Critical Insights: The Metamorphosis

Critical Insights Series

The series focuses on an individual author's entire body of work, a single work of literature, or a literary theme.

At a Glance
  • 1 Volume; 300 Pages
  • 10-14 essays offering Current Critical Analysis by Top Literary Scholars
  • Introductory Essay by the Editor
  • Chronology of Author's Life
  • Complete List of Author's Works
  • Publication Dates of Works
  • Detailed Bio of the Editor
  • General Bibliography
  • General Subject Index
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Editor: James Whitlark, Texas Tech University
September 2011 · 1 volume · 360 pages · 6"x9"

Includes Online Database with Print Purchase
ISBN: 978-1-58765-840-2
# of Pages: 360
# of Volumes: 1
Print List Price: $105
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e-ISBN: 978-1-58765-892-1
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The Metamorphosis is certainly Franz Kafka's most famous novella. Essays include a new, lengthy biography of the author. Other essays include a discussion of the cultural and historical context of the work, the structure and function of self-alienation, Kafka's metaphor for extreme alienation, and a selective survey of the critical reception of The Metamorphosis.

Approximately a hundred years ago, Franz Kafka composed his most famous novella, The Metamorphosis. The story is a psychological catalyst, transforming whoever contacts it, therefore always different, always up to date. Largely through The Metamorphosis the very name of Kafka is so well known "Kafkaesque" has become a general adjective. So much has been written about or inspired by The Metamorphosis that this volume appropriately provides not merely essential data about it but also an understanding of how it has been affecting readers.

A simple example of the novella's application to the present is the article about fear of the Other generated by the 2001 attack on the Twin Towers. Here, Kafka's The Metamorphosis best exposes and laughs away such fear, thus being capable of teaching teenagers empathy for the demonized: Moslems, the physically challenged, foreigners, homosexuals, etc. After all, Kafka's novella represents an extreme: an insect-like monster presented sympathetically; if readers can feel for him, they may be able to extend that tolerance. The basic premise is that The Metamorphosis is about the "unspeakable": all the elements of our society that are denied a voice because of psychological repression and social suppression.

This Critical Insight considers the impact Kafka's work has had on the Nobel-Prize Winner, Ellie Wiesel and his Night. Another essay shows quite coherently how The Metamorphosis protagonists' absolutely overmatched, hopeless struggle resembles the plight of homosexuals a la Freud. During the era of Freud and Kafka, prejudice was so intense that Freud found homosexuals seeing the whole world against them, their Adversary, imaged as the Father (in a period somewhat more patriarchal than our own).

The Metamorphosis exposes the everyone-against-me feeling that even more recently has inspired an epidemic of teen suicides. It can be read as a cautionary tale against falling into that bleak view, however provoked. Gregor could always have tried to communicate with his family by scratching words in the ever-present filth surrounding him or by other means. If he had read The Metamorphosis, he might have been motivated to do more than merely gesture irritably and obscurely. The Metamorphosis communicates how dreadful is the collapse of communication, and thus whets the appetite for communication while providing a model for articulating that break.

Taking this idea further, another essay demonstrates that The Metamorphosis shows the alienation caused by miscommunication. Kafka has not literalized the notion of human as bug because neither that notion nor almost any other use of that inherently slippery medium, language, can be quite literal or simple. He lures us into trusting it and then again and again leaves us like his own anthropomorphic insect, upturned and without a way.

The Metamorphosis is certainly not a literal portrait of anything. It represents being neglected and otherwise abused, so that an understandable response is to notice people like the reader (whoever that reader may be) undergoing a similar fate.

Kafka's personal situation remains very relevant. Since autobiography is so pervasive in The Metamorphosis, this volume includes a new, brief biography of him by one of the premiere Kafka scholars of our age. Importantly, this judicious and well-balanced portrait begins by warning that despite being highly autobiographical, The Metamorphosis is ultimately a work of the imagination, its nature and value belonging to that domain.

Another analysis, of the novella's literary sources, also serves an essential purpose. It notes that early interpretations of The Metamorphosis wanted a work that could be studied in relative isolation and thus severed it from the literary evolutions of which it was a part (e.g., the development of psychological fiction).

A reprinted article, written near the end of the Cold War, noted how the novella almost mirrors Marxist theories to which Kafka had been much exposed. A current one takes the complementary opposite, not a nineteenth-century theory brought forward to Kafka's work, but a twenty-first century one traced to roots in The Metamorphosis.

The Metamorphosis imagines a conflation between human and animal, which may have been a step toward this larger blurring between animate and near-animate dynamic systems. Seen in terms of the latter, The Metamorphosis cannot be reduced to being a mere self-depiction by its author or anything else static.

Each essay is 5,000 words in length, and all essays conclude with a list of "Works Cited," along with endnotes. Finally, the volume's appendixes offer a section of useful reference resources:

A chronology of the author's life
A complete list of the author's works and their original dates of publication
A general bibliography
A detailed paragraph on the volume's editor
Notes on the individual chapter authors
A subject index