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The Metamorphosis: A Free Online and Offline Reading of Kafka's Surreal Story

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka: A Surrealistic Masterpiece

If you are looking for a short but powerful read that will challenge your perception of reality and humanity, you might want to check out The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. This novella, first published in 1915, is one of the most famous and influential works of modern literature. It tells the story of Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman who wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a giant insect. The novella explores the degradation and transformative power of alienation, as Gregor struggles to adjust to his new condition and his family's reaction to it.

What is The Metamorphosis about?

A brief summary of the plot

The novella begins with Gregor's shocking discovery that he has turned into a monstrous vermin. He tries to get out of bed and go to work, but he realizes that he cannot move his body properly and that his voice has changed. His family and his boss, who come to check on him, are horrified by his appearance and cannot understand what he says. Gregor is locked in his room, where he gradually adapts to his insect-like instincts and preferences. He loses his appetite for human food and develops a taste for rotten scraps. He also enjoys crawling on the walls and ceiling and hiding under the furniture.

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Gregor's family, meanwhile, tries to cope with the situation and their financial difficulties. They are ashamed and disgusted by Gregor, who they consider a burden and a threat. They also have to deal with the social consequences of having a monstrous creature in their apartment. They take on three lodgers to earn some extra money, but they have to keep Gregor out of sight. Gregor's sister, Grete, who initially shows some sympathy and care for him, becomes more resentful and hostile as time goes by. She stops cleaning his room and feeding him properly. She also decides to remove his furniture, which Gregor objects to, as he still clings to his human memories and identity.

One night, Grete plays her violin for the lodgers in the living room. Gregor is deeply moved by the music and crawls out of his room to listen. He hopes to reconnect with his sister and his family, but they are appalled by his presence. The lodgers threaten to sue the family and leave the apartment. Gregor's father chases him back into his room and slams the door. Gregor realizes that he has become a burden and a source of misery for his family, and he wishes to die. He stops eating and breathing, and dies in his room.

The next morning, the charwoman who cleans the apartment finds Gregor's corpse and informs the family. They are relieved and happy that he is gone. They dismiss the lodgers and decide to move to a smaller and cheaper apartment. They also notice that Grete has grown into a beautiful and mature young woman, who attracts the attention of potential suitors. They plan to find her a good husband and start a new life.

The main themes and symbols of the novella

The Metamorphosis is rich in themes and symbols that reflect Kafka's complex and ambiguous view of the world. Some of the major themes are:

  • The absurdity of life: The novella depicts a random, chaotic, and irrational universe, where anything can happen without any explanation or justification. Gregor's transformation is never explained or resolved, nor does it have any apparent meaning or purpose. It is simply an absurd event that disrupts his normal life and exposes him to suffering and isolation.

  • The alienation of the individual: The novella portrays the loneliness and estrangement of the modern individual, who is trapped in a dehumanizing and oppressive society. Gregor is a victim of his work, his family, and his environment, which exploit him and deny him his dignity and freedom. He is also alienated from himself, as he loses his human identity and becomes a grotesque insect. He is unable to communicate with others or express his feelings and needs. He is rejected and neglected by his family, who treat him as an object and a nuisance.

  • The metamorphosis as a symbol of change: The novella uses the motif of metamorphosis as a metaphor for the changes that occur in life, both physical and psychological. Gregor's transformation is an extreme and shocking example of how a person can change drastically and unexpectedly, without any control or consent. It also represents the potential for growth and development, as well as decay and deterioration. Gregor's metamorphosis can be seen as a positive or a negative process, depending on how one interprets it.

Why is The Metamorphosis a classic of literature?

The influence of Kafka's life and times on his writing

One of the reasons why The Metamorphosis is considered a masterpiece of literature is because it reflects the personal and historical context of its author, Franz Kafka. Kafka was born in 1883 in Prague, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was a German-speaking Jew who lived in a multicultural and multilingual city, where he faced discrimination and assimilation pressures. He also had a difficult relationship with his father, who was a domineering and authoritarian figure. Kafka suffered from various physical and mental illnesses, which affected his self-esteem and confidence. He worked as an insurance clerk, but he had a passion for writing, which he pursued in his spare time. He never married or had children, and he died of tuberculosis in 1924 at the age of 40.

Kafka's life experiences influenced his writing style and themes, which are characterized by a sense of alienation, anxiety, absurdity, and existentialism. He explored the psychological and social aspects of human existence, as well as the metaphysical and religious questions that haunted him. He used surrealism, symbolism, irony, and dark humor to create stories that challenge the reader's expectations and logic. He also created characters that are complex, ambiguous, and relatable, who face dilemmas and conflicts that resonate with modern audiences.

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The originality and relevance of Kafka's style and vision

Another reason why The Metamorphosis is regarded as a classic of literature is because it showcases Kafka's unique and innovative style and vision, which have influenced many writers and artists in different genres and media. Kafka's style is marked by simplicity, clarity, precision, and elegance. He uses plain language and realistic details to create vivid images and scenes that contrast with the fantastical and absurd elements of his stories. He also uses techniques such as repetition, variation, contrast, irony, paradox, ambiguity, and symbolism to create layers of meaning and interpretation. He leaves many questions unanswered and many endings open-ended, inviting the reader to participate in the creation of meaning.

Kafka's vision is marked by originality, creativity, imagination, and insight. He creates stories that are both realistic and fantastical, both familiar and strange, both humorous and tragic. He explores themes that are universal and timeless, such as identity, freedom, responsibility, justice, morality, faith, love, death, etc. He also addresses issues that are relevant to contemporary society, such as bureaucracy, capitalism, consumerism, individualism, alienation, etc. He challenges the reader to question their assumptions and beliefs about themselves and the world around them.

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