History of the Text
Publication History: The first draft of The Metamorphosis was finished in three weeks in 1912. Kafka was pleased with the result but uncertain about its ending. With encouragement from Max Brod, also an author, Kafka published the story in the German journal Die Weißen Blätter (The White Pages) in 1915. Having already published a well-received short story that year, “The Judgment,” the initial reception to The Metamorphosis was warm. It even won the Theodor Fontane prize, a German-language literary award. The first translation into English was released in 1933. Since then, at least ten other English translations have attempted to render Kafka’s nuanced diction.
- Note: Each translation has its own idiosyncrasies and goals, so this guide references scenes rather than direct quotations to remain applicable to all translations.
Philosophical Landscape: At the time of The Metamorphosis’s publication, Sigmund Freud, Austrian founder of modern psychoanalysis, was disseminating his theories regarding the unconscious mind, dream interpretation, and the Oedipus complex. Also, Karl Marx’s political thought regarding the consequences of capitalism had been available for several decades. Furthermore, Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, published in 1883, popularized the concept of the Übermensch as a goal toward which humanity ought to strive. Critics have argued that these philosophies had a the range of influences on the text.
- Freud’s Influence: Proponents of Freud’s influence cite the dreamlike quality of the narrative, specifically its nightmarish premise of transformation. Also, Gregor’s frequent, violent conflict with his father some have read as a manifestation of an Oedipus complex. Note that the women in the story—Grete to the greater extent, but Gregor’s mother also pleads for his life—are initially most sympathetic to Gregor.
- Marx’s Influence: Some read the text through the lens of Marx, seeing Gregor’s transformation into a grotesque, non-human insect as a result of—and perhaps Gregor’s unconscious reaction against—a dehumanizing workforce. They point to Gregor’s continued concerns of comparatively mundane work matters as evidence of the all-encompassing, unhealthy mindset he suffers from. Furthermore, it has also been argued that Gregor’s unemployment and refusal to leave his family throughout the story is a reaction against the need to constantly be productive and useful.
- Nietzsche’s Influence: As a large, weak insect, Gregor is almost the exact opposite of...
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