2017/10/17 - 19:02

The Metamorphosis. By G.S. Trujillo (English version)

The Metamorphosis is the story of a commercial traveler, Gregor Samsa,
that one morning awoke turned into a gigantic insect. It is no dream
but, simply and plainly, a real metamorphosis with no rhetoric in
between. Facing this incredible fact, Kafka does not do any realistic
concessions and keeps the new condition of the character to the end.
That makes of The metamorphosis a hard work of fiction, in the way of
Odyssey (with which, besides, it is closely related) or in the way of
the Medieval fairy tales, specially those in which the wicked witch
turns The Prince Charming into a hideous animal.

From the other side, the work, that belongs to a trilogy about marriage
in relation to the individual, the family and the so-ciety written by
Kafka, has a highly autobiographical contain. In The Judgment the
subject is the engagement assumed as a treason to the literary calling;
in The metamorphosis there is a view of marriage and family relations
from a masochistic and incestuous perspective; in The Trial, it is the
settlement of accounts, related with the incapacity of accomplishing the
acquired compro-mises, according to an unwritten law, he must pay. In
the three cases, the story ends with the protagonist's death.

The Metamorphosis is built on a fiction level with two faces, Crime and
Punishment by Dostoevsky and Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch,
superposed in a way they get in contact with a real level with two faces
too, the family relations and his dreams of Felice. By the merging of
theses two levels, Kafka gets a fantastic reality which allows him to
express his deepest dreams and desires in relation with marriage and sex
in a poetic language that turns The Metamorphosis into a classic of
erotism, aspect not considered until now. (Such a pleiad, Kafka, Sacher-
Masoch and Dostoesky, met in The Metamorphosis turns into a height of
masochism this work).


The Metamorphosis has three parts: the first one describes both the
transformation of Gregory and his family's reaction to this respect; the
second part shows the new cotidianity of the fami-liar group whose
fragile estability crush with Gregory and sis-ter's bringing face to
face; and the last part, where we attend Gregory's frustrated attemp of
reconquering his sister, ends with his death.

The foreground onto which Kafka builds his work is Dostoevsky's novel.
This one brings to him a textual base that he lightly, mainly through
substitutions, varies for adapting it to the intentions of his own
story. For the first part of The Meta-morphosis, Kafka takes three
awakenings of Raskolnikov -as an animal, as a murderer and as a guilty
man-. With them he assembles the first scenes of the narrative. Taken
into account the scenes Kafka selects from Crime and Punishment, the
traditio-nal version of an angelical Gregory, victim of both family and
society, results a suspicious one.

The Metamorphosis begins with the awakening of Gregory as an insect. In
a first paragraph that makes part of the unforgetable beginnings of
literature, Kafka describes it: "As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from
uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic
insect. He was lying on his hard, as it were armor-plated, back and when
he lifted his head a little he could see his domelike brown belly
divided into stiff arched segments on top of which the bed quilt could
hardly keep in position and was about to slide off completely. His
numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his
bulk, waved helplessly before his eyes."

This extraordinary beginning is a variant of the beginning of the third
chapter of the first part of Crime and Punishment, where Dostoevsky
describes the state of abandonment and loneliness at which Raskolnikov,
whom he portraits as a withdrawed-into-his-shell animal, is: "He waked
up late next day after a broken sleep. But his sleep had not refreshed;
he waked up bilious, irritable, ill-tempered, and looked with hatred at
his room. It was a tiny cupboard of a room about six paces in length. It
had a poverty-stricken appearance with its dusty yellow paper peeling
off the walls..." "...He (Raskolnikov) had got completely away from
everyone, like a tortoise in its shell...".

The Metamorphosis insect is born when Kafka, using one of his most
powerful tools: literalness, turns the "vermin", the "bug", the "creep",
the "aesthetic louse" Raskolnikov is into a "real insect". Through
literalness, Kafka dismantles the metaphore that supports the "moral
insect" leaving just the "insect" without qualifiers. In the world of
literature, never before had metapho-re been explored to such limits.
Diving to words essence, Kafka makes of his style a style hard like a
rock and transparent like fresh water.

There is a theory at the origin of the carved Raskolnikov's tragedy
according to which people are divided in "ordinary" and "extraordinary
people", with the last one allowed to transgress law when it interposes
on the road of a glorious destiny. The case of Napoleon particularly
seduced Raskolnikov, who wanted to test his theory through a moral
esperiment and, by this way, decide whether Raskolnikov himself was a
Napoleon or a "trembling animal". However, Raskolnikov was not a
Napoleon but a "aesthetic louse": "A Napoleon would not get in under an
old pawnbroker's bed!".

Kafka takes his character from Raskolnikov's wombs but he does not make
of him his equal for, if Raskolnikov dreams of being apoleon, Gregory,
according to the portrait hung on one of the Samsa's family dinning room
walls, is Napoleon: "Right opposite Gregor on the wall hung a photograph
of himself in military service, as a lieutenant, hand on sword, a
carefree smile on his face, inviting one to respect his uniform and
military bearing". In one of his diary notes dated october 17th, 1911,
Kafka mentions this image that likes him very much: "When I think of
this anecdote: In the Court of Erfurt at the royal table Napoleon
refers a story: When I was a simple lieutenant at the fifth
regiment...(the royal highnesses turbed look each other; noticing
this Napoleon corrects himself), When I had the honor of being a
simple lieutenant..." my neck arteries swell with a pride that,
lightly in agreement with the protagonist, artificially emotions

Kafka continues the first scene bringing in the murder's after-noon
when, about six thirty, Raskolnikov awakes without having done any
preparations for the crime. His has to stay in the old woman's house at
seven, time at which she'll be alone. Raskolni-kov thinks he is living a
nightmare and cannot imagine himself yet taking an ax, and cracking the
skull of the old woman. In his turn, Gregory reflects on what is
happening to him and wonders whether everything is just a nightmare,
whether he must forget all his fantasies and hurry up and take the train
that leaves at seven. No matter the clock hands continue running,
Raskolnikov does not get to decide to leave his bed. Both Gregory and
Raskolnikov are short of time and their final reaction is the same:

"Gregor's eyes turned next to the window... (then) "He looked at the
alarm clock ticking on the chest". -(Raskolnikov) "Suddenly he heard a
clock strike. He started, roused himself, raised his head, looked out of
the window, and seeing how late it was, suddenly jumped up..." Gregory:
"Heavenly Father! He thought. It was half-past six o'clock and the hands
were quietly moving on..." -(Raskolnikov) "and meanwhile perhaps it had
struck six."(...) "It struck six long ago" "Long ago! My Good!".

"His (Gregory's) samples weren't even packed up" and for Raskol-nikov:
"It seemed to him strange and monstrous that he could (...) had done
nothing, had preparing nothing yet..." Finally: "Seven o'clock already",
he said to himself when the alarm clock chimed again, "seven o'clock
already and still such a thick fog." (Raskolnikov): "Suddenly a clock
somewhere struck once. 'What! can it be half-past seven? Impossible, it
must be fast!"

Kafka recreates a third awakening, the one that starts Crime and
Punishment second part where Raskolnikov is now a murderer. He, as soon
as commits the crime, comes back to his room where pass a night
between delirium and nightmare. Next morning violent knocking at his
door wake him up. Not knowing which way to turn, he is seized with
terror for he thinks somebody has came for him because of his crime. It
is the porter and the maid who have came for bringing him a notice from
the police (office). The maid (Nastasya) ask Raskolnikov about his
health and the reasons for passing the bolt inside as if now he were
afraid of being robbed: "Then who can have latched the door?" retorted
Nastasya. "He's
taking to bolting himself in! As if he where worth stealing! Open, you
stupid, wake up!"

In The Metamorphosis it is the family that appears in the scene. They,
as soon as notice Gregory still remains in his room, knock the door and
say the time to him. Then, they ask him if he is ill that he does not
open the door. By any means, however, Gregory does not think to open and
he congratulates himself for being in the habit, acquired in his
business trips, of locking in his room even at home.

The type and sequence of the scenes choised by Kafka for assam-bling the
text of the first part are coherent with the base story and undoubtly
Gregory, like Raskolnikov, is guilty. Guilty of what? Whast was his
crime? The answer to these questions is in the second paragraph and in
front of Gregory's bed. He (Gregory) as soon as notice his
transformation, look as Samson could look at Delilam before losing his

"What has happened to me? he thought. It was no dream. His room, a
regular human bedroom, only rather too small, lay quiet between the four
familiar walls. Above the table on which a collection of cloth samples
was unpacked and spread out -Samsa was a commercial traveler- hung the
picture which he had recently cut out of an illustrated magazine and put
into a pretty gilt frame. It showed a lady, with a fur cap on and a fur
stole, sitting upright and holding out to the spectator a huge fur muff
into which the whole of her forearm had vanished!"

Gregory is not a murderer in the way of Raskolnikov but an
ultra-sentimental who is mad about a very well known woman, Venus in
Furs, whose original portrait was in St. Petersburg, home of
Raskolnikov, the St. Petersburg's friend. Gregor Samsa shares his desire
object with his double, Sacher-Masoch, with whom he him-self identifies
till the point of assuming, secretly and trough a permutation,
Sacher-Masoch's identity: Gregor Samsa is an anagra-me of this name.
Moreover, Severino Kusinski, the protagonist of Venus in Furs, as slave
and by command of his owner, the Furs' Lady, takes the name "Gregory"
instead of his name. With this, the identification proves to be
multiple. As Brod said, without
imagine until what point, those impure women affairs beared upon Kafka's
very much.

Since The Metamorphosis, Kafka uses a technique consisting of hanging on
the walls portraits of important characters of the work that act behind
the scenes, changing the course of the original narrative which serves
as a textual support. The second fictional ground, Venus in Furs, give
us the identities of the protagonists through two things, a portrait and
a name. Much was argued over Kafka's work and over the presence or
absence of keys in it. Those who thought of an affirmative answer to
this matter where in a losing position for these keys were never found.
Then the work of Kafka gave rise to endless interpretations.

Gregor Samsa -Sacher-Masoch- is Franz Kafka. Consequently, the portrait
lady -Wanda Dunaiev- is Felice Bauer, his brilliant girlfriend who
inspires the story to him. In a letter of november 1st, 1912, to Felice,
Kafka points out the close relation that exists between Felice and his
work, and refers to The Metamorpho-sis' genesis when he confess to her
that since the afternoon when he wrote to her for the first time, "I
have had a feeling as if in my chest there were a gap through which a
sucking and uncon-trolled power pull in and out muy wombs till one night
in bed when, remembering a biblical story, both the need of that feeling
and the veracity of the story at once were evident to me".

Kafka does not say to Felice anything about what story is he talking
but, undoubtly, it is the story that acts as epigrame in Sacher-Masoch's
novel: "The Lord Almighty punished him, into a woman's hand he put him"
(judith 16, chapter VII). Kafka must have to see with horrible precision
that "since Holofernes and Agamenon until now, voluptuosity, the blind
passion, has always drove man to the breast woman offers to him...
Misery, slavery, death". In Severino-Gregory's diary we read: "I had
breakfast under the green vault and began to read the book of Judith,
envying the rage of Holofernes, The Gentile, the real woman that
beheaded him and even his beautiful death."

"The Lord Almighty punished him, into a woman's hand he put him."
This phrase annoys me.
How little courteous the Jewish! Their God could choice a better
expression for the gentle sex.

"The Lord Almighty punished him, into a woman's hand he put him,
"Meanwhile I repeated to me. What could I do to be punished?"

Venus in Furs is inspired in the baroness Fanny von Pistor, a woman of
"strange, diabolical beauty, o redish hair which splendor defied any
description, with something magic and fascinating like a snake's gaze"
whom Leopold von Sacher-Masoch idealizes in Wanda Dunaiev, the
protagonist of the novel. Sacher-Masoch, who repeatedly dreamt of a
beautiful sultana enslaving him in a tur-kish palace, molds in this work
his femenin ideal: an opulent woman, in furs, and with a whip at a hand
that inflicts any sort of punishments and humilliations everything in
accordance with a contract previously signed between Severino Kusinski
and Wanda Dunaiev, in which clauses he accepts to be her slave and to
allow her to do with him anything she wants. A serious one question to
Sacher-Masoch as shows the fact of making real his fantasy of
formalizing a contract (with Aurore Rümelin who, adopting the name of
Wanda, the protagonist of the novel, enchanted, accepted to enslave the
writer with whom she got married later. Thus, Sacher-Masoch became
converted in the fictional character he himself had imagined and reated.

For Kafka, things develop in a different way. He starts from a fantasy -
Venus in Furs- inspired by a real relationship -with Felice Bauer- to
which he gets satisfaction through a fiction in The Metamorphosis. For
Him, literature functions like a mechanism that gives him, and also
satisfies, his fantasies. In the case of The Metamorphosis, literature
allows him to live a marriage in a literary virtuality that acts as a
substitution of the real, so exorcised, marriage. For that reason, the
ideal that inspires the work and the ideal that embodies it are, in
Venus in Furs, two women acting as poles between which literature
-fiction- circula-tes, and, in The Metamorphosis, a same and only woman
-Felice Bauer- circulating between the two poles of fiction. On the
hand, this woman that serves as a "driver" for Kafka's fantasy does not
need to be a beautiful baroness since actually Kafka, while seeing
Felice for the first time mistook her for a maid at whom, from the
beginning and owing to the infernal bright of her gold teeth, he was
unable to look face to face.

Gregory, while surrendering himself to the furs lady who have enslave
him, has turn into a insect and does not know yet whether that condition
is a permanent or a temporary one. His bedroom door separates both the
world of fantasy and the world of rea-lity, where his family and job are
and demand him. Gregory does not feel like facing reality til the moment
the chief clerk comes and hints that Gregory wants to steal from the
store. The, Gre-gory gets to leave his bed and, walking at the door,
opens it with difficulty. The chief clerk yells and backs away when
Gre-gory goes out off the room, the mother faints and the father burst
out crying. Gregory tries to calm the clerk who thinks to lay him off,
but the man goes hastily. This upsets Gregory's father who drives
Gregory back into his room stamping his feet loudly while flourishing a
walking stick in his right hand and a large newspaper in the left.

In this dramatic scene, one of the best achieved of the story, and
inspired in the meeting of Raskolnikov with his mother and sister, in
his little room of St. Petersburg, that ends the first part, Kafka
gives us an idea of his familiar and labor rela-tionships, both
extremely bad indeed for the days of narration. The father appears brute
and tyrannic. The mother is shown like a weak human being with no
character. In regard to the sister, perhaps to show politeness with all
his sisters (unlike with his father with whom he mutually and
decisively hates, as Kafka writes to Felice a week before beginning the
narrative, he says
to get on well together with all of them) Kafka sends her for the
doctor, putting her farther away of the scene.

Forever condemning himself to animality, Gregory will not be a free man
nevermore. This is a voluntary, unknown for his family, transformation.
Among them and as far as the know something like this had occurred never
before. Nor among their neighbors such a thing had happened. Therefore,
Gregory's metamorphosis is consi-dered as a real damnation. Hindering
them of having their usual life, Gregory tortures his family till
infrahuman limits and seizes the words of the "Notes from the
Underground" embittered mouse, one of his direct ancestors: "I know I
torture you, I cause you suffering, I do not allow anybody at home to
sleep. Well, don't sleep, realize each time my teeth ache. For you, now,
I am not a heroe as I tried to look before; I am a despicable being, an
idler. Nothing cares me! I feel happy of you knowing me as I am. Does
listening to my vile wails disgust you very much? Well, disgust you. Now
you will see what a warbling I have prepared for you!"

At the beginning, Kafka conceived The Metamorphosis as a short story,
(just the first part). Therefore it would be a little jewel of black
humor with intimate erotic resonances, hardly perceived indeed, and
assimilated with a simple dream by the confused reder if the initial
plan of the work would have been mantained. But once Kafka ends the
first part, he feels an "unlimited desire of melting himself in the
story, a "wild desire" of prolonging it. And in November 23rd he writes
to Felice that the "short story" "silently begins to become a longer
one". The story entitled "The Metamorphosis" is "a little bit dreadful".
Next day, he reads the first part to his friends and they, according
to Max Brod's testimony, supose it is the reading of a whole work.
(Later, when Musil, in order to publish The Metamorphosis in Die Neue
Rundschau German Magazine, asks Kafka to cut out a third part of the
work, Kafka answers suggesting to publish only the first part, and in
this way, the story is reduced in two-third parts. Musil is disconcerted
with the proposal but not as much as Kafka is).

On November 24th, a Sunday, when the mentioned reading of Kafka to his
friends take place, he introduces the story to Felice with the next
terms: My Love, how extremely repulsive is the story I have just put to
one side to try to recover myself thinking of you. I have advanced a bit
and a half and, in his entirity, I am not unhappy with it. But
nauseating as it is in an unlimited manner, and things like these, you
see, come from the same heart you live in, and tolerate as home. Don't
be sad for that since, who knows, perhaps as much as I write and free
myself, purer and worthier of you I will become. However there are many
things in me it is necessary even to take out, and nights could not be
long enough for a task, in the highest degree, besides, so voluptuous."

Revision: 2011/01/08 - 00:18 - © Mauro Nervi

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