The Metamorphosis is probably the best-known story written by the Czech-born, German-Jewish writer Franz Kafka, ranking with his two novel-length masterpieces, The Trial and The Castle.
First published in 1915 in German (under the title ‘‘Die Verwandlung’’), The Metamorphosis was written over the course of three weeks in November and December 1912. Kafka at one point contemplated publishing it along with two other stories about father-son relations in a collection to be called Sons, but later decided to issue it on its own. It was first translated into English in 1936, and has been translated several times since.
The haunting story of a man transformed into an insect has attracted numerous commentators, who while agreeing on the high quality and importance of the story, disagree strongly about what it means. Freudian, Marxist, existentialist, and religious interpretations have all been proposed, and there has been debate over whether Gregor Samsa, the man-turned-insect, symbolizes the human condition.
It is generally agreed, however, that the story portrays a world that is hostile and perhaps absurd and that major themes in the story include father-son antagonism (perhaps reflecting Kafka's difficult relationship with his own father), alienation at work, isolation, and self-sacrifice.
The story is sometimes praised for its symmetrical, three-part structure and its use of black humor, and its symbols (such as the lady in furs and the music played by Gregor's sister) are sometimes puzzled over, but what makes the story memorable is the central situation of the transformation of a man into an insect and the image of the man-insect lying on his back helplessly waving his little insect legs in the air.