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The Cambridge Companion to Kafka Cambridge University Press Julian Preece

5th April 2012 Literature & Fiction 26 Comments

This Companion of specially-commissioned essays offers a comprehensive account of his life and work, providing a rounded contemporary appraisal of Central Europe’s most distinctive Modernist. Contributions cover all the key texts, and discuss Kafka’s writing in a variety of critical contexts such as feminism, deconstruction, psychoanalysis, Marxism, and Jewish studies. The essays are enhanced by supplementary material including a chronology of the period and detailed guides to further reading. They will be of interest to students of German, European and Comparative Literature, and Jewish Studies.

“…a welcome addition to Kafka scholarship.” Germanic Notes and Reviews

“This collection of essays holds true to the promise of its title: it is a trustworthy and helpful companion for those, be they scholar or afficianado, who seek up-to-date and well-considered observations on the writings of one of the 20th century’s greatest but most enigmatic writers…. [A]ll of the contributions are first-rate: they are written clearly and persuasively with authority and sophistication, and they represent a broad specturm of critical approaches.” Choice

“The Cambridge Companions to Literature series enjoys a well-deserved reputation for scholarly excellence. The volume on Kafka, happily, is no exception to the rule…. The single best thing about the volume, indeed, is the willingness (and the ability) of almost all of its contributors to break away from comfortably traditional critical judgments…. This excellent volume does not claim to present us with any master keys that might serve to unlock [Kafka's] secrets; rather, it challenges us, as the best criticism always does, to return to the text with new eyes, new expectations, and a willingness to see things differently.” German Studies Review

This Companion of specially-commissioned essays offers a comprehensive account of his life and work, providing a rounded contemporary appraisal of Central Europe’s most distinctive Modernist. Contributions cover all the key texts, and discuss Kafka’s writing in a variety of critical contexts such as feminism, deconstruction, psycho-analysis, Marxism, Jewish studies. The essays are well supported by supplementary material including a chronology of the period and detailed guides to further reading, and will be of interest to students of German, European and Comparative Literature, Jewish Studies.

“…a welcome addition to Kafka scholarship.” Germanic Notes and Reviews

“This collection of essays holds true to the promise of its title: it is a trustworthy and helpful companion for those, be they scholar or afficianado, who seek up-to-date and well-considered observations on the writings of one of the 20th century’s greatest but most enigmatic writers…. [A]ll of the contributions are first-rate: they are written clearly and persuasively with authority and sophistication, and they represent a broad specturm of critical approaches.” Choice

“The Cambridge Companions to Literature series enjoys a well-deserved reputation for scholarly excellence. The volume on Kafka, happily, is no exception to the rule…. The single best thing about the volume, indeed, is the willingness of almost all of its contributors to break away from comfortably traditional critical judgments…. This excellent volume does not claim to present us with any master keys that might serve to unlock [Kafka's] secrets; rather, it challenges us, as the best criticism always does, to return to the text with new eyes, new expectations, and a willingness to see things differently.” German Studies Review

The Cambridge Companion to Kafka (Cambridge Companions to Literature)

  • 26 responses to "The Cambridge Companion to Kafka Cambridge University Press Julian Preece"

  • pop frame
    10:04 on April 5th, 2012
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    Literature throughout history has tried to exemplify the personal identity of human beings, but none has done it so creatively and as hilariously as Franz Kafka’s masterful novella, “The Metamorphosis”. Kafka has created the most absurd situation; a traveling salesman wakes up one morning to find that he has turned into a giant dung beetle. Yet Kafka uses the absurdity of this premise to exemplify how the unfortunate Gregor Samsa (the man-bug) frees himself from a life of servitude and monotony, to assert his own personal identity through his metamorphosis. Franz Kafka uses brilliant symbolism, hilarious tone, and unique characterizations to exemplify the plight and transformation of this unfortunate salesman and it is through these tools that Kafka creates an absurd experience that any reader can relate to.

    The use of symbolism throughout this story is what truly allows the reader to understand and appreciate Gregor’s push towards independence. Gregor was transformed into a bug, but Kafka uses this transformation as a symbol for Gregor’s metamorphosis towards humanity. Before Gregor’s transformation, he only lived life to serve others, but through his metamorphosis Gregor slowly comes to meet his own desires, seeking a more personal independence and even coming to appreciate music and art. But most importantly, it is through Gregor’s final understanding of love that Kafka truly exemplifies how human the insect truly is. Kafka uses the symbolism of Gregor becoming a bug to represent the tragedy of the life that Gregor was leading, and his metamorphosis symbolizes a more gradual metamorphosis towards an individual humanity. By physically disassociating Gregor from humanity, Kafka perfectly exemplifies how human Gregor has really become. Kafka’s use of symbolism is what truly makes the reader’s experience relatable to the tale. Although nobody could ever experience what it feels like to wake up as a giant insect, Gregor’s struggle for an identity is a trial that is real and relatable to all of us. Kafka represents independence as what truly makes Gregor human, and this same truth exists within all of us. It is through the symbolism of the metamorphosis that Kafka relates this to us, the readers, and he does this brilliantly.

    The tragedy and emotional connection that Kafka elicits to the reader is of true merit, but the book’s success lies in its ability to tie this tragic tale with such a humorous tone. “The Metamorphosis” is an obvious tragedy and it expresses a very serious message. Kafka leaves us no choice but to pity Gregor for the eventual state of his life, but despite all of this, Kafka has written one twisted and hilarious story. The dark, humorous tone that Kafka injects into his words is apparent from the very first sentence, as the story begins with an immediate shock: “One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous, verminous bug” (1). Kafka’s very light and nonchalant voice perfectly emulates the tone of the entire book, and it makes this absurd, while admittedly unfortunate situation to be incredibly laughable. Even when Gregor’s family is contemplating murdering him, Kafka injects a satirical wit into the tone of the dialogue that the obviously tragic situation is unfortunately funny. Kafka uses humor perfectly to further exemplify the pain that Gregor and subsequently his family experience as they live through this “metamorphosis” and it ultimately makes the sorrowful events that much more apparent. The absurdity of the story makes the connection between reader and bug an ironic parallel that intensifies the humor of the story. Kafka has created a storyline that readers relate to and appreciate, but the sheer humor of the story allows the reader to appreciate this connection even further. The storyline is absurd and unbelievable, but because the reader is forced to relate to this situation, despite the logical impossibilities, we as readers can appreciate the connection we make with Gregor even more. The absurdity of the story enriches our ability to connect with the text.

    Kafka’s ability to interpret humanity through this great piece of work was ultimately in his ability to invent the perfect character. Gregor Samsa is one of the most pathetic, yet endearing figures in literature. Kafka’s characterization of Gregor was perfect in representing his message throughout the story, because Gregor’s evolution was the point and purpose of the entire novella. In only forty-five pages, Kafka creates a character that is interesting and dynamic. We see him grow and fall, all the time evoking certain responses within the reader. Franz Kafka has brilliantly invented Gregor so that all readers can appreciate him, pity him, and relate to his struggle and growth throughout the book. This is what makes the book so enjoyable to the reader, we want to respond to the protagonist, and Kafka has invented a conflict within Gregor that is seemingly universal to the development of mankind. There is no background to the tragic figure given before we are lunged into the heart of the story and the author has made it so that there is none needed. Kafka makes it obvious how miserable Gregor’s state of being was before his awful transfiguration, and the reader is forced to be emotionally connected to this struggle. Kafka creates a character that is realistic, seemingly simple, but with complex thoughts and emotions as his struggle progresses. Franz Kafka has created a character that resonates with readers that familiarize with his struggle; this is what makes his story such a success.

    Franz Kafka is clearly a masterful writer and completely unique in his style and approach to storytelling. He has reinvented a storyline that is seemingly ordinary if not overlooked and recreated in a hilarious, yet completely intricate drama. Kafka has created something that all readers can appreciate as the simplicity and ambiguity of the story allows for people to interpret Gregor’s tragic story in many different ways. Franz Kafka was blatantly purposeful in his creation of this obviously ridiculous storyline, because the symbolism that he creates and the characters that he invents allow the reader to experience and interpret this story for themselves. “The Metamorphosis” is just great writing; it will leave the reader feeling sad for the tragic hero, while laughing hysterically at the absurdity of the situation that Kafka creates. This book is a literal classic and is a story that will leave you feeling enlightened and slightly bemused, but ultimately more appreciative of life, family, and the personal humanity that each one of us has created for ourselves.

  • jorge robert
    17:08 on April 5th, 2012
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    For all the debate and argument over what this story means, the plot of the Metamorphosis is refreshingly simple. Gregor Sassma wakes up one morning and discovers that, over the course of the night, he’s been transformed into a giant insect. The rest of this novella deals with Gregor’s attempts to adjust to his new condition without providing a burden for his parents (who he has spent his life supporting and, it is made clear, veiw their son as little more than a commodity to be exploited) or for his sweet younger sister who Gregor views with an almost heart breaking affection. For his efforts to not bother society with his new insect identity, Gregor is both shunned and eventually destroyed by that same society, which of course now has little use for him. As dark as that plot outline may sound, what is often forgotten (or simply ignored) is that the Metamorphosis is — in many ways — a comic masterpiece. Instead of engaging in a lot of portentous philosophizing, Kafka tells his bizarre tell in the most deadpan of fashions. Ignoring the temptation to come up with any mystical or scientific explanations, Kafka simply shows us that Gregor has become an insect and explains how the rest of his short life is lived. This detached, amused tone makes the story’s brutal conclusion all the more powerful.

    As well, for all the theories on what Kafka’s “saying” with this story, the reasons behind Gregor’s transformation are not all that complicated or hard to figure out. Kafka, as opposed to too many other writers since, declines to spell out the specific reasons but still makes it clear that Gregor (and by extension, all the other Gregors in the world) had allowed himself to become a powerless insect long before actually physically turning into one. As someone who as selflessly sacrificed whatever independence he may have had to support his uncaring parents and their attempts to live an “upper class” life without actually having to suffer for it, Gregor has already willingly given up all the unique traits that make one a human. For me, even more disturbing than Gregor’s fate, is Kafka’s concluding suggestions that, now that Gregor has outlived his usefulness, his parents will now move on to his innocent sister. In short, despite the example of Gregor’s own terrible fate, society will continue on its way with the majority of us giving up our own humanity to support the whims of a select few.

    From the brilliant opening lines all the way to its hauntingly deadpan conclusion, The Metamorphosis is a powerful and satirical indictment of the bourgeois condition. Over the past few decades, the term Kafkaesque has been tossed around with a dangerous lack of discretion. It seems any writer who creates an absurd or dark trap for his main character ends up being labeled Kafkaesque. However, as this story especially makes clear, Franz Kafka was more than just an adjective. He was a unique and individual writer whose brilliance cannot be easily duplicated.

  • John Baxter
    20:02 on April 5th, 2012
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    I was immediately surprised at how short this book really is. It’s not for someone who likes to “get into” a book. It goes straight into Gregor Samsa waking up as a giant roach. Although it takes a few pages to fully realize that the story has already begun without any introduction whatsoever, this was a great book to read. Kafka has wonderfully vivid details (even though most of them are a bit more than I would want to know about roaches) and he finds a way to make readers feel pity for a giant roach. Make sure to catch the way Kafka transitions the names of Samsa’s family. They go from “Greta” (his sister) and “mother” and “father”, to “his sister, mother and father”, and finally “the sister”, “the mother”, “the father”. Even though it somehow leaves you feeling guilty for being disgusted at the thought of a giant roach, Metamporhosis was a great story.

  • nedendir
    21:28 on April 5th, 2012
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    This is a great story but very short, just 55 pages long. There is a cottage industry of sorts that has grown up trying to interpret the meaning of the story. I will skip that in my review and leave that to others.

    First things first. The present book is ISBN 0553213695 and it was reissued in 2004 with the same ISBN number. If you look carefully at the “product details” listed above you will see a description for the old book published in 1972 with the same ISBN number. It has been replaced, and I received and read the newer version. It is a bit shorter than the original, just 195 versus 224 pages. It is translated by Stanley Corngold.

    This is a famous and brilliant short story. For example, Nabokov selected this story as one of seven novels in his 1950s European literature course that he taught at Cornell (see Nabakov: “Lectures on Literature”). This is not a novel, but just a short story. He thinks that the aims of Kafka were relatively modest here and it is primarily an entertaining story and probably free of any Freudian interpretations. However, he does spend about 34 pages analyzing the story, the style, and the structure; he tries to explain what it means. Also, Nabokov thinks that some of the translator’s words are not properly selected or are slightly confusing and those suggestions still apply to the current translation – as I checked this version against Nabokov’s notes – and it is probably a better book in German.

    As a general reader, I was disappointed with this particular version of the book. “The Metamorphosis” story itself is just 55 pages long and one in retrospect I thought that it was probably a bad buy for the avergae buyer. The rest of the 194 pages is given over to analysis and similar. If you want a better value, you should look at some of the collected works such as: “The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, and Other Stories” (Schocken Kafka Library), ISBN 0805210571, or “The Transformation (Metamorphosis) and Other Stories : Works Published During Kafka’s Lifetime,” 0140184783. Also, “The Great Short Works of Franz Kafka” ISBN: 0684800705.

    In any case, this is a brilliant story and it will not disappoint the reader.

  • cjinsd
    4:03 on April 6th, 2012
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    The Metamorphasis is rightly considered one of the best pieces of literature of the 20th Century. The story is ambiguous, but satisfying, and surprisingly easy to read. I’m glad I have my own copy of this excellent story.

    That said, the essays attached to this edition are not to my taste. For one thing, they all seem to approach the text from a Freudian point of view. To my mind, Freud was a sex-obscessed hack who could do no more than project his own insecurities onto his patients. Of course, your milage may vary.

    I’d reccomend getting a collection of Kafka’s short stories that includes The Metamorphosis rather than this book.

  • PaulTheZombie
    5:12 on April 6th, 2012
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    Kafka knew so well how to make us feel trapped, estranged and lonely like the characters in his stories. He struggled with anxiety and feelings of inferiority in his own life, and his writing expresses the passive realization that life is a dark and confusing nightmare where we in no way are masters of our destinies. A young travelling salesman, Gregor Samsa, wakes up one morning and realizes that he has been transformed into a giant bug. Having been the provider for his elderly parents and his adolescent sister, he is now forced to crawl around in his room all day, hiding his hideous self from the sister who brings him food, unable to communicate and barred from the world outside. It is a story about being dehumanized and alienated, of being useless and unwanted, of becoming a burden to oneself as well as to others. Kafka is such a phenomenal writer that the mere absurdity of the plot is completely overshadowed by the vivid and somehow realistic descriptions of the emotional and behavioral responses of Gregor and his family to the unreal situation. It is as if Kafka is telling us that this circumstance is no more strange or hopeless than the predicaments faced by the average family.

  • Obladi Oblada
    10:48 on April 6th, 2012
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    I enjoyed this book so much i read it one sitting. Kafka’s writing is fluid and easy-to-understand, yet after finishing the story it left me in a state of wonderment, and made me question whether Gregor Samsa actually turned into a cockroach or was just neurotic or in a state of psychosis. The Metamorphosis is different from other books i’ve read because of its element of the fantastic yet, in a sense, it seems so painfully real.

  • TrafficWarden
    11:13 on April 6th, 2012
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    Gregor Samsa, a normal, unassuming guy, wakes up one morning to find himself turned into a giant bug. And here we enter the mind of Franz Kafka. In not very many words, Kafka presents an extraordinarily complex work, that is not so much an aberration in the realm of classic literature, not so much an odd story, but a thought-provoking novella that poses many questions about existence, transformation, relationships, Jewish literature, feminism, and any other number of topics literary critics are all too happy to dissect. This is a very good story with no frills, just straightforward writing. You follow Gregor as he comes to terms with his new condition, a man trapped inside the body of a vermin. His family is appalled and bitterly rejects him, dehumanizing and abusing Gregor. They attempt to cope but never really succesed. A quiet, unassuming work that ends on an odd note that is both sad and joyous at the same time. Never has a work been examined more. And if you want to see what all the fuss having to do with a giant bug is about, read it and see for yourself.

  • John Baxter
    14:07 on April 6th, 2012
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    “When Gregor Samsa got up in the morning, he found himself transformed into a gigantic insect…” begins Kafka’s famous Metamorphosis. I believe this is the most famous first opening sentence in twentieth century literature. In the whole story, Kafka took no interest in explaning why Gregor was transformed into a gigantic insect. Instead, there are detail descriptions of the change of his life, his circumstances and relationship between him and the external world after his transformation: how he regressed into an insectile existence and how he alienated himself from his family. His sister brought food scrapes on a piece of newspaper, he was bound in his room and his father even threw apples at him after he ventured out of his room resulting in his fatal injury. Can anyone criticize Gregor’s family of the way they treat him? Whether it is right or not,I believe one of the main themes in the story is when you become a gigantic insect, you do behave like a gigantic insect and the world will treat you as a gigantic insect. The full horror of this story sinks in when nearly everyone can be transformed into a gigantic insect at anytime; like phyical and mental illnesses, accidents and injuries, degenerative and terminal illnesses, etc. There will be no explanation given no matter how unfair this transformation is done to an individual person. Finally, Gregor believed that it was reasonable for him to die for the best interest of his family. I felt so sad after I finished the book. Is everyone undergoing a process of metamorphosis either slowly or quickly?

  • nedendir
    15:33 on April 6th, 2012
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    Metamorphoses isn’t one of the worst books I have read, but it certainly isn’t one of the best books I read either. I found the psychological aspects and how it related to his life more interesting than the plot itself. I recomend reading a little bit about Kafka’s life so that you can understand the psychological aspects and how Kafka uses Gregor to show some of his own feelings.

  • cjinsd
    22:08 on April 6th, 2012
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    The Metamorphosis / 0-553-21369-5

    When I was in 9th grade, my somewhat harried teacher attempted to assign me Ovid’s “Metamorphosis” (a collection of Greek myths) and instead assigned me Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”. Kafka’s tale is short but packed with vivid symbolism in which a young man inexplicably wakes up one day as a large roach creature and subsequently fails to turn back into a man. After a confusing night with the novel, I reported back to the befuddled teacher, and she substituted another book, much to my young relief.

    Years later, I now re-read Kafka with an adult’s awe and appreciation, rather than the child’s confusion. The novel is packed with deep symbolism and, even now, I could not tell you with confidence what it “means”. I believe the story is of being trapped in a family that does not appreciate you, except for what you can do for them, and I believe the sad ending masks an even sadder one – that the young daughter will soon become the new symbolic ‘roach’ to the family, bringing in resources but never loved or appreciated. However, I have heard other interpretations, each meaningful and special. I recommend this book, but the first read through should be with a light eye, not questioning the strangeness nor looking too hard for meaning. Rather, I think Kafka is best when you allow the impressions to kind of wash over you as you go.

    ~ Ana Mardoll

  • Now what?
    6:35 on April 7th, 2012
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    Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is one of the greatest works of short fiction ever written, and one of the 20th century’s major literary works. The key to its fame and last greatness is its deeper mystery, i.e., its multi-dimensionality. It is a short, quick read that a good reader can probably finish in an hour or two: I read it intermittently, while waiting at doctor’s offices, barber shops, and the like. However, the great thing about the story is that, though it is short and sweet, one can delve much deeper than its surface meaning — though, as Oscar Wilde said, one does so at one’s peril. Many of the events in the story that might be expanded upon in a longer, novel-length work — why and how the metamorphosis happened, etc. — are not even touched upon in this work. Furthermore, unlike many writers who shove the moral of their story down the reader’s throat, Kafka, perhaps seeing in advance the notion that “writers with a message should use Western Union”, leaves everything open to individual interpretation. This mysterious, ambiguous quality of the work is the key to its greatness and is the reason behind its longevity. One senses that the work has a deep, profound meaning and moral behind it, but it is written, as most great works are, in such a way as to leave it open to differing interpretations and analyses. The story can be viewed in many different ways: as an allegory, a masterpiece of symbolism, a messiah story, a parody of traditional Jewish folklore, a depressing, or a quasi-autobiographical tale, among others; Freudians can also have a field day with the text. For proof of the story’s adaptability and elasticity, one has only to read through the various critical essays that follow the text (the book, in addition to the original text, is also lavished with useful materials such as an introduction, extensive notes, and a multitude of essays). Some of these essays are quite ridicilous and far-fetched; others are very well-thought-out and extremely interesting, giving one new insight into the work. If you have not yet read this masterpiece of world literature, then you owe it to yourself to do so; this is the edition to get.

  • Ripel
    8:28 on April 7th, 2012
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    In the book Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, the main character Gregor Samsa deals with the trouble of waking up to becoming a dung beatle. I believe that Kafka wrote metamorphosis on a different level then its rather elementary outershell.I believe that Gregor’s struggle is an exaggerated form works with differences in people in the world and I believe that that’s what Kafka was trying to accomplish in his writing of this sci fi book. Over decades and decades, people have been judged by the way the look or their creed or their color of their skin. I believe this book symbolizes the way people react to unique forms of characteristics of people.

    I enjoyed this book because of Gregor’s struggle with this change in his life even if it was a bit obtuse. As the story unravels you find out that in a fit of rage his father handicaps him, which is another weakness that he has to deal with. The story deals with coping with a handicap and is not the kind of “happy ” stories that we have today. I believe that this book is a bit boring when it comes to its science fiction meanings but when you look at it as an abstract thought the book is well written and sends a great message. I would recommend this book to someone who is interested in taking a book on levels and not for the first level. If you are looking for a great science fiction book I would stay with a Bradbury book.

  • Juana Cruz
    11:48 on April 7th, 2012
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    For the reader new to Kafka as a writer, there is a lot of baggage to be thrown off: everything implied by the cliche ‘Kafkaesque’ we’ve gathered from films, other books and the like (alienation, angst, modern man and the Absurd, the terror of totalitarian bureaucracy, etc.); everything, in other words, that has made a caricature of an original vision.

    So, for the first-time reader of Kafka, there are some pleasant surprises in ‘the Metamorphosis’. The novella is often very funny – Gregor’s orientation to his condition (he enjoys running up the walls and hanging off the ceiling) and the reaction of his family and manager provoke some priceless farcical set-pieces. It is a Gothic story – about a salesman who turns into a monstrous vermin, and the aghast reaction of his family; there are some unexpected frissons in the story we would normally expect from the horror genre. It is a portrait of a complacent middle-class family in decline, a la Galsworthy, or a study of the artist in an impoverished family with a weak but aggressive father, like Joyce’s ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’. There are even elments of sentimental melodrama in the way Kafka loads up the sympathy for his monster in the face of almost caricatured hostility – I found myself welling up once or twice.

    This is not to diminish Kafka’s dark and frightening vision, just to suggest how much of his art depends on play, with narrative modes and genres, with narration, with reader’s expectations. The horror, anxiety, unease, if you like, is actually quite marginal on the surface – the oppressive vastness of his familiar bedroom as perceived by Gregor in his new form; the endless vista of an adjacent hospital. It’s under this surface that the true anxiety lies – the gaps in the narration, the unreliability of Gregor’s perceptions and interpretations, the ambiguity of Kafka’s language, the witholding and gradual unfolding of details. There don’t seem to be any mirrors in the Samsa household, but the story is full of mirror-like tableaux – the portrait of the lady in furs; the photo of Gregor as a young soldier; the image of domestic life viewed every evening by Gregor in darkness.

    If only all classics were treated with the respect of this edition. the translation is mostly smooth and fresh, with occasionally clumsy constructions and jarring Americanisms (are there really trolleys and foyers in Kafka’s world?). The critical apparatus provides endless intellectual nourishment – manuscript revisions revealing the precision of Kafka’s writing; an account of the story’s genesis, creation and background through letters, diaries and related Kafka works; and seven critical essays from perspectives as varied as feminism, psychoanalysis, new-historicism and linguistics, some infected by the usual blights of literary criticism (e.g. undigested globs of French theory making argument and prose impenetrable; distortion of text to produce biased interpretaions), but which insightfully open up the astonishing density and ambiguity of a 40-page fable, offering ingenious, mutually excluxive, even contradictory readings that are all very plausible, and yet ultimately miss Kafka’s elusive enigma.

  • John Baxter
    14:43 on April 7th, 2012
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    A thickly philosophical novel that frustrates and challenges one’s sense of self and independence. I will not try to add to the canon of literary analysis that has already been heaped upon this famous book, but it is safe to say that it will hit every reader differently. Some will love it for its achingly lonely narrative, and others will withdraw from it for the same reason. I thought that while at times it was ponderous, mostly it endures as a story about universal feelings of isolation and helplessness.

  • eliteuser
    20:44 on April 7th, 2012
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    Metamorphosis is one of the most famous works in 20th C literature, and possibly has the most memorable opening lines in the history of story telling, – ‘As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning after disturbing dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into an enormous insect’. The standard interpretation of this allegorical tale is that Gregor’s transformation from hard working travelling salesman, providing for his family, to a grotesque useless insect that provokes disgust and pity and ultimately rejection by his family, represents physical disability, and society’s treatment of it. I can see this in the story, but I read Kafka as essentially portraying his nightmare of the barrier between the public and personal inner world being removed. The private mental life, with its sensitive and raw secrets, its ugly and embarrasing little features, the desires and instincts that we strive to keep hidden, and/or are forced to repress. The bug is the embodiment of the ugly and raw inside turned out, exposed for all the world to see. Particularly nightmarish for Gregor (kafka) is the fact that those who see are those he loves and whose rejecton he fears most of all – his family.

  • Dagmar Naguin
    7:03 on April 8th, 2012
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    Professor Stanley Korngold translates Franz Kafka’s novella, “The Metamorphosis” (1915), and edits this Norton Critical Edition. Even though Korngold’s translation was done in 1971, it stands as an excellent idiomatic rendition of the original German manuscript. Korngold includes in this volume a section entitled “Kafka’s Manuscript Revisions,” which reflects more recent German scholarship. Korngold’s page-by-page annotations to the novella elucidate details which serve to clarify the text for close readings. Following the novella, (“Die Verlandlung,” in German), is a section of pertinent exerpts of Kafka’s Letters and Diaries. The next section of the volume, “Criticism,” contains a collection of seven essays, which were written between 1970-1995. A Chronology of Kafka’s life and work and a Selected Biography are also included.

    Professor Korngold has done a masterful job with this edition of “The Metamorphosis.” Kafka’s masterpiece, according to Korngold, “…is perfect, even as it incessantly provokes criticism.” For the transformation of Gregor Samsa into the “monstrous vermin” disturbs readers who want and need to “control” the text. To do otherwise is to accept the hopelessness that is at the center of Samsa’s existence. For the uninitiated readers, who are often first-year university students in required literature courses, “The Metamorphosis” often defies facile interpretation. Thus, the critical essays, which include poststructuralist, psychoanalytic, feminist, cultural, and historicist literary theories about the novella, are very helpful to frustrated students who may have been given essay assignments. Of particular note is Korngold’s critical discussion of Kafka’s “literalization of the metaphor.”

    My suggestion is to read “The Metamorphosis” first (in this excellent Korngold translation) and to note one’s immediate reactions to the text. Then, one can explore the other sections of this critical edition at one’s leisure. Finally, one can re-read the text again. (“The Metamorphosis” is short enough that it can easily be read in one sitting.)

    This Norton Critical Edition is highly recommended for inclusion in first-year university literature curriculae, as well as for AP high school English or World Literature courses. Franz Kafka was one of the literary geniuses of the twentieth century, and “The Metamorphosis” is an excellent introduction to his writings.

  • Seano
    11:59 on April 8th, 2012
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    Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis takes on life through the eyes of a man, transformed into an insect. This intriguing tale of heartbreak and misery reveals a man’s struggle with his newfound life. Unfortunately, life isn’t quite as easy as he hoped it would be. Follow along and see the difficulties this man, Gregor Samsa, faces as he attempts to cope with his new form, from his family to his incredibly vital job, and learn what it’s like to be a bug.

  • Jolynn Ordona
    16:25 on April 8th, 2012
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    A nice short story; it’s only about 50 pages in this bantam classics edition with the rest of the 100+ pages devoted to critical essays and documents. This work is considered a masterpiece of the 20th century literature; this book and Kafka’s other works have influenced the who’s who of the literature world. However, I haven’t really understood the reason for the magnitude of importance ascribed to this work. Vladimir Nabokov in his notes says, “If Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” strikes anyone as something more than an entomological fantasy, then I congratulate him on having joined the ranks of good and great readers.”. It does strike me as more than an entomological fantasy, but I’m still missing something. Perhaps, there are more symbolisms to be uncovered, perhaps I need to read it a few more times, perhaps I need to understand Kafka’s background better (I did read a bit about his relationship with his father), perhaps…?

  • TrafficWarden
    16:50 on April 8th, 2012
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    This is the type of story no one would set out to read, yet when read, the fruits of the book are bountiful. The story is layered with meanings that anyone can relate to. It is about a traveling salesman alienated by his own family when they found him transformed into a large bug. It can be taken in so many ways, I recommend it to anyone who is willing to relate to a bug!

  • John Baxter
    19:44 on April 8th, 2012
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    Perhaps the first writer, or at least the first effectivewriter, to express the anxieties and alienation of 20th-century societies, Franz Kafka was born July 3, 1883 in Prague into a middle-class Jewish family. His father — an ambitious, materialistic tyrant –overshadowed much of Kafka’s work as well as his existence. Kafka was a charming, intelligent, and humorous individual, but he found his routine office job and the exhausting double life into which it forced him (for his nights were frequently consumed in writing) to be excruciating torture, and his deeper personal relationships were neurotically disturbed.

    First published in 1915, this is the story of Gregor Samsa, a young traveling salesman who lives with and financially supports his parents and younger sister. One morning he wakes up to discover that during the night he has been transformed into a “monstrous vermin” or insect. At first he is preoccupied with practical, everyday concerns: How to get out of bed and walk with his numerous legs? Can he still make it to the office on time?

    Soon his abilities, tastes, and interests begin to change. No one can understand his insect-speech. He likes to scurry under the furniture and eat rotten scraps of food. Gregor’s family, horrified that Gregor has become an enormous insect, keep him in his bedroom and refuse to interact with him. This is a great short story representing modern man and the modern life… END

  • Karla Shelton
    1:06 on April 9th, 2012
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    If you’re reading this review, you probably have one of two things on your mind: A.) whether to read The Metamorphosis, or B.) whether to buy this particular edition of The Metamorphosis. I can answer question A pretty easily–you probably should read it. It’s a classic story and a reasonably short one (58 pages in this edition), and many people have to read it at some point during high school or college anyway, so you might as well not be left behind. The book moves quickly, and the writing is straightforward and clear–although you could probably spend days debating the story’s meaning.

    As for question B–which edition to buy–I’m no expert on the various versions of Kafka that have come out over the years, but I can tell you a little about what this one has to offer. The story ends on page 58, while the book goes up to page 201, and the page numbers don’t include the introduction. What fills up all this extra space? The Bantam Classic edition includes selected letters and diaries by Kafka that are relevant to the Metamorphosis (including some highly self-critical diary entries by Franz Kafka himself, e.g. “I am now reading ‘The Metamorphosis’ at home and find it bad,” and “Great antipathy to ‘Metamorphosis.’ Unreadable ending. Imperfect almost to the foundation. . . .”) This edition also includes “Explanatory Notes to the Text,” which appear after the text itself, and quote various critics in order to explain certain lines of The Metamorphosis. Unfortunately, these notes are hard to use. In the text itself, there is no indication of which lines have an “explanatory note,” and in the “Notes,” no page number is given to help you find the explained words in the text itself. Thus, you either have to read the text, flipping to the back after every sentence or two to see if there is an “explanatory note,” or you have to read the “notes” and search within the text for the lines that are being explained.

    After the explanatory notes and letters/diaries, there are a series of critical essays. In my opinion, these won’t be of interest to the average reader, and some of the interpretations are laughable unless you buy into Freudian logic. For example, critic Hellmuth Kaiser claims that “the metamorphosis into a filthy insect represents a regression to anal fixations” (155) and that the protagonist wishes “to gain the father’s penis as a substitute for his own lost member” (156). Peter Dow Webster offers the following: “This initial conversion of the hero into the image of the dung beetle is followed by the inward discharge or abreaction of the castration fantasy, with progressive release, of the oral and anal fixations or cathexes, until a total phallic libido is achieved, as symbolized in the three priapic gentlemen, the restoration of the father and mother imagoes, and especially the nubility of the emancipated anima, Grete” (158). Riiiiight.

    In short, The Metamorphosis itself is worth reading. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to buy this particular edition, with its 140-something pages of questionable interpretations.

  • Satish KC
    5:47 on April 9th, 2012
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    Backdrop -
    This was my first Kafka story. I only picked it up because (a) There’s a lot of mystique surrounding the very sound “Kafka” (b) He’s one of the few whose name has been immortalised as a word in the english lexicon …i.e., “Kafkaesque”. I read this story , and others, while on my daily commute to Manhattan.
    Thoughts -
    I am usually leery of the quality of translated works, and being teutonically disadvantaged, cannot compare it to the Deutsch original.
    A very original creation, this. However, requires complete suspension of analysis and critical thinking. Requires the reader to possess blind faith in Kafka’s ultimate purpose.

    Kafka, the master of “non-disclosure, non-closure”, starts the story on an outlandish note .. that of Gregor Samsa, the protagonist, waking up one day, having metamorphed into a LARGE insect of sketchy description.

    This discovery is met with different degrees of revulsion from his family, whilst he continues to have kind thoughts of them. He is kept sequestered and fed leftovers and rotting remains (something Gregor the Human would have abhorred, but Gregor the Insect loves).

    Gregor’s life is one steep descent from here on, and it proceeds within the laws of some unstated logic. This story could be a parable – that Gregor has done something so heinous that he’s now an “insect” in the eyes of the world. But that is just my desperate attempt at justifying this work – nothing in the story suggests anything but factual narrative.

    Conclusion -
    No reasons or explanations are offered, no attempt at placating the readers’ curiosity about this unusual occurrence.
    “Incompletion is a quality of his work, a facet of his nobility” said John Updike of Kafka. In Updike’s words, Kafka “abjures aesthetic finish and takes asceticism to the next level, where he is kept company by Pound and Salinger”.
    There’s no relief whatsoever in the story – intellectual, moral or emotional. The story rushes headlong to its conclusion. At the end there is an obliquely optimistic note, in the way the female character (Gregor’s sister) seemingly shrugs off this incident and braces for the future.

    For readers like myself, brought up on more “user-friendly” writing, his style is quite hard to get down. But, it is useful in an archeo-literary kind of way – that is, if you want to study the literary layer called avant-gardism.

  • webdiva
    15:18 on April 9th, 2012
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    Metamorphosis is a book that has been written about the dramatic change one man must go through. It relates to all the pain his family must endure as well as he must endure physically and mentally. The whole book is written as a metaphor in relation to his terminal illness. The book starts in action when he awakes to dicover he is not well anymore. I thought that this was a very descriptive story. It allows you a visual picture of what is going on. I recommend this book to anyone who likes dramas.

  • Ripel
    17:11 on April 9th, 2012
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    Most of my reading time is consummed in the world of non-fiction, but I picked this book up on advice of a friend, and found it to be most enjoyable. A reading group or a college instructor would have been helpful to ellucidate upon the symbols in this novella, but I believe it fits well with other books, works of art, and ballets produced during this time that grapple with the modern world, and its dehumanizing qualities.

    Indeed, the discomfort of Gregor’s transformation seems indicative of the discomfort felt when the human heart is wedged into a world of machines, numbers, and efficiency standards. However, apart from this symbolism, I most enjoyed the lucidity of Kafka’s prose and the structure and design of his story. Metamorphosis is the perfect form of a short story.

  • Markoc
    19:38 on April 9th, 2012
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    Kafka stuns me. In the time it takes most writers to write a chapter, introduce a character, or illustrate a setting, Kafka lucidly conveys the sincere emotions associated with 20th century dissolutionment–and writes a damn good story. In 60 pages!

    This book is even quicker than it’s 60 pages implies. The words flow and you will be drawn in. I truly felt sorry for Gregor, I wanted his sister to recognize him. This book begins weird and I was not sure about it. Even as it progressed, I was wary of its path. When Gregor first retreated to under the couch and put the sheet over him, it hit me hard. This poor, helpless man was hated by everyone, for being who he was. This book told me as much about the human condition as books ten times it’s length.

    ADVICE: Spend 2 hours of your life and read this book. Then think for 2 days about it.


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