The Metamorphosis | Study Guide

Franz Kafka

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The Metamorphosis | 10 Things You Didn't Know

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Published in 1915, Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis is an unsettling novella. Giving rise to the literary term Kafkaesque, the book describes the life of Gregor Samsa after he is inexplicably transformed into an insect-like creature.

Critics note similarities between the father-son relationship in The Metamorphosis and the author's own strained relationship with his father. Kafka's father was an overbearing personality with a terrible temper and little appreciation for the arts. In many of Kafka's stories, the characters come into conflict with dark, controlling powers that threaten individuality. In The Metamorphosis, Gregor's father is particularly ashamed of his son's transformed state. The tale is an eerie examination of social pariahs who are shunned and excluded from their communities.

1. It's still a mystery what type of insect Gregor becomes.

Scholars have long wondered about the exact nature of Gregor Samsa's transformation, as Kafka refers to him merely as a "horrible vermin." Although Kafka leaves the exact nature of the insect deliberately ambiguous, the descriptions in the text suggest that the insect is most akin to a cockroach or beetle: "armour-like back," "brown belly, slightly domed and divided by arches into stiff sections" and "many legs, pitifully thin."

2. Kafka specifically forbade the publisher from using artwork of the vermin.

Kafka did not allow his publisher to include a picture of Gregor's transformation, although editors wanted to feature it on the cover. Though the creature has since inspired countless conceptual drawings, Kafka stated bluntly, "The insect itself is not to be drawn. It is not even to be seen from a distance."

3. A radio drama combined advice from Dr. Seuss with the plot of The Metamorphosis.

First broadcast on CBC Radio One in 2008, the radio play titled Samsa & Seuss has the insect version of Gregor Samsa mistaking the beloved children's author Dr. Seuss for a real doctor, whom he comes to for health advice. It was performed by David Rakoff and Jonathan Goldstein.

4. The Simpsons featured a parody of Kafka's novella.

Matt Groening, creator of the well-known cartoon The Simpsons, included an allusion to The Metamorphosis in his 2001 book, Bart Simpson's Treehouse of Horror: Spine-Tingling Spooktacular. The story, called "Metamorphosimpsons," features Homer Simpson's infant daughter, Maggie, turning into a grotesque insect.

5. There is a version of The Metamorphosis where Gregor is transformed into a kitten.

In The Meowmorphosis, author Coleridge Cook parodies Kafka's story by having Gregor Samsa awaken to find that, instead of a terrible bug, he has been transformed into an "adorable kitten."

6. Kafka was an extremely fast writer.

The author's short story, "The Judgment," was written during an all-nighter. He believed that such an intensely coherent period of writing allowed "a complete opening out of the body and the soul." He declared the process the only way "writing [can] be done." Less than two months after this session, he had completed The Metamorphosis, while working on another work that would be published after his death, called Amerika.

7. The Metamorphosis was not published for three years.

Although Kafka wanted to complete the manuscript for The Metamorphosis in one or two sessions, he was plagued by delays and interruptions. Various publishers expressed interest after Kafka read an excerpt aloud to friends in 1912, but The Metamorphosis was not officially published until 1915. Negotiations with publishers and the start of World War I delayed the publication.

8. The Metamorphosis has inspired numerous retellings, including one from the perspective of Gregor's family.

Anxious Pleasures: A Novel After Kafka, a 2007 text written by Lance Olsen, features numerous outside perspectives to elaborate on Kafka's story. In addition to Gregor's immediate family, the novel is built around a contemporary plotline where a woman reads The Metamorphosis for the first time.

9. A short film adaptation toyed with the idea of turning Gregor into a banana.

In Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life, Richard E. Grant plays Kafka as he experiments with different potential items for Gregor Samsa's transformation, such as a banana or a kangaroo, but he is unable to focus due to interruptions. It tied for an Academy Award for Live Action Short Film in 1995.

10. Benedict Cumberbatch read The Metamorphosis for BBC Radio.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of its publication, the popular actor, who stars in Star Trek Into Darkness, Sherlock, and The Imitation Game, read the novella aloud for BBC Radio 4 in 2015.

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