Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka

Book: The Complete Short Stories of Franz Kafka
Status: Still reading. (Apologies to non-Kafka fans but I must post quotes from stories I enjoy!)

Of course… how could I mention the Complete Short Stories of Franz Kafka without mentioning his masterpiece, ‘Metamorphosis’ (Published 1915). There is much, much more I could quote for ‘Metamorphosis‘ . Obviously this is a re-read for me, and it’s quickly becoming a favourite of mine. Having the illness I have, I really relate to Gregor. I’m not very good at textual analysis but I personally see this story as a great metaphor for illness and disability. Gregor’s isolation, the burden on his family to be the breadwinners, the change in how they see him and communicate with him are all effects of illness and disability on people and their loved ones. I believe that in Kafka’s line of work, workers insurance, he would have seen this for himself. The horrific accidents that happened to factory workers and how they had to deal with the aftermath. Through illness or disability you become a beast, something insignificant, maybe even repulsive. This is Gregor’s story. What I quote doesn’t do this story justice because there are whole passages that are beautiful. I just quoted a few things that I either found touching, amusing or that I related to.

“This getting up early, he thought, makes one quite stupid.”

“He thought that he might get out of bed with the lower part of his body first, but this lower part, which he had not yet seen and of which he could form no clear conception, proved too difficult to move; it shifted so slowly; and when finally, almost wild with annoyance, he gathered his forces together and thrust out recklessly, he had miscalculated the direction and bumped heavily against the lower end of the bed, and the stinging pain he felt informed him that precisely this lower part of his body was at the moment probably the most sensitive.”

“But the lofty, empty room in which he had to lie flat on the floor filled him with apprehension he could not account for, since it had been his very own room for the past five years – and with a half -unconscious action, not without a slight feeling of shame, he scuttled under the sofa, where he felt comfortable at once…”

“Or he nerved himself to the great effort of pushing an armchair to the window, then crawled up over the window sill and, braced against the chair, leaned against the windowpanes, obviously in some recollection of the sense of freedom that looking out of a window always used to give him.”

“This made him realise how repulsive the sight of him still was to her, and that it was bound to go on being repulsive, and what an effort it cost her not to run away even from the sight of the small portion of his body that stuck out from under the sofa. In order to spare her that, therefore, one day he carried a sheet on his back to the sofa – it cost him four hours’ labour – and arranged it there in suck a way as to hide him completely, so that even if she were to bend down, she could not see him.”

“Her intentions were clear enough to Gregor, she wanted to bestow her mother in safety and then chase him down the wall. Well, just let her try it! He clung to his picture and would not give it up. He would rather fly in Grete’s face.”

“He was determined to push forward till he reached his sister, to pull at her skirt and so let her know that she was to come to his room with her violin, for no-one here appreciated her playing as much as he would appreciate it. He would never let her out of his room, at least, not so long as he lived; his frightful appearance would become, for the first time, useful to him; he would watch all doors of his room at once and spit at intruders; but his sister should need no constraint, she should stay with him of her own free will; she should side beside him on the sofa, bend down her ear to him, and hear him confide that he had the firm intention of sending her to the Conservatorium, and that, but for his mishap, last Christmas – surely Christmas was long past? – he would have announced it to everybody without allowing a singing objection. After this confession his sister would burst into tears, and Gregor would then raise himself to her shoulder and kiss her on the neck…”

Again, the ending of this is amazing, but I won’t give it away!

Taken from ‘Metamorphosis’ by Franz Kafka, translated by Willa and Edwin Muir.
Available from Amazon UK  – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Complete-Short-Stories-Vintage-classics/dp/0749399465/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1247842148&sr=8-1

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2 thoughts on “Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka

  1. Joseph says:

    I find it suggestive that Kafka was writing passionate love letters to Felice Bauer around the time he wrote this story. With his powerful imagination, I am sure he would have instinctively understood Simone de Beauvoir’s insight into female sexual desire.

    “When she confronts the male, she feels in her hands and her lips the desire to caress a prey actively. But crude man, with his hard muscles, his rough and often hairy skin, his strong odour, his coarse features, does not appeal to her as desirable; he even seems repulsive.”

    (Simone de Beauvoir: The Second Sex)

    • niftybooks says:

      Thank you for your comment, Joseph!

      And very well thought out… I think he would have understood that very well, seeing as he found *himself* so repulsive. So he may have assumed every woman found him repulsive too. Great quote, great idea!

      Saying that, I think Felice played a big part in a lot of his writing around that time. The Trial, for example, (which I’m yet to quote) has a lot of sexuality in it. The fact Kafka and Felice rarely saw each other may have come out in Joseph K’s frustration – like how he seizes Fraulein Burstner like an animal. Again with an animal… Kafka used animal imagery and metaphors a lot, it seems!

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