Franz Kafka

German novellist and short story writer Franz Kafka was born 3 July 1883. He is regarded by many critics as one of the most influential authors of the 20th century. Kafka strongly influenced genres such as existentialism. His works, such as “Die Verwandlung” (“The Metamorphosis”), Der Process (The Trial), and Das Schloss (The Castle), are filled with the themes and archetypes of alienation, physical and psychological brutality, parent–child conflict, characters on a terrifying quest, labyrinths of bureaucracy, and mystical transformations.

Kafka was born into a middle-class, German-speaking Jewish family in Prague, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He trained as a lawyer and, after completing his legal education, obtained employment with an insurance company. He began to write short stories in his spare time. For the rest of his life, he complained about the little time he had to devote to what he came to regard as his calling and regretted having to devote so much attention to his Brotberuf (“day job”, literally “bread job”). Kafka preferred to communicate by letter and wrote hundreds of letters to family and close female friends, including his father, his fiancée Felice Bauer, and his youngest sister Ottla. He had a complicated and troubled relationship with his father that had a major effect on his writing. He also suffered conflict over being Jewish, feeling that it had little to do with him, although critics argue that it influenced his writing.

Only a few of Kafka’s works were published during his lifetime: the story collections betrachtung (Contemplation and Ein Landarzt (A Country Doctor), and individual stories (such as “Die Verwandlung”) in literary magazines. He prepared the story collection Ein Hungerkünstler (A Hunger Artist) for print, but it was not published until after his death. Kafka’s unfinished works, including his novels Der Process, Das Schloss and Amerika (also known as Der Verschollene, The Man Who Disappeared), were published posthumously, mostly by his friend Max Brod, who ignored Kafka’s wish to have the manuscripts destroyed. Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre are among the writers influenced by Kafka’s work; the term Kafkaesque has entered the English language to describe surreal situations like those in his writing. Kafka sadly passed away on 3 June 1924 but his literature had a big impact on literature and film making.

Metamorphosis concerns Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman, who wakes up to find himself transformed into a giant insect (the most common translation of the German description ungeheuer Ungeziefer, literally “monstrous vermin”). Gregor’s mother becomes concerned when Gregor fails to go to work. His sister, Grete, to whom he is very close, begs him to open the door But he discovers that he can’t get out of bed. Then his office manager, the chief clerk, has shown up to check on him. Unaware of Gregor’s predicament The clerk warns him of the consequences of missing work. Nobody understands a word Gregor says and they conclude that he is seriously ill. Finally, Gregor manages to unlock and open the door with his mouth. He apologizes to the office manager for the delay. Horrified by Gregor’s appearance, his mother faints, and the manager bolts out of the apartment. Gregor tries to catch up with him, but his father drives him back into the bedroom with a shoe and a rolled magazine. Gregor injures himself squeezing back through the doorway, then exhausted, falls asleep.

The next morning, Gregor’s sister comes in, sees that he has not touched the milk which she left and replaces it with rotting food scraps, which Gregor happily eats. This begins a routine in which his sister feeds him and cleans up while he hides under the couch, afraid that his appearance will frighten her. Gregor spends his time listening through the wall to his family members talking about the dire financial situation they find themselves in now and that Gregor can’t provide them any help. Gregor had plans of sending Grete to the conservatory to pursue violin lessons, however his incapability of providing for his family, coupled with his speechlessness proves a bit of an impediment Gregor also learns that his mother wants to visit him, but his sister and father will not let her.

Gregor grows more comfortable with his changed body. He begins climbing the walls and ceiling for amusement. Discovering Gregor’s new pastime, Grete decides to remove some of the furniture to give Gregor more space. She and her mother begin taking furniture away. However Gregor’s mother sees him hanging on the wall and passes out. Grete angrily calls out to Gregor – the first time anyone has spoken directly to him since his transformation. Gregor runs out of the room and into the kitchen. He encounters his father, who has just returned home from work. The father throws apples at Gregor, and one of them sinks into a sensitive spot in his back and Gregor is severely injured.

One evening, the cleaning lady leaves Gregor’s door open while three boarders, whom the family has taken on for additional income, lounge about the living room. Grete has been asked to play the violin for them, and Gregor creeps out of his bedroom to listen however Gregor is seen. As Gregor’s father tries to shove the boarders back into their rooms, the three men leave without paying. Grete, eventually tires of taking care of Gregor and the burden his existence puts on each one in the family, so she tells her parents they must get rid of Gregor…

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