Kafka’s Metamorphosis: Ten Thoughts

  1. A search on Google for Kafka’s Metamorphosis yields 3,400,000 results compared to 235,000 for Kafka’s The Castle. Every literate person, even if they have not read the short story know of Kafka’s tale about the man that turned into a “beetle”
  2. Fascination with Kafka’s writing stems from its inexhaustibility. All Kafka’s writing including much of his diaries, letters and the aphorisms can sustain a multiplicity of interpretation.
  3. Of all Kafka’s stories, Metamorphosis will keep readers and critics guessing and interpreting as long as literate people survive. Every age will have its own Metamorphosis. A psychological interpretation: of course; a Marxist reading: how many do you want? gender-based analysis: sure; feminist criticism: see Nina Pelikan Straus’s brilliant essay.
  4. Kafka, by his own admission, wrote better short stories than Metamorphosis, writing that the story originated “during my misery in bed and oppresses me with inmost intensity”. The ending, in particular, disappointed Kafka. I adore the ending, one of the coldest and most disturbing endings I have read.
  5. Endings nearly always disappoint me. This is an exception.
  6. I suspect that the appeal of The Metamorphosis is that the story expresses the hopeless sense of alienation and loneliness common to us all.
  7. Though The Metamorphosis is not my favourite Kafka story I read it yearly, two or three times. With Sartre’s Nausea it is an annual ritual.
  8. Kafka’s form is the short story, more so the aphorism. His impossibly high standards impeded him from finishing any of his longer fictions. Most Kafka stories including The Metamorphosis can be considered incomplete.
  9. Nina Pelikan Straus’s Transforming Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis is a favourite piece of Kafka criticism, offering a highly convincing feminist reading. Straus argues that Metamorphosis reveals the plight of “one who is caught between the shameful desire to identify himself with women and the consciousness that he cannot identify himself with men”. In her essay, Straus argues it is Grete’s as much as Gregor Samsa’s transformation at the heart of the story.
  10. The important picture that Samsa treasures, “a lady done up in a fur hat and a fur boa, sitting upright and raising up against the viewer a heavy fur muff in which her whole forearm had disappeared”, has yielded a myriad of psychological interpretations. The character in the picture was based on a book, widely popular at the time, and a favourite of Kafka and his cronies. The book, Venus in Furs, was written by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, from who’s name the term masochism is derived.
  11. Unfortunately Leopold von Sacher-Masoch never met Marquis de Sade, the latter died before Sacher-Masoch was born.