The Metamorphosis & Other Stories – Franz Kafka



Chosen by Rachel

Gregor Samsa awakens one morning to discover he has turned into a giant insect, in this 1915 novella. An establishing story in the existentialism genre.

“Gregor Samsa one day wakes to find he has turned into a dung beetle. His family is repulsed by him. His sister eventually offers feeble attempts to care for him, but it is clear that his family do not accept him when he is different from the breadwinning and ordinary man he once was. Kafka had a difficult relationship with his own father and this is detailed in the many letters he wrote to him, all of which were subsequently published.

“The unacceptance of a child who is different is a universal theme, but at the time The Metamorphosis was published, it was unheard of to express those emotions in such a metaphorical way. As such this short story become an establishing story in the existentialism genre and remains relevant today in the ways in which society judges groups and individuals for being unique.

“The other short stories we read for this bookclub meet where In A Penal Colony and A Country Doctor.

“In the former an explorer tours an island which has become famous for its capital punishment machine, which tattoos apt words and phrases into the skin until the person dies. Though there is an obvious pointer to the themes of justice and guilt and implementation of the law, In A Penal Colony is considered to be an allegory comparing the Old and New Testaments and therefore a shift in the relationship between human existence and divine law. Whatever the case, an examination of the treatment of people, both just and unjust, can be taken from this text.

“In the latter, a country doctor leaves for an emergency on a winter’s night, only to face a series of surreal and absurd predicaments. His horse dies but a groom appears from nowhere to offer him two magnificent replacements. Without riding them he is suddenly in the patient’s room and at first can find no emergency, only to then discover serious illness and then find himself in place of the patient, the horses with their heads in the window neighing frantically.

“Lacking the ability to assess and react to situations, the doctor allows himself to be manipulated by the groom, the family, and the horses. By submitting he becomes a tool, never, attempting to resist.

As doctor he is a thing, an object, a tool; as man he is nothing.

“None of us had read Kafka before this bookclub meet (shame on us!) and we realised how much these stories make so much contemporary literature make sense. We are indebted to Kafka for his own brilliant fiction but should also be for the influence he’s had on many celebrated modern writers. The stories in themselves are extreme and ask you as the reader to be willing to accept impossible possibilities and look for deeper meaning. If you can do this, these stories are extraordinary.”

Published 1915
Kurt Wolff Verlag, Leipzig
52 pages

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