fantasy that best describes Gregor’s self-loathing: – Worthlessness – Uselessness – Meaninglessness – Awkwardness – Ugliness

Difficulties in Reading Kafka: Paradox and Ambiguity • Not a systematic philosopher or religious

Difficulties in Reading Kafka: Paradox and Ambiguity • Not a systematic philosopher or religious man • Is so convincing in his matter-of-factness and use of details to the point of negating the absurdity of a situation • Does not use metaphors yet his stories are parables • Uses distortion to reveal truths • Suggests various levels of meanings • Is quirky

Symbols 1. The Apple: a religious symbol, said to represent a fall from grace,

Symbols 1. The Apple: a religious symbol, said to represent a fall from grace, a dystopian symbol. 2. The Hospital: an interface between society and the individual, a place to which Gregor could have gone for help, so near for Gregor—just across the street—and yet so far, because what stood between him and the hospital was the faceless bureaucracy of society. Note how the building is described as austere and ominous, unwelcoming. 3. Blindness, nearsightedness: Gregor’s increasing alienation from society, preventing him from even seeing the hospital where he might have been helped. 4. Music: universal communication. When Gregor tries to reach out to his sister(the source of the music), his efforts are misinterpreted and he is chased away. 5. The lodgers: Society’s control over the middle and lower classes, which are beholden to the upper classes and must lives governed by the pursuit of money within the pre-established channels of the system. In this case, the lodgers have control even in the Samsa household,

Symbols 6. The Charwoman: the outsider, or the savage, who—unlike the maids—is not affected

Symbols 6. The Charwoman: the outsider, or the savage, who—unlike the maids—is not affected by society and lives outside its rules. The charwoman is able to deal with Gregor on an almost animal level, being somewhat crude and animal-like herself. In this way, she is able to communicate with Gregor in a more natural way than the rest of them. She also represents the departure from social judgments—beyond good and evil. 7. Marriage: Grete’s maturation into womanhood, and a foreshadowing of the endless cycle of domestication. By entering into the folds of society, Grete will give up the independence she has achieved throughout the story, and Gregor’s life and death both will have truly been meaningless. 8. The doors to Gregor’s room: originally locked from the inside, representing Gregor’s desire to isolate himself, they eventually come to be locked from the outside, representing his being stripped of free-will or choice. Society has locked him out. 9. The rooms of the house: the interior and exterior realms of human existence. Gregor’s room comes to represent his internal state, which, as he depends upon others, becomes more and more neglected, until it is in a state of utter dereliction. On the outside, the family, engaged in society, goes on about its business. 10. The number (3) three: three doors, three lodgers, etc. The number three had deeply religious connotations, and it is suggested that this was an extension of a religious metaphor in the story.