The Metamorphosis By Franz Kafka Essay
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"The Metamorphosis" By Franz Kafka
Throughout literary history, certain authors are so unique and fresh in their approach to the written word that they come to embody a genre. Franz Kafka is one such author; “Die Verwandlung” or “The Metamorphosis” is one of his works that helped coin the term “Kafkaesque.” Through this novella, Kafka addresses the timeless theme of people exploit-ing others as a means to an end. He demonstrates this point through showing that a family’s unhealthy dependence on the main character results in that character’s dependence on the family.
Kafka’s unorthodox beginning of “The Metamorphosis” reads as what would seem to be a climactic moment: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he…show more content…
However, as the story progresses this compassion seems to become, or may have always been, obligation. His mother had a waning rather reminiscent sympathy for her son, but she never seemed to reconcile that the creature in the bedroom was the son she had loved. She certainly could not deal with his appearance having fainted at the sight of him (p. 876). As for Gregor’s father, he had begun to re-assume responsibility for the family’s welfare, which as it turned out, had never been as poor as Gregor had been lead to believe. For Gregor himself, the adjustment was a mix of discovery and disquiet. Adjusting to his body, “He especially enjoyed hanging suspended from the ceiling” (p. 873). However, the reader also learns that Gregor’s health is on the decline as “he was fast losing any interest he had ever taken in food” (p. 873). It seemed for a while that the family had established a bit of a détente, but it was not to would last. The end of the second chapter saw Gregor’s father gravely wound the insect with an apple thrown into and embedded into the creature’s back. It was this wound that eventually became infected and was likely the death of the creature.
In the third and final chapter, the family found the new drudgery of their lives. Their “overworked and tired-out family” (p. 880) increasingly neglected Gregor. He longed for responsibility and was “often haunted by the idea that next time the door opened he would take the
Walter Sokel is among the most eminent Kafka scholars, and his book Franz Kafka, Tragik und Ironie (1964) is a "classic" of early Kafka criticism. Since Tragik und Ironie has never been translated into English, the present book, which contains fifteen essays written since 1966 (three of them published for the first time), has a special importance for the English-speaking reader interested in Kafka.
Sokel's basic conception of Kafka's poetics remains essentially unchanged in this new book. This conception may be characterized as psychoanalytic at its core, since for Sokel the "manifest" content of a Kafka text is seen as "a disguised expression or projection of the protagonist's feelings, tendencies, and desires that [are] never admitted to the consciousness [End Page 548] presented in the text. As in dreams, events [appear] to occur in the external world, even though they [are] the dreamer's own projections" (14). Within that framework, the basic theme (or "myth," as Sokel likes to call it) that characterizes Kafka's texts is the annihilation or "refutation" of the hero's self. Sokel discerns two fundamental stages (reflected in the title of his earlier book) in the development of this theme throughout Kafka's œuvre: the "tragic" and the "ironic." The first and early stage (exemplified by "The Judgement," "The Metamorphosis," and The Trial) is characterized by the destruction of the hero by some external power figure (whether the father in the two stories or the institution of the "court" in the novel) that reflects—or at least cooperates with—a self-destructive power active within the hero. The second and later stage (best exemplified by The Castle, "A Hunger Artist," and "Josephine, the Singer") is characterized by the hero pursuing doggedly and single-mindedly a quest for validation from some power figure, which denies or ignores his claim.
This conception of Kafka's poetics (already presented in Tragik und Ironie and summarized in the first two chapters of the present book) remains essentially unchanged. Nevertheless, The Myth of Power and the Self significantly complements and develops it in several directions with regard both to the "internal" analysis of Kafka's texts and to their contextualization within wider cultural frameworks. Regarding the former development, three areas of interest are especially notable. One is the discussion of Kafka's conception of language and writing and the ways in which its inner tensions and contradictions are reflected in his texts (a general overview is given in chapter 3, "Kafka's Poetics of the Inner Self," and chapter 4, "Language and Truth in the Two Worlds of Franz Kafka"; a detailed analysis of a specific narrative from this viewpoint appears in chapter 12, "The Three Endings of Josef K. and the Role of Art in The Trial"). Another is the elucidation of Kafka's use of what Sokel defines as "existential signs," which combine characteristics of both "symbol" and "allegory" as perceived in German criticism (in chapter 5, "Symbol, Allegory, Existential Sign: Three Approaches to Kafka"). Still another is the attempt to correlate the transition between the thematic structures typical of the two "phases" of Kafka's writing with a corresponding change in the texts' perspectival structures (in chapter 6, "The Relationship of Narrative Perspective to Narrative Action and Meaning in 'Before the Law,' 'Jackals and Arabs,' and The Trial").
Regarding the contextualization of Kafka's work within wider cultural frameworks, Sokel's judicious use of psychoanalytic and Marxist models deserves notice. In contrast to critics who naively treat such models as "ready-made" keys to Kafka's texts, requiring no more than a direct "implementation"—an approach that tends to trivialize both the texts themselves [End Page 549] and the models used for their elucidation—Sokel uses these models as well-articulated theoretical frames that can provide us with fruitful analogies (both parallel and contrastive) to the structural dynamics of Kafka's texts. Thus, chapter 7, "Freud and the Magic of Kafka's Writing," discusses both similarities and differences between Kafka's and Freud's views concerning...