The Metamorphosis and Other Stories (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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Overview

The Metamorphosis and Other Stories, by Franz Kafka, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:

  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate

All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.

Virtually unknown during his lifetime, Franz Kafka is now one of the world’s most widely read and discussed authors. His nightmarish novels and short stories have come to symbolize modern man’s anxiety and alienation in a bizarre, hostile, and dehumanized world. This vision is most fully realized in Kafka’s masterpiece, “The Metamorphosis,” a story that is both harrowing and amusing, and a landmark of modern literature.

Bringing together some of Kafka’s finest work, this collection demonstrates the richness and variety of the author’s artistry. “The Judgment,” which Kafka considered to be his decisive breakthrough, and “The Stoker,” which became the first chapter of his novel Amerika, are here included. These two, along with “The Metamorphosis,” form a suite of stories Kafka referred to as “The Sons,” and they collectively present a devastating portrait of the modern family.

Also included are “In the Penal Colony,” a story of a torture machine and its operators and victims, and “A Hunger Artist,” about the absurdity of an artist trying to communicate with a misunderstanding public. Kafka’s lucid, succinct writing chronicles the labyrinthine complexities, the futility-laden horror, and the stifling oppressiveness that permeate his vision of modern life.

Jason Baker is a writer of short stories living in Brooklyn, New York.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781593080297
  • Publisher: Barnes & Noble
  • Publication date: 7/1/2003
  • Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 62,393
  • Product dimensions: 7.92 (w) x 5.30 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Franz Kafka
Jason Baker is a writer of short stories living in Brooklyn, New York

Biography

Franz Kafka was born in 1883 to a well-to-do middle-class Jewish family. His father, the self-made proprietor of a wholesale haberdashery business, was a domineering man whose approbation Franz continually struggled to win. The younger Kafka's feelings of inadequacy and guilt form the background of much of his work and are made explicit in his "Letter to His Father" (excerpted in this volume), which was written in 1919 but never sent.

Kafka was educated in the German language schools of Prague and at the city's German University, where in 1908 he took a law degree. Literature, however, remained his sole passion. At this time he became part of a literary circle that included Franz Werfel, Martin Buber, and Kafka's close friend Max Brod. Encouraged by Brod, Kafka published the prose collection Observations in 1913. Two years later his story "The Stoker" won the Fontaine prize. In 1916 he began work on The Trial and between this time and 1923 produced three incomplete novels as well as numerous sketches and stories. In his lifetime some of his short works did appear: The Judgment (1916), The Metamorphosis (1916), The Penal Colony (1919), and The Country Doctor (1919).

Before his death of tuberculosis in 1924, Kafka had charged Max Brod with the execution of his estate, ordering Brod to burn the manuscripts. With the somewhat circular justification that Kafka must have known his friend could not obey such an order, Brod decided to publish Kafka's writings. To this act of "betrayal" the world owes the preservation of some of the most unforgettable and influential literary works of our century.

Biography courtesy of BN.com

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    1. Date of Birth:
      July 3, 1883
    2. Place of Birth:
      Prague, Austria-Hungary
    1. Date of Death:
      June 3, 1924
    2. Place of Death:
      Vienna, Austria
    1. Education:
      German elementary and secondary schools. Graduated from German Charles-Ferdinand University of Prague.

Read an Excerpt

From Jason Baker's Introduction to The Metamorphosis and Other Stories

Franz Kafka's fiction doesn't make sense. Kafka was no doubt aware of the resulting awkwardness, and perhaps he hoped to hide from future readers when he asked his confidant Max Brod to destroy all his unpublished manuscripts upon his death. Kafka's writing is on the one hand specific and realistic, and on the other incomprehensible. His literary puzzles resemble the unreal landscapes and structures of M. C. Escher's drawings and lithographs. Actually, Escher's imagery offers a useful way to visualize Kafka's literature. As if leading the reader up and down endless staircases of logic, Kafka focuses on multiple dualities at once, all of which crisscross in three dimensions. Rather than a linear argument, Kafka writes a spiral one, which often makes readers dizzy, if not seasick. Interestingly, metamorphosis was one of Escher's favorite subjects, and three of his most famous woodcuts share this title with Kafka's novella. Metamorphosis, Anthony Thorlby argues, is the theme implicit in all Kafka's prose ("Kafka's Narrative: A Matter of Form"; see "For Further Reading"). Kafka's content is somehow incongruous with his form, and as a result, the language must either undergo a metamorphosis itself to accommodate his pen, or perish-and sometimes it does both. At its best, Kafka's prose is re-formed into a new mode of signification; at its worst, his words are deformed, depleted, meaningless. In striving to fit his impossible situations into the feeble vehicle of language, Kafka knowingly embarks on a failed enterprise. He attempts to express the inexpressible.

The Metamorphosis of his writing, Kafka's real accomplishment, takes readers to a place at once familiar and unfamiliar. Intrigued by this immediacy, critics have celebrated Kafka for his "universality." This flattery overreaches perhaps, but the term "universal" was not picked by accident. Kafka's fiction examines a universe largely unexplored in the literature preceding him, one full of implications that venture into the remote regions of human psychology. It's a universe with different rules than those governing our reality. And there's no map.

But Kafka's universe nonetheless resonates deeply with who we are and who we've become. Early readers who hailed Kafka's universality had never seen their lives in books, and they had only dimly recognized the "Kafkaesque" as an unnamed thing. Kafka was among the first to describe bourgeois labor and its degrading impact on the soul. In his fable "Poseidon," Kafka even portrays the god of the sea as consumed with tedious, never-ending paperwork. Kafka brings to mind a vocabulary of images-an endless trail of meaningless forms to be filled out, a death apparatus to rival Poe's pendulum, a man wearing a bowler hat, a gigantic insect. Thanks to interpretations like Orson Welles's film version of The Trial, Kafka's universe has expanded to include rows of office desks, oppressive light, and snapping typewriters. Kafka understood the trajectory of bureaucracy, and his literature predicts the nightmarish corporate world we live in today.

Kafka's fiction, though concrete in its particulars, suggests an array of interpretive possibilities. "The Metamorphosis" alone has inspired Catholics to argue a case of transubstantiation, Freudians to extrapolate Gregor's castration by his father, and Marxists to infer the alienation of man in modern society. Kafka's descriptions vacillate between realism and allegory-a narrative style best described as parabolic. But unlike a traditional parable with an easy moral, Kafka's parables resist successful comprehension.

This volume has as its parentheses Kafka's two best-known parables, "A Message from the Emperor" and "Before the Law." They both illustrate Kafka's near-nauseating ability to describe infinite regress. "A Message from the Emperor" checks any firm interpretation with its simple but devastating phrase "or so they say" in the opening line, which calls into question the tale's validity, as if the account is rumored. Additionally, the "you," the second person, has dreamed the whole thing up. This second piece of information not only contradicts the first, it turns the parable on its head-why would someone, especially "you," which seems to refer to the reader, dream up something so unnecessarily complicated, especially when it concerns something as momentous as an emperor's message? This "you" can stand for Kafka himself-a writer who saw an infinite corkscrew of obstacles spiraling before him, and yet felt compelled to record his own deliberate steps. "Before the Law" also features an Inferno-like layering and again pits an unsophisticated character against an implacable system, unknowable in its complexity. Though the man from the country never recognizes it, his defeat by the Law, capital L, is a foregone conclusion. The Law's only purpose is to shut out the man and, in so doing, to destroy him.

Kafka's parables are epitomes of his larger works ("Before the Law," though published first on its own, is actually part of The Trial). Their shortness only concentrates the reader's perplexity. Robert Wenniger claims that Kafka's father engendered in Kafka a disparity between language and meaning. In fact, silence was Kafka's typical response to his father. By writing incomprehensible texts, Wenniger argues, Kafka assumes the role of the father, an authorial position over the reader (Wenniger, "Sounding Out the Silence of Gregor Samsa: Kafka's Rhetoric of Dyscommunication"). This leaves the reader confused and vainly searching for meaning. Of course, Kafka shares this privilege with many of the world's great writers, whose work is often a challenge to interpret. In "On Parables" Kafka writes, "Parables really set out to say merely that the incomprehensible is incomprehensible, and we know that already" (The Complete Stories, 1971, p. 457).

In Kafka's formulation, the parable is used by the sage to gesture toward something larger than, or invisible to, himself. The need to make this gesture is innate. But the parable dissolves the moment we understand it; the gesture would not be beyond language if it could be defined. We lose in parable the moment we pin things down to an accessible meaning. Realizing it is impossible to discuss or interpret Kafka without losing in parable is the first and perhaps only step we can take.

Kafka's parables not only fall apart once we interpret them, they are impossible to put into practice. If anything, his parables guarantee the failure not only of his characters, but of readers wishing to abstract any lessons applicable to their own lives. Failure, it seems, is Kafka's true subject. To get at this conundrum, we must explore discretely the dichotomies Kafka himself conflates-dreams versus reality, idleness versus work, vermin versus human, child versus adult. For Kafka, each of these antagonistic pairs represents an authorial relationship. It is possible to lump the lowly-dreams, idleness, vermin, child-on one side, and the authority figures-reality, work, human, adult-on the other. But ultimately this equation is too simple, for Kafka himself fails to pick a side. He calls both sides into question and finds them equally detestable. Unbraiding Kafka's authorial relationships is the only way to find out why.

Dreams-and, perhaps more importantly, nightmares-held a singular influence over Kafka and his writing. Kafka's nightmares are so natural, so convincing, that they creep into the reader's mind almost subliminally. He metamorphoses reality into a new, insidiously darker one, often within a single sentence. In "The Judgment," Georg's father throws at him an old, unfamiliar newspaper, an actual object that evidences a deception, staggering in its elaborateness-Georg's father has been feigning his infirmity, only pretending to read his newspapers, for years! In "The Metamorphosis," Kafka speeds time ticklessly: "It was half past six and the hands were steadily advancing, actually past the half hour and already closer to three quarters past." Later, the head clerk arrives at the Samsa flat to investigate Gregor's tardiness, at the moment of his tardiness. Even if Gregor's absence from work was judged grave enough to send the head clerk himself, the event remains absurd. Somehow, the head clerk would have had to foresee Gregor's lateness and taken an early train to show up at the flat just minutes after Gregor should have been at his office desk.

In "A Country Doctor," the sudden, ominous appearance of the groom is punctuated by his mysterious knowledge of the maid's name and his tacit intent to ravish her. Following this, the doctor is whisked away in his newly harnessed trap, as if beyond his control, completely unable to assist his maid, who locks herself in the house: "I hear my front door splinter and burst as the groom attacks it, and then my eyes and ears are swamped with a blinding rush of the senses. But even this lasts only a moment, for, as if my patient's courtyard opens just outside my gate, I am already there." The ten-mile distance between the doctor's village and his patient's house, the reality that precipitated the need for strong horses in the first place, evaporates.

Nightmare-turned-reality is the power of "The Metamorphosis." Gregor Samsa is a different animal, a unique figure even among canonical supernatural tales. Without the permanence of Gregor's monstrous form, we would be left with something like the absurd comedy of Gogol's "The Nose," in which Kovalyov's nose leaves his face to prance about the town disguised as a state councillor but in the end returns to its proper place unchanged. Without Gregor's inimitable subjectivity, we would be left essentially with the horror of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, in which the painting of Dorian becomes monstrous while Dorian himself remains ageless, until the fey moment when the two destroy each other, leaving only a moral behind.

Instead, we arrive at a story that cannot claim the supernatural as one of its elements. The mystery of "The Metamorphosis" emerges in one of the most famous, and most variously translated, lines in Western literature-its first: "As Gregor Samsa awoke from unsettling dreams one morning, he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin." This is marvelously funny. Instead of waking up from a nightmare, Gregor wakes up into one. Reality, the only balm for bad dreams, is significantly less reassuring when you wake up hideously disfigured. But in Kafka's fiction, the rational and the irrational intertwine menacingly. Often these irrational elements spring from the minds of his characters and manifest themselves physically. Ideas are metamorphosed into reality, with little effort on the characters' parts. Here Gregor's idea, originating in his "unsettling dreams," has followed him into the real world. The echo and confirmation of this reality comes in the second paragraph: "It was no dream." Unlike Lewis Carroll's Alice, who, after transforming several times, wakes up, Gregor's most bizarre adventure is real, and has only just begun.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 242 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 244 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 16, 2009

    Brilliant Kafka

    Metamorphosis and Other Stories provides some of Franz Kafka's best work, including the title story, of course. The Metamorphosis is easily the best story in the book, though there are other gems like "The Stoker" and "In the Penal Colony." As is the case with Kafka, some of the endings are abrupt and can leave you wanting, such as the end to "The Judgment." The one weak story in the book is "Josephine the Singer," which you learn from the introduction was the last piece he ever wrote as he was dying of illness. A must-have for Kafka fans everywhere.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2004

    There is no Kafka like Kafka and Kafka is his prophet

    The uncanny originality of these most remarkable stories and parables by arguably the most precise delineator of the human mind in all its fear , anxiety and beauty will spellbind the reader, and provide Literature at the very highest level. One of the great books which as Camus said of Kafka demands rereading and rereading.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 27, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    A great work and read!

    Franz Kafka is one of my all time favorite writers. The Metamorphosis is a wonderfully written story that relies heavily on dialogue, inner monologue and subtle clues rather than big plot twists although it does establish a solid plot line, just one that is not filled with action in every page. There is a great deal of attention being paid to details so it's important to follow it up.
    Change is the main theory behind this book, obviously as the name suggests and how humans handle change, our responsibilities that effects the changes we go through and an ugly side of parent and child relationships.
    The language is a lot different than one a native English speaker is used to, Kafka's use of language, diction and descriptions are quite different than one may be used to. However it creates a great contrast and highlights the differences between U.S. English writers and those of others,which enables one to discover different mentalities in humanity.

    It's a great read with delightful language that made the mirage of fiction more into a reality for me. Though I must admit, a lot of people have difficulty with this book. So approach it with a grain of salt and an open mind.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    Good read

    Excellent read for someone that is just being introduced to the world of Kafka. Great samples of the stile and depth of the writer.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2008

    Moving

    Out of the book, I only read 'The Metamorphosis.' It was a school assignment, and I thought it would be incredibly dull, but in fact, the story is fast paced, bizarre, and full of irony and dark humor while still expressing the depths of human nature. I was deeply moved by 'The Metamorphosis,' and I recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone who enjoys reading.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 18, 2013

    I enjoyed Metamorphosis and Other Stories. Some have said Metam

    I enjoyed Metamorphosis and Other Stories. Some have said Metamorphosis is the best but I enjoyed most of the others. If you have not read it take the time to read it. It is well worth the money and time.

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  • Posted June 6, 2013

    The story is good but it is about a guy that turns into a giant

    The story is good but it is about a guy that turns into a giant roach and it's really freaky. I don't like bugs and it's really creepy to read about it, also a little depressing.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2013

    Well written & Interesting

    Needed to read this for a class and ended up loving it. Its beautifully sad.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2013

    Metamorphosis

    Its not simply about adjastment to change in life. Kafka attacts the character of any weak human who allows oneself to be first overcharged and used, then changed into helpless creature. Its about the importance of knowing your value and respecting your life, and foreseeing your own destiny. Kafka shows how having others who are willfull and strong in protecting their own being and own lifestyle could bring the wondering one to the ultimate end.

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  • Posted August 6, 2012

    Like the introduction says, each of Kafka's stories here is abou

    Like the introduction says, each of Kafka's stories here is about failure. He is so great at making a cariciature of what we all must endure day after day in our lives. I read all the stories except for one or two. The one I remember with most detail is The Metamorphosis. This is about a young man, Gregor, who works as a clerk in a business office. He is the main income for his family, which consists of his parents and sister. The fact that his is the main income of the family is taken for granted by them. One morning he wakes and discovers that he is transformed (metamorphosized) into something (I won't tell you what exactly because that will ruin your fun) which disables him from earning an income, leaving the house, or doing anything at all except remain in his room all day, now completely dependent on his family. His transformation is hilarious because of the way Kafka writes in such detail the patheticness of Gregor's attempts. Gregor does not overcome his transformation, he utterfly fails; I haven't spoiled the story by stating that because that is not the point of the story; all of Kafka's characters are failures from the start. You will have to take note of his family's responses to Gregor's transformation; this is the real story.

    You won't enjoy Kafka's stories unless you have a sense of humor and/or you appreciate exisitentialism.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 24, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Really tough reading..

    I found the stories slow and monotonous. The idea of The Metamorphosis sounds interesting, but I found it rather boring. I was initially drawn to this book because of Franz Kafka's influences on German culture and various authors. But by modern day times, this book is just too tedious.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2012

    No

    I was a sophmore in highschool when I read this book and i hated it, along with most people that I talk to

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2012

    Why the dung beetle?

    I must be missing some metaphors or something cause im upset at the ending.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 23, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Strange but good

    There is a reason that "kafkaesque" means "surreal." The short stories in this book read like dreams/nightmares you would have after eating ham and sauerkraut pizza immediately before bed. I enjoyed their strangeness and trying to figure out what point (if any) Kafka was trying to make in them (alienation seems to be a recurring theme).

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  • Posted August 28, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Good short read

    If you are looking for a short novel that has more than one layer---Kafkha is the right author for you! He will make you think!

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  • Posted August 13, 2011

    Interesting Collection

    This particular edition of Franz Kafka's stories includes some lesser known works with more popular ones. The standout stories for me are "The Metamorphosis" and "The Hunger Artist". The translations were great and did not use too many esoteric words. Some of the stories were just a little boring for my tastes, like In The Penal Colony. Kafka's stories are all strange, but they all have profound messages.

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  • Posted May 14, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    How to explain why Kafka was a master?

    The guy's writing is simple yet high concept... Subtle points made in blunt situations... Comedic in some scenes that discuss truly dire plots. "Metamorphosis" is a good example of that. Let's face it - a guy waking up and discovering he has turned into a bug is not a happy plot. Yet the first half of the story reads as a mild comedy - and it is not until the end and thinking about it that the really scarily sad point of the story becomes obvious.

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  • Posted November 21, 2010

    Crazily Deep

    The Metamorphosis / 978-1-411-43268-0 When I was in 9th grade, my somewhat harried teacher attempted to assign me Ovid's Metamorphosis (a collection of Greek myths) and instead assigned me Kafka's Metamorphosis. Kafka's tale is short but packed with vivid symbolism in which a young man inexplicably wakes up one day as a large roach creature and subsequently fails to turn back into a man. After a confusing night with the novel, I reported back to the befuddled teacher, and she substituted another book, much to my relief. Years later, I now reread Kafka with an adult's awe and appreciation, rather than the child's confusion. The novel is packed with deep symbolism and, even now, I could not tell you with confidence what it "means". I believe the story is of being trapped in a family that does not appreciate you, except for what you can do for them, and I believe the sad ending masks an even sadder one - that the young daughter will soon become the new symbolic 'roach' to the family, bringing in resources but never loved or appreciated. However, I have heard other interpretations, each meaningful and special. I recommend this book, but the first read through should be with a light eye, not questioning the strangeness nor looking too hard for meaning. Rather, I think Kafka is best when you allow the impressions to kind of wash over you as you go. ~ Ana Mardoll

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  • Posted October 13, 2010

    Moderately Recommended

    Metamorphosis by Kafka was a really good and interesting book. I recommend it to everyone. I believe everyone can relate to this novel in a different aspect. Whether you are a bug or an individual who is hopeless (Gregor), or you just want to learn a moral lesson about life. This book is good, but not great. It can be relevant to any person, but one can also get lost reading it. However, overall this book was an interesting book to read.

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  • Posted October 13, 2010

    must read!

    The first time I read the Metamorphosis, I did not like it at all. I was in high school and I did not understand the meaning. However now that I am in college, I see Metamorphosis in a new light.
    First of all, Kafka's intricate mind is presented throughout the story. His use of atmosphere, setting, rhetoric and symbols is amazing. Even though the story is somber and in a way sicking, it is a great lesson to be learned. Like Gregor and the rest of his family, one can not know how they will react in difficult situations till they are presented with them. One's true character, in difficult situations, may transform for the better and for the worst. Over all transformation is very powerful and is, besides death, out of one's control.

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