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"The terror of art is that the dream reveals the reality." Kafka in a discussion of The Metamorphosis

"A first sign of the beginning of understanding is the wish to die". Franz Kafka Diaries


Today in class we introduced Kafka's Metamorphosis.

In this story, Kafka describes the "metamorphosis" of Gregor Samsa into a human sized insect, and how this affects his life.

Kafka is so well known for the style of his bizarre stories that his name has become eponymous (kafka-esque) for a style of writing and experience of life that is unfair, confused, and ultimately futile. Kafka's characters are caught in a nightmarish maze without any ability to orient themselves or escape.


In class we also discussed the two goals for our studying this story: Evaluating Author's Argument, and Describing Author's Style.

1. Evaluating Author's Argument

This means asking questions that can help us understand the author's point.


Author's Argument

Today in class we began our questioning process to discern the main ideas of Kafka's piece. Kafk's piece is famous for it's ambiguity and uncertainty, so it's safe to say that there might be many interpretations. These questions were some that the class came up with to help discern a meaning from what we've read. Remember to pass these through the checkpoint guards of analysis: 1. How well can we answer this question with the text? 2. How useful is it to understanding the overall text? or What can we learn from it?

In Class Questions:

1. What is Kafka saying about the hardships of life in the story?

2. Why was Gregor turned into a bug specifically?

3. Why does Kafka spend so much time and write in such detail on Gregor being a bug?

4. What is the point of the story?

5. Why is it so easy for Gregor to give up on life and die without thinking about his life?

6. Why does life go on so quickly with the family after Gregor's death?

7. What does the death symbolize (represent) to the family?

Looking at these questions, hopefully you will be able to come up with some ideas about the story that you can write about.


Sample Answer:
In "Metamorphosis", Kafka argues that Gregor's life is as insignificant and ugly as the roach that he turns into. At the end of the story, Gregor has a moment when (insert quote here where Gregor realizes his family is living better without his presence than they were) as he listens to them from the isolation of his room. At this point he realizes his life is insignificant and he kills himself.


2. Describing an Author's Style

This means looking at diction (word choice) tone (feeling behind the words) syntax (sentence structure)

and genre (type of writing).

Author's Style

As we spent a few minutes taking notes on describing Kafka's style. There were three things we noticed.

1. His syntax is complicated. His sentences are long, with lots of clauses. They are convoluted, and frequently confusing in their meaning.

2. His diction is precise lending a detailed and realistic, almost scientific, feel to the writing.

3. The tone is matter of fact, scientific, almost disdainful to the subject. It is linked to Gregor's perspective but continues after his death, as if his death is not particularly significant to the story.

All of these observations of Kafka's style help us understand the meaning of his story better. A fantastic story of transformation into a bug is made mundane and matter of fact. We are lost in the details and have a hard time seeing the big picture. Nothing seems extraordinary or particularly meaningful as a result. At the same time his syntax obfuscates meaning in the same way. We get lost in the clauses and have a hard time figuring out the meaning literally. This combined with a matter of fact almost scientific tone makes us feel as though this experience is to be accepted. There are a lot of stylistic elements that combine to create the effect Kafka creates within the world of his story.


Reader Responses

In order to ensure that you are understanding the major ideas of the story, use the following questions as your guide to reading interactively.

Be prepared to answer these questions (in writing) for the sections as they are due.

These questions are adapted from Dr. Hanlon's class website and Dr. George Mitrevski's ENGL 2210 World Literature II. The originals can be found here.

and here.


Part 1

-What is the relationship between realism and fantasy in this story? What are some details that make the fantastic story credible?

-What are Gregor's concerns in section I? To what degree do they differ from what would matter to him if he had not been transformed into an insect?

-Why does Gregor dismiss the idea of calling for help when he tries to get out of bed?

-What seems most important to members of his family as he lies in bed?

-How do you view the reactions of Gregor's parents to their first view of his metamorphosis? What circumstances in ordinary life might elicit a similar response?

-Trace Gregor's adaptation to his new body. In what ways do the satisfactions of his life as an insect differ from the satisfactions of his life as a traveling salesman?


Part II

-How does Grete treat Gregor in section II?

-What does Gregor eat and how?

-What are Gregor's hopes for the future? Is there anything wrong with those hopes?

-How does Gregor treat his parents differently than they treat him?

-What conflicting feelings does Gregor have about having the furniture taken out of his room? Why does he try to save the picture?

-Why does Gregor's father behave as he does when Gregor "breaks loose"? Explain the situation that has developed by the end of section II?

Part III

-Why can't the family move into a smaller apartment?

-How does the charwoman relate to Gregor? Why is she the one who presides over his "funeral"?

-Compare the role of the lodgers in the family with Gregor's role. Have they supplanted him? Why does Gregor's father send them away in the morning?

-How does Gregor's condition deteriorate by the end of the story, in his environment and within himself?

-How does Gregor's family behave at the end of the story? What are your reactions to the events and atmosphere at the end?

- Who do you think is responsible for Gregor's fate? To what exptent do you think he is responsible?


Extra Goodness - Literature in Context

In addition to looking at the text, many people look at Kafka himself to better understand his style and subjects of writing. Kafka has become the poster child for writing about 1. life being depressed and empty 2. confusing or maze-like in not being able orient oneself or find the way out, and 3. dark and gothic in its lack of purpose or connection. Read his biography from Sparknotes below to see how people read his life similarly.


Context

Because Franz Kafka has become the poster boy for twentieth-century alienation and disoriented anxiety, his work is often introduced in the context of his own experience of alienation. A Czech in the Austro-Hungarian empire, a German-speaker among Czechs, a Jew among German-speakers, a disbeliever among Jews; alienated from his pragmatic and overbearing father, from his bureaucratic job, from the opposite sex;caught between a desire to live in literature and to live a normal bourgeois life; acutely and lucidly self-critical; physically vulnerable--Kafka nowhere found a comfortable fit. external image fc.php?dp=8&pid=%21qcsegs external image 450

Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was born in Prague to middle-class Jewish parents. His father, the son of a village butcher, was a man of little education but strong entrepreneurial ambition. He rose from a traveling peddler to a successful retailer and wholesaler, marrying the daughter of a wealthy brewery owner (a marriage above his station, in the eyes of the time). Kafka was the firstborn, followed by two brothers who died in infancy, and then three surviving sisters. Throughout his life, Kafka's memories of his childhood, and in particular of his childhood relationship to his upwardly-mobile, harsh father, remained bitter.

After an education in a gymnasium typically draconian of the time, Kafka entered law school and received a doctorate degree. While a law student, he associated with many members of Prague's burgeoning scene of young, German-speaking writers. One such companion, Max Brod, became a lifelong devoted friend and was ultimately responsible for preserving much of what exists of Kafka's writing.

Kafka knew that writing was his vocation, but did not feel he could make a living at it--nor did he particularly want to try. It was something purer and more desperately personal to him--a "form of prayer" and a temporary respite from his demons. He took a law clerkship after graduation and then, briefly, a job with a private insurance company. In 1908, with the help of a friend's father, he obtained an entry-level position with the Workmen's Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia. There he served as a diligent and respected functionary until his premature retirement in 1922.

In 1924, at the age of 41, Kafka succumbed to tuberculosis. The bulk of his work was published after his early death, just as many of the nightmares he described in his work were taking shape in Europe's new totalitarian states. His novels Amerika, The Trial, and The Castle were left unfinished. Yet he did have admirers during his lifetime. The collections of short stories and the novellas he saw published (including The Metamorphosis in 1915) sold minimally, but were highly praised within a small but respected circle of German-speaking intellectuals. The developments of the twisted century itself brought Kafka's works--prescient accounts of the banality of terror--to the world's attention, and lent the word 'kafkaesque' to hundreds of languages. (Fulfilling his pessimism, Kafka's three sisters and the woman who was likely the one true love of his life all perished in concentration camps.) Beyond this terrible prophesy, however, it is Kafka's description of the struggle to find meaning in a cosmos he knew to be meaningless that makes his work the gateway to modern literature.