Cecily's Reviews > Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
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it was amazing
bookshelves: classics, short-stories-and-novellas, favourites, kafka-and-related

NOTE: Some of the stories in this edition have also been published in separate collections, and those ones are reviewed under those titles (links included here).

Many are short, poignant vignettes, rather than stories, though some have a surreal/magical angle. A definite voyeuristic slant to several (two are explicitly titled about looking through a window).

Metamorphosis

The provider turns parasite, and in giving up his life, liberates his family.

It's a surreal situation: Gregor wakes to find himself transformed into an unspecified insect, for an unknown reason, contrasted with realistic detail. He wonders what he is, but never why.

In this unrealistic situation, it convincingly shows how his thoughts, principles, preferences, attitudes to family, mood etc gradually change as a result. The least real aspect is how pragmatic and accepting everyone is. No one asks "why?" or seeks a cure; they just get on with life as best they can.

It is sad, but somehow pointless - except as personal catharsis re his own family.

Up till the start of the story, Gregor is well-intentioned: he thinks he is the provider, and wants to be loved and appreciated for it, but he is really a parasite. His overwhelming efforts to provide for his family have sapped them of power and ambition, "so preoccupied with their immediate worries that they had lost all power to look ahead".

As an insect, he can understand everything they say, but cannot make himself understood. His sister is empathetic and creative, but even so, the inability to communicate is part of his demise.

Yet as he becomes a burden to them, the family blossoms and is rejuvenated; they take control of their lives and sunshine - literally - returns.

Ultimately, it is a totemic apple, thrown in anger, by his father that is the end.

Here's Vladimir Nabokov on the subject: http://www.kafka.org/index.php?id=191...

Aeroplanes at Brescia

This is a factual report of Kafka's first sighting of planes, at an air show he attended with friends. His anxiety is more noticeable than his enthusiasm or awe, but there are some good descriptions of incidentals:

* "A dirt which is simply there an dis no longer spoken of... a dirt which never alters, which has put down roots."
* A host who is "proud in himself, humble towards us".
* Sailors etc "can first practice in puddles, thin in ponds, thin in rivers... for these people [pilots] there is only an ocean."
* Take-off: "runs off for a long way over the clouds like an awkward performer on the dance floor".
* "Twenty metres above the earth is a man entangled in a wooden frame, defending himself against an invisible danger that he has freely taken on."
* Society portraits include Puccini with "the nose of a drinker".
* "Perfect achievements cannot be appreciated, everyone thinks himself capable... for perfect achievements no courage seems to be necessary."

The Coal Scuttle Rider

"All the coal used up; the coal-scuttle empty; the shovel meaningless; the stove breathing out cold; the room inflated with frosty air; trees beyond the window rigid with rime; the sky a silver shield against anyone looking for help from there."

A cold and destitute... being(?) imagines taking flight on the coal scuttle and begging for a few scraps, in "a voice burned hollow by the frost, wreathed in the clouds of my voice".

Penal Colony is particularly gruesome (yet somehow elicits sympathy for the obsessed officer), with scope for Christian/crucifixion interpretation. I've reviewed it here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Eleven Sons especially sad but pertinently perceptive of 11 different ways he disappointed his father. This is in The Country Doctor, reviewed here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Report to the Academy is an amusingly surreal (reminiscent of Gerald the gorilla in Not the Nine O'clock News) slant on Jewish integration. This is in The Country Doctor, reviewed here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

The Fasting Artist may be where David Blaine got his idea from. The title is used for a collection of four short stories, mostly concerning performers: this one, plus First Sorrow, and A Little Woman and Josefine the Songstress or The Mouse People, all reviewed here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Before the Law is chillingly allegorical and is reviewed here, with a link to the full text:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

The Judgement is a domestic judgement, passed by a father on the son in whom he is so disappointed. It's reviewed here, with a link to the full text:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

The Dream and Before the Law are actually from his novel The Trial, which is on my Kafka-related bookshelf (http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/...), along with lots of others, including biographies.

The section of this titled Meditation is sometimes published separately under that title, or Contemplation. My reviews of those are under that title, here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show....

The Stoker is reviewed here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show..., but is actually the first chapter of his novel, Amerika.
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Quotes Cecily Liked

Franz Kafka
“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”
Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

Franz Kafka
“I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.”
Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis


Reading Progress

May 30, 2008 – Shelved
June 9, 2008 – Shelved as: classics
June 9, 2008 – Shelved as: short-stories-and-novellas
June 9, 2008 – Shelved as: favourites
July 15, 2008 – Shelved as: kafka-and-related
Started Reading
December 9, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-30 of 30 (30 new)

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message 1: by Dolors (new)

Dolors I loved the book but I couldn't help feeling anxious as I advanced reading...so much tension and so much sadness!
Claustrophobic story but so well written! I love Kafka!


Cecily Tension and sadness, yes, but humour, too.
Apparently, when he read his works to his circle of friends, the occasions were noted for the amount of laughter.


message 3: by Dolors (new)

Dolors I didn't know that, good tip! Because it opens a new light on his works! Honestly, I understood his kind of playful tone in an ironic way. In fact, I'd have called it "black" humour, you know, this kind of despairing attitude one can have when the unavoidable is going to happen no matter what...
Wow, I'll try to apply that tip into other stories like "A country doctor", what a distressing reading!


message 4: by Cecily (last edited Mar 21, 2013 05:25AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cecily Some of his shorter stories are more obviously humorous than this, e.g. in The Great Wall of China and Other Stories.


Renato Magalhães Rocha Out of those, I've only read "Metamorphosis" and "In the penal colony"... but very claustrophobic, to use Dolors's word. But I loved both! I really enjoy his writing. Thanks for the review, Cecily!


Cecily Thanks, Renato, though this is an old review. There will be a shiny new one when I finish rereading - though being Kafka, I'll do that slowly, even though I'm familiar with the stories. One needs to savour it.


message 7: by Caroline (new)

Caroline I love your comment above. You sound a wonderful reader!


message 8: by Cecily (last edited Nov 18, 2014 05:33AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cecily Thanks, Caroline, though "careful" might be a more deserved adjective.


message 9: by Lyn (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lyn Good review, I need to read this


message 10: by Cecily (last edited Dec 08, 2014 05:39AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cecily Lyn wrote: "Good review, I need to read this"

Thanks - but it's not finished yet (I'm planning to do so tonight)!

I have recently finished rereading this volume, but I have not revised all my reviews. The stories that are sometimes published separately, I'll be putting in separate reviews (already done for Before the Law, The Judgement and The Fasting Artist, but not The Country Doctor collection and some of the others). I think I might be making matters more complicated, though my original intention was to make it easier for me to find reviews of individual stories.


Fabian {Councillor} Kafka's novel has been a required reading for school some years ago for me. I always thought of it as being somehow dull and strange, something I couldn't quite get into. But it's been some years, and I really think this novel might be worth giving it another try, especially after reading your thoughtful review on it.


Cecily Thanks, Councillor. I'm not sure I'd have appreciated it when I was at school, but I wish I'd read Kafka earlier than my mid 30s (and specifically, I wish I read him before I visited Prague).


Apatt I'm trying to find the update or addendum to this review, but it's too seamless ;)


Cecily Apatt wrote: "I'm trying to find the update or addendum to this review, but it's too seamless ;)"

I actually edited because it was NOT seamless (a previous edit repeated part of an earlier paragraph).

However, I UNticked the option to add the edit to the newsfeed, yet you were obviously alerted, as I presume were two or three others who just liked it (or maybe they're loyal followers of you).


Apatt Cecily wrote: "Apatt wrote: "I'm trying to find the update or addendum to this review, but it's too seamless ;)"

I actually edited because it was NOT seamless (a previous edit repeated part of an earlier paragra..."


Ah, you can't hide your modification from my sonic specs! Oh, I just said I can't find the seams though. Why don't you want it to your newsfeed? That makes me sad :_(
I have loyal followers? LOL! The poor undiscerning fools!


Cecily Sometimes I leave the Newsfeed box ticked when I edit a review (if I've made major changes, or occasionally, for vanity, if I think it's under-appreciated and I've acquired a lot of friends since I wrote it). With short and somewhat shallow ones like this though, I don't necessarily want to draw too much attention to them.

As for your followers, maybe they're just afraid you'll exterminate them if they don't go along with you. ;)


Fabian {Councillor} Cecily wrote:
I actually edited because it was NOT seamless (a previous edit repeated part of an earlier paragraph).

However, I UNticked the option to add the edit to the newsfeed, yet you were obviously alerted, as I presume were two or three others who just liked it (or maybe they're loyal followers of you)."


I don't understand why these changes appear on feeds either. I always remove the check mark at "Add to my Update Feed", so it doesn't appear on other newsfeeds, however it seems to appear in update emails (which is why I can't change anything anymore without receiving at least some likes afterwards, and I'm always left irritated because I mostly edit reviews I'm not very proud of :D). The only possible way out seems to be to edit at least four reviews on one day, so that the books appear in update emails without showing the entire review text.


David Sarkies Great review of metamorphosis. I never saw it as being a metamorphosis of the family, I was always focused on poor Gregor.


Cecily Thank you, David. One of the powerful things about this deceptively simple story is that different people see different things in it.


Cecily Hi Hades, and thank you. I'm not sure I'd take Disney as the antidote to Kafka (or anything!), but that's just me. I hope it works for you.
May you never have to endure spongers in your life.


message 21: by Jason (last edited Feb 11, 2016 05:07PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jason Great review of the story "Metamorphosis." I really like your reading that Gregor transforms literally into something that, metaphorically, he may have always been - some kind of parasite. It's as if he becomes his "true self." Interesting tidbit: the most famous translation of this has Gregor transform into an "insect," but a more recent, and by all German accounts, more accurate translation has Gregor transform into something entirely different, a "monstrous vermin." This is, apparently, the closest in implication to the German. If he's a "vermin" rather than an insect, this suggests a whole slew of different things, doesn't it?


Cecily Thank you, Jason - especially for the translation note. I knew he wasn't necessarily a cockroach or other specific insect, and have seen "vermin" mentioned in more general terms. The possibility he's not an insect at all changes the imagery, but not, I think the meaning. Thanks.


message 23: by Jason (last edited Feb 12, 2016 05:57AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jason For the most part, you're probably right. The word "vermin," though, I think, has very different implications than insect when we take into account that Kafka was a Jew in a very anti-Semitic Prague, and that even as he was writing Metamorphosis, he was deeply involved in groups debating the legitimacy of the Zionist cause, whether it would help the Jewish people or not, given the horrible treatment of the Jews in Prague at that time. (His entire family later died in the Holocaust.) So, taking into account that context, it may be that Gregor Samsa wakes up to find himself.....a Jew! (How he felt they were perceived and treated). He is viewed as a vermin, as a disgusting parasite, and in the end, deserves to get thrown out with the trash. It's a bit more chilling reading the story with that possibility in mind, that this is an allegory for what it felt like to be Jewish in Prague at the time. When the original translators made it an insect, it's possible they accidentally fogged up an allegory Kafka was trying to make. Anway, just food for thought.


Cecily Ah, yes. Good point. I'm never sure how much of a Jewish lens to apply to Kafka's work. My knowledge of the religion, culture, and history is limited, and I don't want to say he predicted the Holocaust. It's hard to know where the balance lies, but I think you're close.


Tsung Interesting! It never occured to me that Gregor was sapping his family's power and ambition and ironically when he became a burden they were rejuvenated. That's why Cecily's reviews are a must read!


Cecily Tsung Wei wrote: "Interesting! It never occured to me that Gregor was sapping his family's power... That's why Cecily's reviews are a must read!"

Thanks, but you made a similar point in your own review! You're a better reviewer than you give yourself credit for!


Robin Cecily, I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this - as well as the link to Nabokov's, which really challenges me to take my thinking a step or two further (in regards to Metamorphosis as well as Jekyll and Hyde, which I read recently). Thank you!


Cecily Robin wrote: "Cecily, I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this - as well as the link to Nabokov's..."

Thanks, Robin. As you know, I just enjoyed your insights on Metamorphosis.


Kevin Ansbro A most-excellent review, Cecily! This metaphoric piece of art works on so many different levels. As a writer, I viewed the story from Gregor’s POV, whereas you, as a mum, saw it from the family’s, which added another interesting facet to the prism.


Cecily Kevin wrote: "A most-excellent review, Cecily! This metaphoric piece of art works on so many different levels. As a writer, I viewed the story from Gregor’s POV, whereas you, as a mum, saw it from the family’s ..."

Thanks, Kevin. I loved the way you drew out the humour in the story, and your point about why we took slightly different things from it.


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