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The Metamorphosis - Translations, Backgrounds, and Contexts, Criticism

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Overview

Franz Kafka's 1915 masterpiece is presented in this Norton Critical Edition in the acclaimed translation by Stanley Corngold based on the definitive German edition.
The novella is fully annotated and is accompanied by selected textual variants. Backgrounds and Contexts introduces readers to The Metamorphosis in the richest possible setting. The links between the author's life and his work are explored through an examination of his personal writings. Kafka's letters and diary entries illuminate the creative process behind his portrait of Gregor Samsa, his family, and their nightmarish ordeal. Criticism collects seven essays from the period 1970-95 representing the most important currents in literary theory—semiotics, feminism, identity philosophy, New Historicism, and post-Freudian cultural psychoanalysis. The essays offer a variety of perspectives on the novella by Iris Bruce, Nina Pelikan Straus, Kevin W. Sweeney, Mark Anderson, Hartmut Binder, Eric Santner, and Stanley Corngold. A Chronology and Selected Bibliography are also included.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393967975
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/28/1996
  • Series: Norton Critical Editions Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 232
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was born of Jewish parents in Prague. Several of his story collections were published in his lifetime and his novels, The Trial, The Castle, and Amerika, were published posthumously by his editor Max Brod.

Stanley Corngold is a professor emeritus of German and comparative literature at Princeton University and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His highly acclaimed translations include Kafka's Selected Stories. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

Stanley Corngold is a professor emeritus of German and comparative literature at Princeton University and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His highly acclaimed translations include Kafka's Selected Stories. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

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

The Metamorphosis

The Translation, Backgrounds and Contexts, Criticism
By Franz Kafka

W. W. Norton & Company

Copyright ©1996 Franz Kafka
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0393967972

Chapter One




When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin. He was lying on his back as hard as armor plate, and when he lifted his head a little, he saw his vaulted brown belly, sectioned by arch-shaped ribs, to whose dome the cover, about to slide off completely, could barely cling. His many legs, pitifully thin compared with the size of the rest of him, were waving helplessly before his eyes.

"What's happened to me?" he thought. It was no dream. His room, a regular human room, only a little on the small side, lay quiet between the four familiar walls. Over the table, on which an unpacked line of fabric samples was all spread out-Samsa was a traveling salesman-hung the picture which he had recently cut out of a glossy magazine and lodged in a pretty gilt frame. It showed a lady done up in a fur hat and a fur boa, sitting upright and raising up against the viewer a heavy fur muff in which her whole forearm had disappeared.

Gregor's eyes then turned to the window, and the overcast weather-he could hear raindrops hitting against the metal window ledge-completely depressed him. "How about going back to sleep for afew minutes and forgetting all this nonsense," he thought, but that was completely impracticable, since he was used to sleeping on his right side and in his present state could not get into that position. No matter how hard he threw himself onto his right side, he always rocked onto his back again. He must have tried it a hundred times, closing his eyes so as not to have to see his squirming legs, and stopped only when he began to feel a slight, dull pain in his side, which he had never felt before.

"Oh God," he thought, "what a grueling job I've picked! Day in, day out-on the road. The upset of doing business is much worse than the actual business in the home office, and, besides, I've got the torture of traveling, worrying about changing trains, eating miserable food at all hours, constantly seeing new faces, no relationships that last or get more intimate. To the devil with it all!" He felt a slight itching up on top of his belly; shoved himself slowly on his back closer to the bedpost, so as to be able to lift his head better; found the itchy spot, studded with small white dots which he had no idea what to make of; and wanted to touch the spot with one of his legs but immediately pulled it back, for the contact sent a cold shiver through him.

He slid back again into his original position. "This getting up so early," he thought, "makes anyone a complete idiot. Human beings have to have their sleep. Other traveling salesmen live like harem women. For instance, when I go back to the hotel before lunch to write up the business I've done, these gentlemen are just having breakfast. That's all I'd have to try with my boss; I'd be fired on the spot. Anyway, who knows if that wouldn't be a very good thing for me. If I didn't hold back for my parents' sake, I would have quit long ago, I would have marched up to the boss and spoken my piece from the bottom of my heart. He would have fallen off the desk! It is funny, too, the way he sits on the desk and talks down from the heights to the employees, especially when they have to come right up close on account of the boss's being hard of hearing. Well, I haven't given up hope completely; once I've gotten the money together to pay off my parents' debt to him-that will probably take another five or six years-I'm going to do it without fail. Then I'm going to make the big break. But for the time being I'd better get up, since my train leaves at five."

And he looked over at the alarm clock, which was ticking on the chest of drawers. "God Almighty!" he thought. It was six-thirty, the hands were quietly moving forward, it was actually past the half-hour, it was already nearly a quarter to. Could it be that the alarm hadn't gone off? You could see from the bed that it was set correctly for four o'clock; it certainly had gone off, too. Yes, but was it possible to sleep quietly through a ringing that made the furniture shake? Well, he certainly hadn't slept quietly, but probably all the more soundly for that. But what should he do now? The next train left at seven o'clock; to make it, he would have to hurry like a madman, and the line of samples wasn't packed yet, and he himself didn't feel especially fresh and ready to march around. And even if he did make the train, he could not avoid getting it from the boss, because the messenger boy had been waiting at the five-o'clock train and would have long ago reported his not showing up. He was a tool of the boss, without brains or backbone. What if he were to say he was sick? But that would be extremely embarrassing and suspicious because during his five years with the firm Gregor had not been sick even once. The boss would be sure to come with the health-insurance doctor, blame his parents for their lazy son, and cut off all excuses by quoting the health-insurance doctor, for whom the world consisted of people who were completely healthy but afraid to work. And, besides, in this case would he be so very wrong? In fact, Gregor felt fine, with the exception of his drowsiness, which was really unnecessary after sleeping so late, and he even had a ravenous appetite.

Just as he was thinking all this over at top speed, without being able to decide to get out of bed-the alarm clock had just struck a quarter to seven-he heard a cautious knocking at the door next to the head of his bed. "Gregor," someone called-it was his mother-"it's a quarter to seven. Didn't you want to catch the train?" What a soft voice! Gregor was shocked to hear his own voice answering, unmistakably his own voice, true, but in which, as if from below, an insistent distressed chirping intruded, which left the clarity of his words intact only for a moment really, before so badly garbling them as they carried that no one could be sure if he had heard right. Gregor had wanted to answer in detail and to explain everything, but, given the circumstances, confined himself to saying, "Yes, yes, thanks, Mother, I'm just getting up." The wooden door must have prevented the change in Gregor's voice from being noticed outside, because his mother was satisfied with this explanation and shuffled off. But their little exchange had made the rest of the family aware that, contrary to expectations, Gregor was still in the house, and already his father was knocking on one of the side doors, feebly but with his fist. "Gregor, Gregor," he called, "what's going on?" And after a little while he called again in a deeper, warning voice, "Gregor! Gregor!" At the other side door, however, his sister moaned gently, "Gregor? Is something the matter with you? Do you want anything?" Toward both sides Gregor answered: "I'm all ready," and made an effort, by meticulous pronunciation and by inserting long pauses between individual words, to eliminate everything from his voice that might betray him. His father went back to his breakfast, but his sister whispered, "Gregor, open up, I'm pleading with you." But Gregor had absolutely no intention of opening the door and complimented himself instead on the precaution he had adopted from his business trips, of locking all the doors during the night even at home.

First of all he wanted to get up quietly, without any excitement; get dressed; and, the main thing, have breakfast, and only then think about what to do next, for he saw clearly that in bed he would never think things through to a rational conclusion. He remembered how even in the past he had often felt some kind of slight pain, possibly caused by lying in an uncomfortable position, which, when he got up, turned out to be purely imaginary, and he was eager to see how today's fantasy would gradually fade away. That the change in his voice was nothing more than the first sign of a bad cold, an occupational ailment of the traveling salesman, he had no doubt in the least.

It was very easy to throw off the cover; all he had to do was puff himself up a little, and it fell off by itself. But after this, things got difficult, especially since he was so unusually broad. He would have needed hands and arms to lift himself up, but instead of that he had only his numerous little legs, which were in every different kind of perpetual motion and which, besides, he could not control. If he wanted to bend one, the first thing that happened was that it stretched itself out;* and if he finally succeeded in getting this leg to do what he wanted, all the others in the meantime, as if set free, began to work in the most intensely painful agitation. "Just don't stay in bed being useless," Gregor said to himself.

First he tried to get out of bed with the lower part of his body, but this lower part-which by the way he had not seen yet and which he could not form a clear picture of-proved too difficult to budge; it was taking so long; and when finally, almost out of his mind, he lunged forward with all his force, without caring, he had picked the wrong direction and slammed himself violently against the lower bedpost, and the searing pain he felt taught him that exactly the lower part of his body was, for the moment anyway, the most sensitive.

He therefore tried to get the upper part of his body out of bed first and warily turned his head toward the edge of the bed. This worked easily, and in spite of its width and weight, the mass of his body finally followed, slowly, the movement of his head. But when at last he stuck his head over the edge of the bed into the air, he got too scared to continue any further, since if he finally let himself fall in this position, it would be a miracle if he didn't injure his head. And just now he had better not for the life of him lose consciousness; he would rather stay in bed.

But when, once again, after the same exertion, he lay in his original position, sighing, and again watched his little legs struggling, if possible more fiercely, with each other and saw no way of bringing peace and order into this mindless motion, he again told himself that it was impossible for him to stay in bed and that the most rational thing was to make any sacrifice for even the smallest hope of freeing himself from the bed. But at the same time he did not forget to remind himself occasionally that thinking things over calmly-indeed, as calmly as possible-was much better than jumping to desperate decisions. At such moments he fixed his eyes as sharply as possible on the window, but unfortunately there was little confidence and cheer to be gotten from the view of the morning fog, which shrouded even the other side of the narrow street. "Seven o'clock already," he said to himself as the alarm clock struck again, "seven o'clock already and still such a fog." And for a little while he lay quietly, breathing shallowly, as if expecting, perhaps, from the complete silence the return of things to the way they really and naturally were.

But then he said to himself, "Before it strikes a quarter past seven, I must be completely out of bed without fail. Anyway, by that time someone from the firm will be here to find out where I am, since the office opens before seven." And now he started rocking the complete length of his body out of the bed with a smooth rhythm. If he let himself topple out of bed in this way, his head, which on falling he planned to lift up sharply, would presumably remain unharmed. His back seemed to be hard; nothing was likely to happen to it when it fell onto the carpet. His biggest misgiving came from his concern about the loud crash that was bound to occur and would probably create, if not terror, at least anxiety behind all the doors. But that would have to be risked.

When Gregor's body already projected halfway out of bed-the new method was more of a game than a struggle, he only had to keep on rocking and jerking himself along-he thought how simple everything would be if he could get some help. Two strong persons-he thought of his father and the maid-would have been completely sufficient; they would only have had to shove their arms under his arched back, in this way scoop him off the bed, bend down with their burden, and then just be careful and patient while he managed to swing himself down onto the floor, where his little legs would hopefully acquire some purpose. Well, leaving out the fact that the doors were locked, should he really call for help? In spite of all his miseries, he could not repress a smile at this thought.

He was already so far along that when he rocked more strongly he could hardly keep his balance, and very soon he would have to commit himself, because in five minutes it would be a quarter past seven-when the doorbell rang. "It's someone from the firm," he said to himself and almost froze, while his little legs only danced more quickly. For a moment everything remained quiet. "They're not going to answer," Gregor said to himself, captivated by some senseless hope. But then, of course, the maid went to the door as usual with her firm stride and opened up. Gregor only had to hear the visitor's first word of greeting to know who it was-the office manager himself. Why was only Gregor condemned to work for a firm where at the slightest omission they immediately suspected the worst? Were all employees louts without exception, wasn't there a single loyal, dedicated worker among them who, when he had not fully utilized a few hours of the morning for the firm, was driven half-mad by pangs of conscience and was actually unable to get out of bed? Really, wouldn't it have been enough to send one of the apprentices to find out-if this prying were absolutely necessary-did the manager himself have to come, and did the whole innocent family have to be shown in this way that the investigation of this suspicious affair could be entrusted only to the intellect of the manager? And more as a result of the excitement produced in Gregor by these thoughts than as a result of any real decision, he swung himself out of bed with all his might. There was a loud thump, but it was not a real crash. The fall was broken a little by the carpet, and Gregor's back was more elastic than he had thought, which explained the not very noticeable muffled sound. Only he had not held his head carefully enough and hit it; he turned it and rubbed it on the carpet in anger and pain.

Continues...


Excerpted from The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka Copyright ©1996 by Franz Kafka. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 3, 2010

    you must cheak it out!!!

    first of all this book is so unique.the way it was written was in a such different and amazing way. at first when i read through it,i was confused and to mention a little irritated because the story was nothing like the real life we are living,meaning the fact that Gregor Samsa changing into a monstrous verminous bug.but after i finished reading the whole story,i realized that even though the book is written in a different manner way out of reality, the message it contained was very important and true in real life.i learned that no matter how bad we turned out to be or we change, a family is a family, our own flesh blood, so they should be always there for us when ever we need them.life doesn't stay the same, we face the bad and good so we must be thankful and not depend on someone fully to leave out daily life.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 13, 2010

    it's alright

    This book is definitely worth reading. Franz did a really good job bringing out human survival instinct. When there's no one to depend on, we have two choices, either to crawl out of our cave and live an independent life or we can sulk and fail at life. There are a lot of morals in the story. It's kind of a sad story to read because it's involve a little bit of family betrayal. It was not a waste of time like other books.

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  • Posted October 13, 2010

    Recommended.

    It is a good book I have read. "The Metamorphosis" talks about the common reality in our life: people are not easy to accept the certain changes, especially these changes that affect their interest. It will hurt our feelings more when we are abandoned by our own families. The author succeeds in describing this aspect.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2010

    Worthless

    Yeah sure. Please spare me all the critical analysis where supposedly rational people can find a whole bunch of psychological bs in this book. Pardon the pun but not even a demented insect could have written something as awful as this.This is pure unadulterated garbage. Ok write your endless tomes on how great and profound this story is. If you can find greatness and profundity in this book I don't even want to sell you swampland in Florida I'll sell you a piece of land in another galaxy. Yeah, so a guy turns into an insect. What's the big deal? I don't see any psychological or philosophical insight into the character turning into an insect from either the insect or the people surrounding the insect. It is completely nonsensical. And why is this considered a "masterpiece"? Because the writer has no talent and people have a tendency to elevate a cult figure who rambles nonsense and who has no talent and turn him into a genius. People should just pick up a book at random from some of the very talented writers who never get recognition than even waste their time about even thinking about reading this twaddle.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2002

    Superb comedic drama

    While reading this book, I realized Franz Kafka was a true genius. I laughed aloud so hard my eyes watered. This book is a refreshing change of pace from popular genres. I loved this story and felt as though I was struggling along with the main character. You will love it and remember it.

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