(Die Verwandlung) is a novella
by Franz Kafka
, first published in 1915. The story begins with a traveling salesman, Gregor Samsa
, waking to find himself transformed into a "monstrous vermin" (see Lost in translation
Greta is Gregor's younger sister, who becomes his caretaker after the metamorphosis. At the beginning Greta and Gregor have a strong relationship but this relationship fades with time. While Greta originally volunteers to feed him and clean his room, throughout the story she grows more and more impatient with the task to the point of deliberately leaving messes in his room out of spite. She plays the violin and dreams of going to the conservatorium, a dream that Gregor's income was supporting. To help provide an income for the family after Gregor's transformation she starts working as a clerk in a shop.
Herr Samsa is a slouching, defeated man whose business failure has seemingly sapped his vitality. Gregor's father finds new confidence and better posture once the economic necessity engendered by Gregor's misfortune forces him to work again. His fruit-flinging fit of rage is the catalyst for Gregor's declining health.
Frau Samsa is a physically and constitutionally weak woman, Gregor's mother seems to suffer most from the fact of her son's metamorphosis. Despite her love for Gregor, the effect on her health is terrible whenever she catches sight of his bug form. Gregor's father and sister's protective feelings toward his mother lead them to resent Gregor.
- Hired by the Samsas to replace their live-in servant, the charwoman is a tough old woman who, unlike the other characters, is neither horrified nor frightened by Gregor's insect form. When she first sees Gregor, she tries to act friendly by saying things such as "Come on over, you old dung beetle!" Afterwards, she will repeatedly check on Gregor. Her presence usually upsets Gregor, but he can't do anything about it. When he crawled toward her once, she raised a chair as if to strike him if he got closer. She is the one who discovers that Gregor has died and who cheerfully disposes of his body.
Chief Clerk - The chief clerk from Gregor's firm comes to the Samsa house to find out why Gregor has not shown up for work. When Gregor delays coming out of his room, the clerk criticizes him for poor work performance and reports that the head of the firm suspects Gregor of embezzling funds. When Gregor finally emerges, the clerk flees in horror.
Tenants - Three tenants are invited to live with the Samsas to supplement their income. They are fussy and cannot stand dirtiness, eventually leading to the point when they discover Gregor's identity.
Lost in translation
The opening sentence of the novella is famous in English:
- As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.
The original German is this:
- Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer verwandelt.
Kafka's sentences often deliver an unexpected impact just before the period—that being the finalizing meaning and focus. This is achieved due to the construction of certain sentences in German which require that the verb be positioned at the end of the sentence. Such constructions are not duplicable in English, so it is up to the translator to provide the reader with the same effect found in the original text.
English translators have often sought to render the word Ungeziefer as "insect", but this is not strictly accurate. In German, Ungeziefer literally means "verminand is sometimes used colloquially to mean "bug" – a very general term, unlike the scientific sounding "insect". Kafka had no intention of labeling Gregor as any specific thing, but instead wanted to convey Gregor's disgust at his transformation. Literally, the end of the line should be translated as "transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin." This is the phrasing used in the David Wyllie translation and Joachim Neugroschel.
However, "a monstrous vermin" sounds unwieldy in English and in Kafka's letter to his publisher of 25 October 1915, in which he discusses his concern about the cover illustration for the first edition, he uses the term "Insekt", saying "The insect itself is not to be drawn. It is not even to be seen from a distance.
While this shows his concern not to give precise information about the type of creature Gregor becomes, the use of the general term "insect" can therefore be defended on the part of translators wishing to improve the readability of the end text.
Ungeziefer has sometimes been translated as "cockroach", "dung beetle", "beetle", and other highly specific terms. The term "dung beetle" or Mistkäfer is in fact used in the novella by the cleaning lady near the end of the story, but it is not used in the narration. It has become such a common misconception that Ungeziefer, in the literal "vermin" sense of the word, can be comprehensively defined as an unclean animal (or any entity) unsuitable for sacrifice. Ungeziefer also denotes a sense of separation between him and his environment: he is unclean and therefore he shall be excluded. Vermin can either be defined as a parasite feeding off the living (as is Gregor's family feeding off him), or a vulnerable entity that scurries away upon another’s approach (as in Gregor's personified self). The maid's use of Mistkäfer can be interpreted as a description of Gregor's new lifestyle after his metamorphosis: sedentary, slob-like, a nuisance, etc.
Vladimir Nabokov, who was an entomologist as well as writer and literary critic, insisted that Gregor was not a cockroach, but a beetle with wings under his shell, and capable of flight - if only he had known it. Nabokov left a sketch annotated "just over three feet long" on the opening page of his (heavily corrected) English teaching copy.
Adaptations to other media
There are several film versions, including:
A stage adaptation was performed by Steven Berkoff in 1969.
Another stage adaptation was performed in 2006 by the Icelandic company Vesturport, showing at the Lyric Hammersmith, London. That adaptation is set to be performed in the Icelandic theater fall of 2008.
Another stage adaptation was performed in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2005 by the Centre for Asian Theatre. That performance is still continuing in Bangladesh. The Lyric Theatre Company is toured the UK in 2006 with its stage adaptation of Metamorphosis, accompanied by a unique soundtrack performed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.
American comic artist Peter Kuper illustrated a graphic-novel version, first published by the Crown Publishing Group in 2003.
Allusions/references from other works
- Philip Glass composed incidental music for two separate theater productions of the story. These two themes, along with two themes from the Errol Morris film The Thin Blue Line, were incorporated into a five-part piece of music for solo piano entitled Metamorphosis.
- In the play The Shape of Things by Neil LaBute, Adam says to Evelyn in the final scene "I got a little Gregor Samsa thing going on right now..." after Evelyn reveals his "metamorphosys" to his peers.
- "Metamorphosis" the play written and directed by David Farr and Gisli Õrn Gardasson, was recently produced at the Lyric Hammersmith in London. It featured death defying acrobatics and aerial dance by the character of Gregor, who literally crawled across the ceiling.
- In the "Director's Cut" episode of the animated series Home Movies, Dwayne writes a rock opera about the life of Franz Kafka and some of his works. One of the songs we wrote was about "turning into a bug" Clearly, that was intended as a direct reference to "The Metamorphosis". The main character also says that writing a rock opera about the novel wasn't "the best idea."
- In Mel Brooks' 1968 movie The Producers, two men working on a fraud scheme are looking for the worst play they can find, and pass up The Metamorphosis because, after having read the first line ("Gregor Samsa awoke one morning to find he had been transformed into a gigantic cockroach"), they feel it is "too good". This dialogue survives in the 2001 Broadway and 2005 movie adaptations.
- In another Mel Brooks movie, Spaceballs, Dark Helmet makes a reference to Kafka when their spaceship is transforming into a gigantic maid: "Prepare for metamorphosis. Ready, Kafka?"
- In Woody Allen's 1997 film Deconstructing Harry, Woody's character Harry remarks of his former classmate Larry, played by Billy Crystal, "We both wanted to be Kafka. I came closer. I became an insect."
- In 1995, the actor Peter Capaldi won an Oscar for his short-film Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life. The plot of the film has the author (played by Richard E. Grant) trying to write the opening line of Metamorphosis and experimenting with various things that Gregor might turn into, such as a banana or a kangaroo. The film is also notable for a number of Kafkaesque moments.
- In the movie version of Naked Lunch one character (Joan Lee, played by Judy Davis) mentions Kafka in connection with a poison against bugs which they use as drug and causes visions involving grotesque speaking insects, saying "It's a Kafka high; you feel like a bug."
- In the 2005 film The Squid and the Whale, one of the characters, Walt Berkman (Jesse Eisenberg), recommends The Metamorphosis to his girlfriend, Sophie. After having read the story, she finds that Walt (a literary poseur who repeats his father's opinions as his own) is unable to discuss it other than to call it "Kafkaesque".
- Noah Baumbach's 1995 film Kicking and Screaming also refers to The Metamorphosis. At the graduation party at the beginning of the movie, Josh Hamilton's character, Grover, tries to convince Olivia d'Abo's character, Jane, his girlfriend, not to go to Prague. He tells her, wryly, that she will wake up one morning a bug.
- Mark Damon's Foresight Unlimited has boarded the $9m Franz Kafka adaptation Metamorphosis starring Daniel Brühl (playing Franz Kafka), Anna Paquin and Stephen Rea. Limor Diamant wrote and will direct Metamorphosis, which weaves together the celebrated tale of a man who transforms into a giant bug with a parallel account of Kafka's heartbreaking writing process. Ram Bergman is producing and a European shoot has been set for the summer of 2007.
- Gregg Araki's 1995 film Nowhere ends with a main character turning into a large vermin.
- In the 1986 film version of The Fly, as Seth Brundle nears the end of his transformation into Brundlefly, he tells Veronica Quaife, "I'm an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over...and the insect is awake." This is a direct reference to the beginning of the novella. This could also reference Chuang Tzu's "Butterfly dream".
- The dialogue-driven cartoon Home Movies did a tribute to "The Metamorphosis" in "Director's Cut", an episode in the first season of the show. The characters performed a rock opera style retelling of the short story.
- In The Venture Bros. episode "Mid-Life Chrysalis", Dr. Venture's transformation into a caterpillar slightly mirrors that of Gregor Samsa's transformation. Quote: "Gentlemen, what you are about to see is a nightmare inexplicably torn from the pages of Kafka!"
- A reference appears in the 2006 Aardman Animation feature film Flushed Away when a refrigerator falls through the floor of the protagonist Rita's home and a giant cockroach appears reading a copy of The Metamorphosis.
- The second segment (titled "Bugged") of episode 8-3 of the children's show Arthur centers around a dream sequence where the character Brain wakes to find that he has turned into a giant insect as a manifestation of his concerns that he is seen as an annoying pest.
- A brief reference is made to "The Metamorphosis" in the next-episode preview at the end of episode eight of the anime series Kino's Journey.
- The anime Sayonara Zetsubō Sensei references The Metamorphosis in the title of its seventh episode, "One Morning, When Gregor Samsa awoke, he was carrying a portable shrine." Also, one character goes by the pseudonym "Kafuka Fūra," derived from Franz Kafka's name.
- The popular Americanized anime Dragonball Z references The Metamorphosis in that as one of King Kai's test Goku must hit a humanoid insect named Gregory. Although his name is Gregory only in the Funimation dub version of the show, not the original Japanese version.
- The animated series Mission Hill features an episode in which Andy French, one of the main characters, publishes a single-frame comic with the caption "That is so Kafkaesque" as a satire of people who say "Kafkaesque" without understanding what it means.
- A 30-second animation entitled "Sortamorphosis" whereby the 'monstrous vermin' is replaced by a snail, in reference to the animating style. Preceding frames are rubbed out, with the last frame drawn on top leaving a residue or trail - like a snail. The short animation makes reference to The Metamorphosis in what is viewed as an unsatisfactory storyline and/or conclusion.
- Notorious American cartoonist Robert Crumb drew an illustrated adaptation of the novella which appears in the book Introducing Kafka.
- In the comic book Johnny the Homicidal Maniac by Jhonen Vasquez, the eponymous Johnny is plagued by a roach that keeps appearing in his house no matter how many times he kills it (whether or not this roach is immortal or simply many different roaches is up to interpretation) and is affectionately named "Mr. Samsa".
- In The Simpsons book Treehouse of Horror Spook-tacular, Matt Groening did a spoof on the metamorphosis, entitling it Metamorphosimpsons. In addition, in one of the episodes, Lisa attends a place called "Cafe Kafka", which is shown to be a popular place for college students, and features several posters of cockroaches in Bohemian-like poses.
- A throwaway joke in the popular comic Calvin and Hobbes, Hobbes claims that if he does not receive a good night kiss, he will have Kafka dreams. The strip then features an enormous bedbug coming from inside the bed.
- In the popular comic FoxTrot, Jason sleeps with the hopes of waking up as a beetle, and instead has a dream were he wakes up as a younger version of his sister.
- In the comic book Ghost Rider 2099, Network 23 introduces a show called "Samsa N.Y.P.D." about a detective sergeant who finds himself transformed into a gigantic cockroach. Samsa's partner is "trusty officer" Frank Kafka.
- Pete Kuper (illustrator of Spy vs. Spy, The System, Kafka's Give It Up!) also adapted Kafka's Metamorphosis, published by Three Rivers Press.
- In the one-off Marvel comic "Carnage: It's a Wonderful Life", Doctor Kafka, whilst trapped in Carnage's mind, is mutated into a giant cockroach.
- In the book, Slawter by Darren Shan. The main antagonist Lord Loss shows off one of his demon servants which resembles a cockroach and is called Gregor. However the narrator of the story does not get the joke.
- In the Earl Cain series, Kaori Yuki uses the name Kafka as a title for one of her stories in the series.
- In the Midway Playstation 2 game Shadow Hearts 2 (also known as Shadow Hearts: Covenant), the player faces bug-like creatures called "Gregor" during random battles in the sewer level.
- In the Steve Jackson game Munchkin Bites!, players may face "Gregor", a giant cockroach reading a book titled Kafka for Dummies.
- The computer game Bad Mojo features the protagonist, Roger Samms, as a human being transformed into a cockroach. Players play through the entire game from this perspective.
- One of the enemies in the computer roleplaying game Wizardry 8 by Sir-Tech is a huge beetle-like creature named Gregor.
- Planescape: Torment's Festhall features a sensory stone entitled 'complete bafflement', which depicts the experience of a bug waking up to find that it has become a human.
- The main antagonist of Final Fantasy VI is named Kefka. The song played in the mid-game sequence involving him is entitled Metamorphosis.
- In season 4 of The Secret World of Alex Mack, in the episode "The Switch", Alex Mack is studying Kafka's The Metamorphosis in English class and while they are discussing it in class, she falls asleep and dreams that she and her mother transformed into each other (a la Freaky Friday).
- In season 6 of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, a one time suspect in an episode says, "It's Kafkaesque", Eames then responds "Guess that makes you the bug."
- In the television series Smallville, Chloe speculates that a character who seems to be transforming into an insect is "going Kafka".
- In the TV series, My So-Called Life, an episode called "The Zit" uses The Metamorphosis. The characters are studying the story in English class and at the same time going through adolescent body/beauty angst. The story is referred to a few times during the episode and then finally explained by the Brian to Jordan at the end (because Jordan hasn't done the reading and has to take a test).
- In Bokusatsu Tenshi Dokuro-chan (Anime) on episode 3 about a man's "poisonous bug" with much visual reference to The Metamorphosis.
- In the children's game show Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, a regular informant was a cockroach named Kafka who lived in a roach motel in the Acme CrimeNet office.
- In an episode of M*A*S*H, Major Sidney Freeman tells Cpl. Kilnger about a case he had of a soldier who pretended to be a cockroach and crawl along the woodwork. Hawkeye responds with, "That was Private Kafka, I believe."
- Japanese rock band BUCK-TICK makes a reference to the metamorphosis of Gregor Samsa in the song "PHYSICAL NEUROSE".
- The post-hardcore band Showbread has a song titled "Sampsa Meets Kafka" on their album No Sir, Nihilism Is Not Practical, about the ending of The Metamorphosis.
- German Gothic artist Alexander Kaschte named his main band project Samsas Traum (Samsa's Dream).
- Gregor Samsa is the name of an American post-rock band.
- In the filk band Ookla the Mok's song "Stranger in the Mirror", the narrator says he once "awoke from unsettling dreams transformed in [his] bed into a monstrous vermin.
- Nu-metal band Slaves on Dope has a song entitled "Kafka Bug"
- The Rolling Stones' 1975 album Metamorphosis features cover art of the band members with insect heads.
- Widespread Panic alludes to The Metamorphosis in their song "Imitation Leather Shoes", which describes an insect boy and his family's reaction
- The Canadian comic band The Arrogant Worms wrote in their song "William Shakespeare's in my cat", that "I hope Franz Kafka comes back as a bug" - a reference perhaps to Gregor Samsa.
- The Houston rock band, Edge wrote a song based on the Franz Kafka's story "The Metamorphosis", eventually leading to the title of their 4th full length album entitled "Venus in Furs", the painting that hangs on Gregor's wall.
- It has been theorized that the song "Climbing The Walls" by rock band They Might Be Giants is about the book.
- Kafka, Franz (1996). The Metamorphosis and Other Stories, trans. Donna Freed. New York: Barnes & Noble. ISBN 1-56619-969-7.