Franz Kafka

The Metamorphosis
The Metamorphosis
Great ending point for the semester
a very specific study in Psychoanalysis
and Formalism
1. Formalism and The Metamorphosis
You should understand these literary
 eponym and Kafkaesque
 defamiliarization
 novella
 Parable
 Existentialism (philosophy)
 (we will revisit) tragic hero, tragic sequence
(Aristotle), symbol, metaphor,
In your own words, define eponym.
Sophoclean irony
 Aristolean tragedy
 Shakespearean scholar
 Homeric epithets
 Freudian psychology
 Modern: MacGyver, Shrute
 …………………………………………..
An eponym is similar to an allusion, referring to a
well-known person to link his or her attributes
Meaning is usually known to educated people
Comes into language from a person's name
What does it tell us that Kafka (and his writing) has
been labeled with an eponym?
By the end of the period, you should be able to
construct a definition of Kafkaesque based on your
understanding of form and author.
Compare these famous Opening
“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from
uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in
his bed into a giant insect” (Kafka, The
 “It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks
were striking thirteen” (Orwell, Nineteen EightyFour 1).
What do these two lines have in common?
(Compare the beginnings of the sentences to the
Both sentences make their points
through defamiliarization:
They initially describe normal, everyday,
almost boring events, only to disrupt this
sense of normalcy at the very end. The
disruption of reader’s expectation is
called a defamiliarization effect – in
German, Verfremdungseffekt, which
translates as “alienation
Taking the familiar and making it
Why would Kafka (or any author) want
to alienate his audience?
 (Keep in kind that that Kafka is
eponymic = highly regarded piece of
literature and he is a highly regarded
 Why does Kafka (in a non-science
fiction piece of writing) have a human
being wake up as an insect?
It enhances our perceptions of the
 This gives an aesthetic affect = literary
Take a minute to read Terrible Things
This story is a parable . What is this a parable of?
How would you define parable based on this example?
Why do you think the author told the story of the
Holocaust in this symbolic way?
 Why
might an author choose to
write in parable form?
Definition of Parable
At its simplest, a parable is a metaphor or
simile drawn from nature or common
life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or
strangeness, and leaving the mind in
sufficient doubt about its precise application
to tease it into active thought.
The Form of The
Metamorphosis: Parable
1st person p.o.v. - Fictional narration used to
convey a moral not openly stated
 Uses this literary form as a neutral, detached
point of view from which to examine human
 Conveys truth in a less offensive, more
engaging form than a direct assertion
 Appeals to the understanding, the emotions, and
the imagination—to the whole person
Parable: The Complexity of Life
The meaning of most parables is not so
obvious, or at least it shouldn't be.
 Most parables contain some element that is
strange or unusual.
 Parables do not define things precisely but,
rather, use comparisons.
 Takes the familiar and applies it to the unfamiliar
 Makes the unfamiliar more comprehensible
The bottom line…
improbable or even impossible events in
fiction often ask us to consider what the
larger meaning of these events may be
 by disrupting our normal perspective on
reality, unusual plotlines force us to ask
profound questions
What did you find to be striking or
significant about Kafka’s life?
 Do a quick psychoanalytic prediction:
How might the Kafka’s life and times have
affected his writing?
Franz Kafka…a bit of his bio.
Czech-born in 1883 into a middle-class,
German-speaking Jewish family in a very
Catholic Prague
 Forced to attend German school
 Studied law
 Worked as a clerk for an insurance company
in order to support his parents/sisters
 Had a very strained relationship with his
tyrannical father
 Had very little time to devote to his writing
He was a meek and sickly
Developed MANY, many, many, many intense
relationships…was engaged MANY times but
could never follow through
 Suffered from clinical depression, social
anxiety, and several other illnesses triggered by
 Contracted tuberculosis in 1917 and was
supported by his sister and parents
 Died in 1924 from starvation when his
tuberculosis worsened and he could not
So what did this all mean to him?
Felt he was an outsider
Feared being perceived as both
physically and mentally repulsive
 Jewish in Catholic Prague
 Sickly
 Lonely
Perceived human beings as
being trapped by authority in
a hopeless world
Became frustrated with having
to support his family
Had to work in a meaningless job
for which he was overqualified
“just another pencil pusher”
 Took time away from his
As a result…
Franz Kafka’s writings often dealt with
loneliness, isolation and alienation, all of
which are aggravated by the social and
economic systems that structure human
Consider FORM and AUTHOR
Based on your understanding of
eponym, defamiliarization, parable, and
Kafka’s life, create a rough definition of
Kafkaesque =
Used to describe something horrible and
beyond the restraints of logic
 characterized by surreal distortion and a
sense of impending danger
 Is a very interesting and identifiable style
because its created out of
psychoanalytic and formalist
approaches to analysis
Difficulties in Reading Kafka:
Paradox and Ambiguity
Not a systematic philosopher or religious
 Is so convincing in his matter-of-factness
and use of details to the point of negating
the absurdity of a situation
 Does not use metaphors yet his stories are
 Uses distortion to reveal truths
 Suggests various levels of meanings
 Is quirky
Setting the scene
The protagonist of the story is Gregor Samsa,
who is the son of middle-class parents in
Prague. Gregor’s father lost most of his
money about five years earlier, causing Gregor
to take a job with one of his father's creditors
as a travelling salesman. Gregor provides the
sole support for his family (father, mother, and
sister), and also found them their current
lodgings in Prague. When the story begins,
Gregor is spending a night at home before
embarking upon another business trip. And
then. . .
Writers often use fantastic events to
signify additional levels of meaning
beyond the literal. Thus, we need to ask
ourselves what Gregor’s metamorphosis
signifies in terms of larger issues.
The lodgers
The furniture
Picture of the
The number three
Gregor’s father’s
Central Symbol of the
A subjective fantasy that best describes
Gregor’s self-loathing:
 Worthlessness
 Uselessness
 Meaninglessness
 Awkwardness
 Ugliness
The ending:
“The greatest immediate improvement in their
condition would of course arise from moving to
another house; they wanted to take a smaller and
cheaper but also better situated and more easily run
apartment than the one they had, which Gregor had
selected. While they were thus conversing, it struck
both Mr. and Mrs. Samsa, almost at the same
moment, as they became aware of their daughter's
increasing vivacity, that in spite of all the sorrow of
recent times, which had made her cheeks pale, she
had bloomed into a buxom girl. . .”
“They grew quieter and half unconsciously
exchanged glances of complete
agreement, having come to the conclusion
that it would soon be time to find a good
husband for her. And it was like a
confirmation of their new dreams and
excellent intentions that at the end of their
journey their daughter sprang to her feet
first and stretched her young body.”
How do you interpret the ending? What
does it all mean?
How good is your memory?
 Aristotle’s Poetics?
 Unity of Action?
 Apply it to The Metamorphosis…
The Inward Passage:
The Real Metamorphosis
This is a novel about Gregor Samsa who learns
about who he really is through an
overwhelming psychological experience that
turns him inward.
 His first step in this journey is disobedience:
 Refuses to go to work
 Refuses to follow the rules of etiquette
 In his new condition, Gregor begins his soul
 Accepts that he has conformed to his family’s
and employer’s demands
 Realizes the inauthenticity and
meaninglessness of his life
 Once
he sheds his previous self, Gregor
begins to delve into his own unconscious
and confront the truth of his life.
 Gregor evolves from psychological
immaturity to the courage of self
 For the very first time in his life, Gregor
becomes blissful and becomes a mature
 Gregor dies with this realization, a
transformed human being
 Gregor
Samsa represents a specific type
of behavior—the fear of being alive with
all of its risks/rewards and the embrace of
an inauthentic code of behavior—which,
in the end, is transformed into the
acceptance of life with all of its
is this

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