Metamorphosis and Other Stories (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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by Franz Kafka, Jason Baker (Introduction), Donna Freed (Translator)



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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781593080297
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 07/01/2003
Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 12,143
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Date of Birth:

July 3, 1883

Date of Death:

June 3, 1924

Place of Birth:

Prague, Austria-Hungary

Place of Death:

Vienna, Austria


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awkwardness, and perhaps he hoped to hide from future readers when he asked his confidant Max Brod to destroy all his unpublished manuscripts upon his death.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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The Metamorphosis and Other Stories (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century) 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 254 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
percywinslow More than 1 year ago
Great collection for my ebook library. I can dive into these stories quite easily whenever I'm in the mood for some deep-thought explorations. Kafka was a master of the human condition.
Nazire More than 1 year ago
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.
Jonbob More than 1 year ago
Excellent read for someone that is just being introduced to the world of Kafka. Great samples of the stile and depth of the writer.
msar13 More than 1 year ago
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.
aMenalque on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It would be so easy to try and draw themes of politics and society from this book, to discover it was trying to tell you something profound and of great importence. They may, or probably weren't, inentional. But, to really fully experience this book, I found it best to let all those underlying messages go unobserved. They're ties back to the real world, and to experience this novel you need to forget all that, and just becomce totally emersed in Kafka's surreal universe.Leave analysis until later, read the book for enjoyment and emersion first.
WilfGehlen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Metamorphosis / Winter of our discontent / MetempsychosisMetamorphosis, or Why a Bug?Gregor Samsa awoke one morning as a bug. "What has happened to me?" he thought. And that is the last he thought of how he arrived at his predicament. He acts throughout the story as a human Gregor adapting to life in a bug's body.Is Nietzche engaging in a thought experiment on personal continuity in Metamorphosis? What of Gregor is in this bug? He has a bug body, he must have a bug brain to be able to image through bug eyes, to move bug legs. But he has the consciousness of Gregor that initially externalizes itself outside the body, to talk, after a fashion, to stand and unlock the door, after a fashion. He soon loses the ability to talk and ceases to be Gregor to his family. But he has an immensely strong identity, rooted in providing for his family, and never ceases to be Gregor to himself until his death.But why a bug? Others have made the connection between Samsa and Samsara, the Buddhist wheel of life. According to Samsara, one is reborn an animal when one's human life is centered on survival and self-preservation. Gregor's life is centered on his hated job as traveling salesman, which he keeps only to provide for his family.Beyond that, the bug is absurd and creates a comical scene when, for instance, the head clerk flees down the stairs to escape this monstrosity. Gregor never ascribes this flight and fright to his own appearance, heightening the humor. None of us are bugs, though, and never expect to become one. But each of us could be exposed to a similar alienation, separation, isolation. Consider yourself developing a motor neural disease, confined to a wheelchair, losing gross motor functionality, the ability to speak. Like Gregor, you would have trouble opening doors, even moving through some doorways, communicating with your family. Then you regress, confined to bed, breathing through a tube, externally comatose but fully conscious. The situation in reality is not far removed from the absurd.We likely will not develop such a disease, but we can still experience some form of alienation. Are we also trapped in a job because of circumstance? Metamorphosis holds out hope that a situation can improve even when it appears hopeless. The Samsa family can no longer depend on Gregor's salary, they must work themselves, expand beyond the confines of their home. They find that they are quite capable and soon entertain thoughts of a happy future, a possible husband for Gregor's sister Grete. All are transformed through Gregor's metamorphosis, but a slightly less absurd metamorphosis might also have achieved a happy result. Gregor could simply have emigrated to Amerika, leaving his family to their own devices. Perhaps not morally defensible at some level, but better to feel your humanity than to live and die like a bug.
jackichan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Really a nice change of pace from so many other works where the plot is of high importance. Kafka is more like a fine meal; the point is not to finish the meal, but rather to enjoy the meal as you are consuming it.All of the stories are morbid and strange, enjoyable nonetheless. His grasp on language and his focus on deeper meaning and metaphors(no pun intended)is really quite impressive.
tyroeternal on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Metamorphosis was required reading for me in school, and I have since re-visited it a few times. Short, powerful, and well worth anyone's time.
bderby on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In Kafka's "The Metamorphosis," Gregor Samsa awakes one morning to find himself transformed into a giant insect. The theme of personal transformation is clear and the items which are obvious metaphors (e.g. Samsa being an insect, the apple lodged in his back), will allow students to explore what their intended meaning could have been.This book also includes "The Judgement," "In the Penal Colony," "A Country Doctor," and "A Report to an Academy."
jolee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love "The Metamorphosis" and have read it several times. I know some people probably think I'm crazy. (My friend, Natalie, said she could never get over the giant bug thing.) Personally, I love the weirdness of the Modernist period.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best stories ever. Imaginative, deep, weird, compelling.
Dietmar1962 More than 1 year ago
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Nothing says "great gift!" like Kafka.
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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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