Biographical, Historical, and Conceptual Contexts
Franz Kafka Born in 1883 into a middle-class, German-speaking Jewish family in Prague Studied law Worked at an insurance company in order to support his parents Developed an inferiority complex partly due to his difficult, neurotic relationship with his tyrannical father Had very little time to devote to his writing Contracted tuberculosis in 1917 and was supported by his sister and parents Feared being perceived as both physically and mentally repulsive Developed an intense relationship with Czech journalist and writer Milena Jesenska and later became Dora Diamant’s lover Suffered from clinical depression, social anxiety, and several other illnesses triggered by stress Died in 1924 from starvation when his tuberculosis worsened and could not swallowed
Kafka’s Alienation Felt he was an outsider –Jewish in Catholic Prague –Sickly –Lonely Perceived human beings as being trapped by authority in a hopeless world Became frustrated at having to support his family Had to work in a meaningless bureaucratic job where he was just another pencil pusher –Took time away from his writing Franz Kafka
Modern Alienation: Fragmentation The city –Dehumanization Modern means of production—division of labor –Sense of worthlessness Acceleration of life and travel –Mechanization Class stratification
Prague Part of the Germanic Austro- Hungarian Empire Catholic city where Czech was spoken –Segregated its Jewish population into a German- speaking ghetto Founded on seven hills and dominated by “The Castle,” looming high over the city as a symbol of authority Highly dense city, with narrow, labyrinth-like streets –Associated with the traditions of magic and mysticism The Jewish Ghetto
Expressionist Literature Seeks to reproduce not objective reality but the subjective reality which people, objects, and events arouse in us –Depicts a psychological or spiritual reality through distortion and/or exaggeration –Presents the distorted, exaggerated situation as if it were completely real Emphasizes visionary experience –Pierces the surface of things to reveal essences –Explores how to transcend the material world Replaces concrete particulars with allegorical forms
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 vicissitudes.
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 searching: –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 responsibility. For the very first time in his life, Gregor becomes blissful and becomes a mature person. Gregor dies with this realization, a transformed human being
Mythic: Ovid Ovid’s Metamorphoses is a collection of Greek and Roman myths written in narrative poetic form. –Each of the stories that Ovid presents contains some sort of transformation or metamorphosis. Probably written between 2 and 8 CE The work emphasizes tales of transformation in which a person or lesser deity is permanently transformed into an animal or plant. Kafka’s story, however, explores the life and destiny of Gregor Samsa while Ovid only depicts the act of the metamorphosis itself
Biological: Metamorphosis Takes place in distinct stages: –larval stage –then enter an inactive state called pupa or chrysalis –finally emerge as adults Gregor’s transformation parallels this metamorphosis.
Psychological: Depression Illness that can challenge the ability to perform even routine daily activities, characterized by the following: –Loss of interest or pleasure –Sustained fatigue without physical exertion –Lack of energy and motivation –Feelings of guilt or hopelessness –Self-centeredness Psychosis, a more extreme case of depression, is characterized by the loss of contact with reality: –Having visions –Hearing voices –Feeling sensations that have no basis in fact Gregor’s behavior parallels all of these descriptors.
The Form of The Metamorphosis: Parable Parable Uses this literary form as a neutral, detached point of view from which to examine human behavior 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
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." (C. H. Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1961, p. 5)
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
Central Symbol of the Beetle/Vermin A subjective fantasy that best describes Gregor’s self-loathing: –Worthlessness –Uselessness –Meaninglessness –Awkwardness –Ugliness
Difficulties in Reading Kafka: Paradox and Ambiguity Not a systematic philosopher or religious man 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 parables Uses distortion to reveal truths Suggests various levels of meanings Is quirky