Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Book Report #1 - Classics Challegne

Title: Metamorphosis
Author: Franz Kafka
Translator from
German to English:

Micheal Hofmann

Genre: Classic, Novella
1st Pub. 1915
2006; Red Penguin Classics

ISBN: 0141023457
# of Pages: 79

Began Reading:
January 1st, 2007

Finished Reading:
January 1st, 2007

Y'all know how this book fell into my lap - yes the psycho who yelled at me in Indigo for reading Shopaholic. (see blog post Blame it on Booklogged). M says I should be ashamed of my reading choice, but since she seems to be embarrassed enough for the both of us, I won't let the shame or guilt get to me this time. Christ, I have enough holiday family drama in my life that I couldn't take blogger criticism right now, guys. ;)

It's About: Gregor's your average civilian: lives with his parents and sister, works everyday by driving the streets and selling. His pride is in providing for his family and supporting them, allowing them the luxury or retirement and eduction. His pleasure the fact that he can surprise them this coming Christmas with news that he will send his sister to the conservatory and she will not have to worry about the expense.

Then comes the day when Gregor awakes & realizes his body has transformed into a gigantic insect-like-being.

His family does not realize that he can understand them, that his capabilities to speak and write may have left but that his mind and memories are intact. Presuming their son has completely metamorphosed, they lock him in his room where he spends his days climbing the ceiling and eating rotten cheese. A dark cloud comes over the family as all three members are forced to seek employment and take in tenants - all which in one way or another become effected by the presence of the Insect Son. The so-called tragic ending frees Gregor of his guilt and the family of their burden.

Comments: It definitely improved as I read along, though I cannot claim to have fully understood it. As I read on, I began to appreciate the writing style as well. Kafka's sentences are direct, his language transparent. Slightly confusing was the strength and steadiness of Gregor's emotions for his family, as they begin to abuse and reject him. Despite his ill treatment, he remains positive and devoted. Is this a commentary on how some who live- like Gregor-are so useless? So unnecessary? There is not a single character one loves or hates or really even FEELS anything towards in this piece. An odd sensation that I have never before experienced with a book.

Best Part: "And it felt like a confirmation of their new dreams and their fond intentions when, as they reached their destination, their daughter was the first to get up, and stretched her nubile young body." page 79

Worst Part: The beginning. Why the hell would I care about a guy who becomes a beetle? I think the reason it never tickled my imagination is that it seems to me that the book is not really about the story or Gregor Samsa as a character but about some message that Kafka wanted to convey. It is funny when one hears a young adults book criticized for being two dimensional: 'For though the great idea is there, the language is lacking.' Well here, although the idea and the language are present the passion is not. The drive, the heart, the id!!! He just doesn't seem like th A-list party guy.

Why is it a Classic?: Well, talk about shooting myself in the foot. It turns out that there are more than 130 interpretations recorded of this short work. The Samsa family has been an inspiration in comics, aesthetics, film, and other works of literature - even children's. Using a title nearly identical to Ovid's Metamorphoses, Kafka also borrows the concept of transformation but that's where the similarity stops. While Ovid explores the action of change and fluidity, it seems that Kafka places his emphasis on the consequences tied to the body and mind of the 'hero'. The reaction to the event, and not the event itself, is the focus here. The themes of guilt, family duty, the economics in personal relationships, entrapment - all these shine through the tale of the Samsa Family and Gregor, their son. My own thoughts on this post reading/pre-minor research was that Kafka's hero, Gregor, seemed to suffer from the social hierarchy. Gregor has a position to fill as that of being the son in the family: he is care-giver both by supporting the family financially and through his emotive concerns for his sibling and parents. Throughout, he is concerned with the effects his physical state has on them. His family rarely thinks about him and what has occured to him - their focus is on what this means to their own lives. The father twice considers to simply kill squish 'the bug' but is stopped by wife and daughter for to kill 'it' would mean all hope of Gregor's return would be lost.

Gregor's concern for the family was almost unnatural - it created a distance between the reader and the him for the sympathy can not be shared when the individuals it is for are so undeserving. However the position that Gregor is in, the fact that it is the responsibility of the child to make such sacrifice - my original conclusion was that Kafka's comments were more about the politics of family more so than economics. Gregor does give monetary comfort but he also provides emotional support to his sibling and practical support in running the household affairs. His position calls for him to take all the responsibility without the privileges of being 'head of the house'.

But all you have to do is google the title and author's name and you will see for yourself the gazillion conclusions and reactions this short piece has conjured up (some listed above). Reason enough to be called a classic, wouldn't you agree? Toc-tac-toe isn't fun once you have figured out the rule which has you winning every time. But chess and go... the infinitum of these - like Metamorphesis - is why the passion continues till today.

Recommend to: This is difficult. The political content and social critic would appeal to those who are looking for fresh presentation on the subject - a new perspective. Like Voltaire's Candide, Kafka is using the fantastic to explore worldly themes. The imaginative elements become secondary to the consequences of the events. Considering the length and importance - this work is considered to the one of the most important of Kafka - I would say that everyone should read it. It isn't as much a book to enjoy as it is a work to discuss and debate. Perhaps here again is where institutional education carries worth. Even in a book club, there isn't the director or coordinator that jumps into the work exploring practical and theoretical application. Here however I'll paraphrase from Said's text Orientalism when he write that all literary texts, no matter their content, must and should have that 'entertainment' element. Hence why it is so difficult to pin point exactly who to recommend this to.

Cool Fact: Kafka worked as an insurance broker. Peter Drucker in his book Managing in the Next Society spoke of how Kafka instigated the usage of safety helmets amongst factory and construction workers. (Helmets till then were used only during combat) Kafka, at his death , had expressed that all of his works be burned. His wishes, obviously, were not considered. He died of starvation (as a consequence of his having tuberculosis; his throat was so swollen food could not pass) where as his sisters all died in concentration camps and ghettos during the war.

New Words: This is a new section that M frowns upon because she says I look like a dumb-ass. That's all right by me though. Basically, at the end I will list all the new words I learned by retyping the sentence they were in, followed by a definition of the word. Often while reading I can assume the meaning within the context but it's only after seeing it several times that I can reuse it in my own work/words. So, to speed up the process, I thought this exercise would ingrain it in my head and maybe, just maybe, spark a vocabulary interest of your own.

A) "There are some other travelling salesmen I could mention who live like harem women." page 3

B) "His father clinched his fist with a pugnacious expression, as if ready to push Gregor back into his room, then looked uncertainly round the living room, covered his hands and cried, his mighty chest shaking with sobs." page 18

C) "Rather as though there were no hindrance at all, he drove Gregor forward with even greater din; the sound to Gregor's ears was not that of one father alone; now it was really no laughing matter, and Gregor drove himself-happen what might against the door." page 25

D) "One side of his body canted up, he found himself lifted at an angle in the doorway, his flank as rubbed raw, and there were some ugly stains on the white door." page 25

E) "Once in the course of the long evening one of the side-doors was opened a crack, and once the other, and then hurriedly closed again; someone seemed to feel a desire to step inside, but then again had too many cavils about so doing." page 28

F) "These little red apples rolled on the floor as though electrified, often caroming into one another." Page 52

G) "Gregor's mother would tug at his sleeve, whisper blandishments in his ear, his sister would leave her work to support her mother, but all in vain." page 54

H) ".... a cashier in a hat shop whom he has courted assiduously, but far too slowly - ..." page 57

I) "Only sometimes, happening to pass the food that had been put out for him, he would desultorily take a morsel in his mouth, and keep it there for hours, before spitting it out again." page 60

10) "... because there was simply no more room in which to move, but later on with increasing pleasure, even though after such peregrinations he would find himself heart sore and weary to death, and wouldn't move for many hours." page 62

Hope your happy Booklogged! This is report number 1 of 5 for the Classics Challenge.


Sara said...

Thank you for growing my vocabulary!

Literary Feline said...

Nessie, you sure brought back memories with that review! Thank you for the great review.

nessie said...

Thanks Guys!

booklogged said...

I am happy, Nessie! This is a wonderful review - very thorough and well-written. I enjoyed your insights and love the vocab words. There were a few I knew, but more that I didn't.

I probably won't be able to start my first classic for another week. I need to read 2 books for book groups first. Won't I be embarassed if I don't complete the classics challenge?!

Framed said...

Interesting storyline, but not tempting to me. I liked reading your review though. You present your thoughts so well.