Study Guide on The Metamorphosis

The Metamorphosis

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is a depressing yet magnetizing short story that continues to impress its readers even today. Thus, it’s not surprising that to understand it, you should learn its historical context. In this article, prepared by IvyPanda’s team, you’ll find out how Franz Kafka’s life and style impacted Gregor Samsa’s story.

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💁 All You Need to Know about The Metamorphosis

📌 What is The Metamorphosis about?

The Metamorphosis is about Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman. One day he transforms into an insect-like creature. He has to adapt to his new body while his family tries to live with such a being.

📌 Who wrote The Metamorphosis?

The Metamorphosis was written by Franz Kafka, the famous writer of the early XXth century. He was born to a Jewish German-speaking family in Prague, Austria-Hungary. Franz Kafka gained fame and recognition posthumously. Critics admire and deeply analyze his works to this day.

📌 Where and when was The Metamorphosis written?

The Metamorphosis book was written in the city of Prague over a three-week period in 1912. For Europe, it was a turbulent time, full of new nationalist movements, philosophical ideas, and deadly weapons. It influenced the tone and atmosphere of the story.

📌 When was it published?

The Metamorphosis was published in 1915. It first occurred in the literary journal Die weissen Blätter and finally found its book cover two months later.

🗺️ The Metamorphosis Study Guide: Navigation

A short summary of The Metamorphosis with illustrative pictures and thorough analysis.

A summary and analysis of the first chapter. Active themes and characters.

A summary and analysis of the second chapter. Active themes and characters.

A summary and analysis of the third chapter. Active themes and characters.

Gregor Samsa, Grete Samsa, and the rest of the Samsa family – the key Metamorphosis characters described and analyzed.

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Alienation, transformation, and family explained as themes of The Metamorphosis.

The Metamorphosis symbolism is explored through the picture on the wall, the father’s uniform, food, and Grete’s violin. The style of the story explained as well.

The most important quotes by Gregor Samsa, Grete Samsa, and others examined.

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Unique ideas for essay and literature analysis of The Metamorphosis.

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Franz Kafka’s life and works explored along with his philosophical ideas and existential crisis.

Q&A

Answers to the most popular questions about The Metamorphosis with links to detailed explanations.

🔑 The Metamorphosis: Key Facts

Full Title:The Metamorphosis
Author:Kafka, Franz
Type Of Work:Novella or Short Story
Language:German
The Metamorphosis’ Genre:Modernism, Existentialism, and Absurdism
First Publication Date:1912
Setting of Metamorphosis (place):An apartment in Eastern Europe
Setting of Metamorphosis (time):Presumably 20th century
Main Themes:Isolation, Transformation, Family

💌 Historical context

Kafka lived and worked on the periphery of the XIXth and XXth centuries, a turbulent time for the world and Europe in particular. It saw the rise of new technologies and weapons, ideologies, and nationalist movements. The Metamorphosis was written in 1912, just two years before the First World War.

The overall atmosphere of Europe at that time was hectic. Empires competed for dominance over many colonies in Africa. The newly founded German Empire, with its militaristic regime, pushed for the “redivision” of the European continent. Nationalistic movements were on the rise, and the idea of racial and national chauvinism prevailed over the minds of Europeans. In particular, Jewish populations were under scorn, as many pogroms were happening all over Europe.

Additionally, new means of warfare and mass extermination were being developed. The XIXthXXth century saw the invention of automatic weapon systems, such as rifles, SMGs, and machine guns. The artillery was getting bigger and could fire at greater distances, causing massive damage. It could also launch chemical attacks that created horrible casualties.

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As for the ideologies, many of them appeared at the same time, in part, as a response to all the anxieties people experienced during those uncertain times. Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher, contributed to the idea of existentialism and atheism, debating on human nature in his famous work Übermensch (Superhuman). Unfortunately, many people interpreted Nietzsche’s ideas differently, clinging to the idea of existential nihilism and anti-Semitism.

At the same time, Sigmund Freud popularized psychoanalysis and contributed a lot to modern psychiatry. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels created socialism, which started accumulating followers among the working classes who opposed inequality in Europe. Critics still find new evidence of their impact on The Metamorphosis.

The Modernist movement also influenced Kafka’s works. The Metamorphosis is a great example of it, as it expresses the alienation and uncertainty of modern times, merging psychology with traditional literature. Such mixing of reality and fantasy was unthinkable before.

Why Is The Metamorphosis Important?

The importance of the novella is not to be underestimated. It became one of the first modernist literature examples of its time, where the surreal merged with reality. Moreover, the psychological aspect of the book explores human nature. It gives insight into both its good and bad elements. The novella proved to be a valuable collection of people’s anxieties and fears at that time and still does, as every theme discussed is relevant nowadays.

The Metamorphosis novel also became one of the first literature examples where God does not play any role. At the beginning of the Modern Age, people started straying from religion at increased paces, as they could not understand how God could allow so many inhumane things to happen. Theological thought became obsolete. As Nietzsche wrote about the consequences of the Age of Enlightenment in one of his works:

“God is dead, and we have killed him.”

Most critically, The Metamorphosis withstood the challenge of time. Nowadays, humanity is still mesmerized by its themes and how easily people can relate to them. The book is deeply analyzed by many literary critics, and a multitude of theatrical plays continue to appear, proving the importance of The Metamorphosis.

😵 The Metamorphosis’ Translation

Translating literature has always been a demanding task. In particular, Kafka’s Metamorphosis proved to be an especially challenging undertaking for English translators. He wrote it in German, a language where one word could have several interpretations or a particular one. So, there are many terms used by the author that gave the translators quite a headache.

First of all, experts were puzzled by the translation of the title itself. In German, the word Verwandlung has a particular meaning of a subject transforming under supernatural circumstances. For changes that occur naturally, such as caterpillars turning into butterflies, Germans use a different expression. The English word metamorphosis has both of these meanings.

In his works, Kafka always played with word choice, adding many metaphors and ambiguity. He uses the German word Ungeziefer when describing Gregor’s new body. This word can be translated into many variations in English, generally meaning an insect-like creature (a vermin) with numerous legs. In High Old German, it refers to a dirty animal unfit for sacrifice. Even reading the original versions of the author’s works, the reader can only make guesses and assumptions about the surreal and bizarre world of Franz Kafka.

Additionally, by using the verb kriechen Kafka creates a double meaning for Gregor’s body. The main character gained a lot of physical freedom from his transformation, enabling him to crawl into all dimensions of his room. Ironically, besides crawling, the word also translates as to cover, thus, joking about Gregor’s timidness.

When Kafka was communicating with the publishers of The Metamorphosis, he gave strict instructions not to illustrate Gregor’s body. It leaves the reader with assumptions about Gregor’s new look.

Moreover, the writer puzzles the translators with the sequence of events. Kafka mixes up the fates of a maid and a cook. The maid quits in one section but appears in the other on duty again. It shows that such minor characters are not important. Instead, Kafka focuses on the psychological aspect of the novel. A translator Susan Berkofsky talks about it in her interview and also mentions other curious details of her interpretation of the story.

Thanks for reading the article! Check out the plot summary and analysis of The Metamorphosis to further examine the story.

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IvyPanda. (2021, June 24). The Metamorphosis. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/lit/study-guide-on-the-metamorphosis/

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IvyPanda. "The Metamorphosis." June 24, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/lit/study-guide-on-the-metamorphosis/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "The Metamorphosis." June 24, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/lit/study-guide-on-the-metamorphosis/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'The Metamorphosis'. 24 June.