Notes and Questions on Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" /
"The Transformation" / "Die Verwandlung" (Hofmann trans.
in The Norton Anthology of World Literature)
Die Verwandlung / "The Metamorphosis" / "The Transformation"
This novelette also has the title of "The Transformation" (e.g., in the translation by Malcolm Pasley). As pointed out by translator and editor M.A. Roberts, "The German title of Kafka's work is actually Die Verwandlung, which . . . means The Transformation. The first English translations of the [work] named it The Metamorphosis, and it [generally] has been called this ever since. Although metamorphosis has relevance to the story because it is a type of change that some insects undergo, the German word for this change (die Metamorphose) is not what Kafka actually titled the [work]" (p. 71). Translator Corngold also cites the possibility of the title "The Transformation" in a note at the beginning of his translation included in his Norton Critical Edition translation (1996).
Chronological Listing of English Translations of Die Verwandlung
|A[lbert] L[ancaster] Lloyd, 1937||Joachim Neugroschel, 1993&1995||M.A. Roberts, 2005||Phillip Lundberg, 2009|
|Willa and Edwin Muir, 1948||Stanley Appelbaum, 1996||Michael Hofmann, 2007|
|Stanley Corngold, 1972; rpt. 1996 in a Norton Critical Edition||Donna Freed, 1996||David Wyllie, 2007|
|J[ames] A[mery] Underwood, 1981||Richard Stokes, 2002||William Aaltonen, 2009|
|Malcolm Pasley, 1992||Ian C Johnston, 2003||Joyce Crick, 2009|
Paragraphing for the Hofmann Translation (in The Norton Anthology of World Literature, Shorter Second Edition)
To apply the following Notes and Questions, paragraphs of each part will have to be numbered. Part 1 has 30 paragraphs; Part 2 has 29 paragraphs; and Part 3 has 38 paragraphs in the original German and in most English translations. (Click on the paragraph equivalences link below to get a detailed numbering of paragraphs.) The explanation of the mixture of translations referred to in my notes, my recorded lectures, and my test is that the Norton Anthology has been unusually mobile in the selection of what translation to use for Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" / "The Transformation." My recorded lectures, as well as some of my notes and test items, refer to the Muir translation (1948), which was used in The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, 4th edition -- as well as to the Corngold translation (1972), which was used in The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, 5th edition, and The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, Expanded One-Volume Edition; the Norton fickleness continues with the inclusion of the Hofmann translation (2007) in The Norton Anthology of World Literature, Shorter Second Edition, for which my various materials will try to make some accommodation.
Click here for paragraph equivalences among the Muir, Corngold, and Hofmann translations.
Differences Among English Translations
Important differences can be found among the various translations, starting with the title (see the note above about the difference between Die Verwandlung (Kafka's actual title) and die Metamorphose , as well as in the very first sentence of the work:
Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Traumen erwachte fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheuren Ungeziefer verwandelt. (Kafka)
(Literal) As Gregor Samsa one morning from restless dreams awoke, found he himself in his bed into an enormous vermin transformed.
(a) As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. (Muir, 1948)
(b) When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin. (Corngold, 1972)
(c) Gregory Samsa woke from uneasy dreams one morning to find himself changed into a giant bug. (Underwood, 1981)
(d) When Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from troubled dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous insect. (Pasley, 1992)
(e) One morning, upon awakening from agitated dreams, Gregor Samsa found himself, in his bed, transformed into a monstrous vermin. (Neugroschel, 1993/1995)
(f) When Gregor Samsa awoke from troubled dreams one morning, he found that he had been transformed in his bed into an enormous bug. (Appelbaum, 1996)
(g) As Gregor Samsa awoke from unsettling dreams one morning, he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin. (Freed, 1996)
(h) As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning out of restless dreams, he found himself in bed, transformed into a gargantuan pest. (Roberts, 2005)
(i) When Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from troubled dreams, he found himself changed into a monstrous cockroach in his bed. (Hofmann, 2007)
Of all these translations, Hofmann's is the most argumentative and wrong-headed, since the German word chosen by Kafka, Ungeziefer, which translator Roberts explains could be "pest" or "vermin" is not at this point more particularly identified. As noted by Roberts, "It is not until early in Part III, when the servant calls Gregor a dung beetle (German: Mistkafer) that Kafka gives a more specific idea about what sort of pest Gregor has become. There are some descriptive clues in Part I (numerous small legs, armored back, jaws), but the precise words for bug or roach (German: Insekt or Kakerlaker) are not mentioned. The servant, however, may not be entirely correct in identifying Gregor. The German word Ungeziefer in the first sentence, which we have [translated] pest, can sometimes be translated as vermin, but vermin more often means rat or other intrusive animal, rather than a bug" (p. 72). Joachim Neugroschel has the following analysis in his Introduction to his translation: "In the first sentence of 'The Metamorphosis' ('Die Verwandlung'), the reader slides through the casual tone, confronts the words ungeheuren Ungeziefer (monstrous vermin), and finally crashes into the concluding past participle verwandelt (transformed), which ties the whole sentence together, telling us what has happened to Samsa and explaining what the title means. 'Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Traumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheuren Ungeziefer verwandelt.' (Literally: As Gregor Samsa one morning from agitated dreams awoke, found he himself in his bed into a monstrous vermin transformed.) The final and ineluctable past participle, verwandelt, 'transformed,' is horrifyingly relentless. It makes the sentence -- and the story. Incidentally, Ungeziefer means 'vermin,' not 'insect,' which is either Insekt or Kerbtier in German; and while the adjective ungeheuer means 'enormous,' the noun Ungeheuer means 'monster'" (pp. xxi-xxii).
Victoria Poulakis, Professor Emerita at North Virginia Community College, notes that "An added complication [in the first sentence of the work] familiar to most translators is that the word vermin has particular historical significance lacking in the words bug and insect. In the region where Kafka lived, Jewish people were often referred to, in times of persecution by anti-Semites, as Ungeziefer, or vermin. Sionce Kafka was himself Jewish, he was undoubtedly aware of this derogatory meaning of the word Ungeziefer -- but there's no way of knowing if he intended this meaning to apply to Gregor Samsa. Translators who feel he did intend to suggest it are more likely to use the word vermin in their translations; those who feel it's not an intended meaning may choose more easily-understood words like bug or insect." In the Bantam edition of his translation, Corngold has a two-page densely detailed note about the translation and implications of Kafka's original phrasing "ungeheuren Ungeziefer" in the novelette's first sentence. An important difference can be found in "as . . . awoke" versus "when . . . awoke," as well as the placement of reference to the location of the awakening -- the bed. This common object, the bed, is part of Kafka's continual "defamiliarization" in the novelette of common items in human experience (e.g., bed, door, window), not only suggesting how the ordinary world can become strange, but also how such items can become, or are, symbolic.
"his mother," "his father," "his sister" versus "the mother," "the father," "the sister" in English translations Freed notes that a particular storytelling device she has tried to incorporate is that "Kafka -- first -- and almost continually thereafter -- refers to Gregor's parents and sister as 'the mother,' 'the father,' and 'the sister.' Other translators have employed personal pronouns here (i.e. 'his mother,' etc.) probably because it seemed less formal and awkward in English. But it is awkward in the German text, and meant to be. It is an intentional device, serving to make immediately apparent Gregor's alienation from his family. And it soon comes to seem -- under Kafka's skillful guidance -- appropriate. At one point later in the story, however, it is 'his father' who kicks Gregor into the room; this usage is also intentional and is introduced because Gregor had previously seen his father as pathetic -- it was due to his father's business failure that Gregor had to work as a traveling salesman -- and his own father is now the very personal cause of his being banished from the family instead of their helping him, something he could not feel impersonal about" (pp. 216-217).
pronouns -- "it" versus "he" or "him" in referring to Gregor Samsa Professor Poulakis notes that English translations vary significantly in 3.17 through 3.25 about whether the pronoun referring to Gregor / the bug should be translated as "it" or "he / him." In 3.25, the Muirs translate the first sentence as "'He must go,' cried Gregor's sister"; Pasley translates "'He's got to go,' cried his sister"; and Roberts translates "'He must be sent away,' cried the sister." In contrast, Corngold, Neugroschel (whose translation has different paragraphing from all the others), Appelbaum, Freed, Hofmann all translate the pronoun as "it." As explained by Professor Poulakis, with reference to 3.25, "The original German version uses a pronoun which can be translated either way -- as he or it -- but such a pronoun doesn't occur in English, so translators must decide which one to use . . . and must also think about a slightly earlier part of the same conversation where Grete twice says 'we must try to get rid of it.' This sentence poses no problem because the German pronoun used here definitely means it. The manuscript of the story shows, in fact, that Kafka originally wrote 'We must try to get rid of him' -- then changed the pronoun him to it. So there's no doubt that he was fully aware of the significance of Grete's choice of pronoun. This leads some translators to conclude that it should be repeated in the later sentence -- 'It has to go.' Others feel that using he is preferable -- 'He's got to go' -- so that Grete won't seem to have completely forgotten that her brother was once human. It's possible that Kafka deliberately chose this ambiguous pronoun to reflect Gregor's dual identity, leaving the reader to decide whether Gregor is, finally, animal or human. Unfortunately for the translator, the English language doesn't allow this ambiguity -- so the translator is forced to make definite what Kafka may have wanted to remain uncertain."
Grammar and Sentence Length in the Original German Versus English Translations As noted in the introductions to some of the translations, and by Professor Poulakis, Kafka in the novelette uses some very long sentences, characteristic of the German language. Neugroschel notes that "In a German narrative, foreground (plot) and background are distinguished by the syntax: the often Ciceronian sentence tends to devote main clauses to the plot and relative clauses to the background (of course, given the multiple, often myriad, and sometimes even contradictory tasks of each grammatical element, this division of labor is never entirely strict). As a result, hypotaxis, or syntactic subordination, has a very different role in German, which clearly marks each subordinate clause not only with commas but also by shifting its verb to the very end, so that we can easily tell which clause is describing foreground and which, background. (Once again, this assignment of linguistic tasks is not always rigorous.) Similarly, whenever German offers a quick string of very brief sentences or main clauses, English would tend to subordinate some of them as present participles, which German seldom uses to introduce clauses, limiting participial clauses to extremely lofty, highfalutin diction. Confronted with the cat's cradles and Chinese boxes of German clauses, the American translator has to figure out when to use perfective, imperfective, or participial verbs in English: . . . to decide if a German clause or sentence (German uses the same word, Satz, for both concepts) is foreground or background, superordinate or subordinate -- or somewhere in between. Kafka learned [great German writer] Kleist's lesson about the anxiety created by intricate hypotaxis and the suspense of waiting for the verb to drop like the headsman's ax at the end of a long and harrowing sentence. Hard to duplicate in English" (pp. xx-xxi). Donna Freed notes in the Afterword of her translation that Kafka's "verbal structure . . . is often complex. This is due, in part, to the structure of the German language, which builds sentences -- often of astounding length -- in modular units. Kafka did make diligent and sometimes amusing -- and subversive -- use of this aspect of his native tongue. But some of the older English translations have become mired in those structural complexities. As a result, the stories have been made less available to the reader than they might otherwise have been. In an effort to cope with such difficulties, a proclivity has developed in contemporary American translation for rendering the original text as it might have been constructed if written by a contemporary American. Toward the end, modern idioms and rhythms are introduced. Sentence lengths and even paragraphs are restructured to embrace the American ear. Translators who employ this style feel this is the best way to bring the original across and keep it fresh. For the most part -- except where it would interfere with the reader's full understanding of the text -- I have maintained Kafka's sentence length and paragraph structure in this translation, as I feel that both are strategic elements of his writing style. At the same time, I have tried to alleviate those difficulties within his sentence structure that arise merely because normal German and English word order are substantially different. I didn't find it necessary to sacrifice the rhythm and length of Kafka's sentences for the sake of clarity" (pp. 215-216).
General Notes and Questions
G1. As Cervantes' Don Quixote gave English the word quixotic, so the fiction of Franz Kafka gave English and literary criticism the word Kafka-esque. (A very funny takeoff on this word is to be found in the feature film Congo, based on the novel by Michael Crichton, in the scene where the less important members of a scientific party are being interrogated by a minor African army officer after explosions at the airport and the party's theft of a truck to pursue their mission. The allusion is more to Kafka's novels, particularly The Trial and The Castle. Astonishingly, a feature film has been made of each of these novels: The Castle, starring Maximilian Schell, was released in 1968, while The Trial, directed by Orson Welles and featuring several well-known movie stars such as Anthony Perkins and Jeanne Moreau, was released in 1962.) (See the photos of Franz Kafka, Kafka's house in Prague, and the Franz Kafka monument in Prague.)
G2. The sense of strangeness and dislocation within the framework of the ordinary has a modern art analogue in the paintings of René Magritte (see Magritte's Time Transfixed on Google.com's image search, for an example; a reproduction of this painting was to be found in an earlier edition of Stokstad's Art History). In modern art and literature, a term often used about the visual artist's or writer's depiction of the strangeness of, or in, the ordinary is "defamiliarization." How can this element also be found in many of the works illustrated in Chs. 41-44 of Sayre (first edition, 2008) or Chs. 34-37 of Sayre (second edition, 2012)?
G3. The instance of Franz Kafka brings up the issue of Jews in modern cultural history; which one of the Impressionist painters was Jewish (the painter is briefly discussed in the art history textbook; which one of the Impressionist painters -- also included in the art history textbook -- was notoriously anti-Semitic?); which Jew was one of the pioneers of modern psychology and the use of psychology to analyze culture and history, as well as individuals?; which Jew was the pioneer of the Marxist or class-conflict analysis of politics and culture?; from your music textbook or other sources, what persons of Jewish heritage had an important role in twentieth-century music?
G4. (a) As applied to this lengthy story's title, what changes or transforms, as shown in the story? (b) As applied to the story's title, what doesn't change or doesn't transform, as shown in the story? (c) What changes into what, as shown in the story?
G5. (G5.1)How are all the following conflicts or oppositions manifested or treated in the story: (a) dream vs. reality; (b) rational vs. irrational; (c) the familiar or routine vs. the strange; (d) the individual or isolation vs. the community or group or bureaucracy or family or society; (e) selfishness vs. selflessness; (f) working vs. joblessness; (g) independence vs. dependence; (h) powerfulness or authority vs. powerlessness; (i) male vs. female; (j) sexuality vs. asexuality; unrepressed vs. repressed; (k) human vs. animal or nonhuman or dehumanized; (l) healthy vs. sick; (m) loyalty vs. betrayal? (G5.2) How is the motif (the repeated mention) of all the little legs of the bug related to more than one of the oppositions cited in G5.1?
G5. How is the subject of time manifested or treated in the story?
G6. (A) How are visual art (painting, architecture) and music subjects and conveyors of symbolism in this story? (B1) How does the initial description of Gregor's insect body (1.1 [= part 1, paragraph 1]) suggest a particular architectural artifact? In the Muir translation Gregor can see "his dome-like brown belly divided into stiff arched segments"; in the Corngold translation, Gregor can see "his vaulted brown belly, sectioned by arch-shaped ribs, to whose dome the cover . . . could barely cling"; in the Neugroschel translation, Gregor can see "his brown, vaulted belly partitioned by arching ridges"; in the Freed translation, Gregor can see "his vaulted brown belly divided into sections by stiff arches." How might the original Hagia Sophia (before it was turned into a mosque) or the most striking architectures of the Gothic period in Europe be suggested here -- recalling these buildings as discussed in Humanities 2001? What are the religious associations and potential meanings of such allusions? (B2) What painting does Gregor keep in his room, what is the subject matter of the painting, and how do Gregor, Gregor's mother, and Gregor's sister interact with regard to this painting? (B3) How does the painting gather the symbolism of romance, sex, and repression? (C) How are the basic architectural elements -- as in some paintings by Rene Magritte (e.g., Magritte's Time Transfixed) -- of window and door repeated symbolic motifs in this story? (D) What ideas are gathered symbolically around music through the recurrent subject of Gregor's sister's violin playing?
G7. How are the subjects of language and communication repeatedly manifested in the story?
G8. How is the issue of religion repeatedly manifested in the
story -- as in the initial description of Gregor's insect body (1.1 [=
part 1, paragraph 1]), repeated expletive symbolism (1.4, 1.6, 1.22, 1.29;
2.27), what the father attacks Gregor with (2.29, 3.1, 3.29), the number
and description of the boarders [or "lodgers" or "tenants," depending on the
English translation] (3.9-11, 3.14-15, 3.33, 3.35), or the description
of Gregor's death (3.29-30) --- this last item as related to the book of
Isaiah in the Bible?
Specific Notes and Questions - Related to Part and Paragraph, Thus 2.3 Would Mean Part 2, paragraph 3
1.1 How is the subject of dream brought out in this paragraph? How is the subject related to any of the themes or content of the work?
1.1 How does the description of the belly of the bug relate to particular architecture or buildings, with religious overtones?
1.1 How does the mention of all the little legs (a motif in the work) relate to the subjects of rationality vs. irrationality, or control vs. powerlessness? Cf. 1.3, 1.9, 1.12, 1.14, 1.15, 1.29, and 1.30?
1.1 How does the reference to the new body being "hard as armor plate" point to the issue of attack vs. defense, and one or more of the oppositions indicated in section G5, above?
1.2 How does the picture of the lady over his table connect to the subjects of romantic love, sex, and art in the work?
1.2 How might the details of the picture with the lady (her arm and the fur muff) relate to the subjects of surrealism, appearance vs. reality, and Freudian symbolism (sexuality)?
1.2 How is Gregor's job related to or conducive to isolation and alienation? How does such a point relate to the "metamorphosis" of Gregor not being a change, in some sense?
1.2 How might the product that Gregor sells relate to sexuality (e.g., the clothing of the mother mentioned in the work) and the issue of superficiality (mere surfaces)?
1.3 In relation to sleeping, how does Gregor try to get back to the familiar or habitual -- but how have things become defamiliarized?
1.4 How is expletive symbolism (in sentence 1 of 1.4) initiated, with religious overtones, in the work? Cf. 1.6, 1.22, 1.29?
1.4 How is Gregor's job related to or conducive to isolation and alienation? How does such a point relate to the "metamorphosis" of Gregor not being a change, in some sense?
1.4 How does Gregor's dissatisfaction with the food found on his job foreshadow the increasing problem of food for Gregor throughout the work? What other short work of Kafka's points to the consumption of food in the title?
1.5 How does the use of furniture at work relate to "proxemics" and how use of space and items in it may be used in the opposition between power and powerlessness (cf. Alex Korda's book Power)?
1.5 How does Gregor's simile of the other salesmen living "like harem women" relate to the picture of the woman in his room or to any of the oppositions cited in section G5, above?
1.6 How does Gregor's reference to himself as "tool of boss without brains or backbone" reified by his metamorphosis or transformation, again relating to the idea of the metamorphosis not being that much of a change, in some sense?
1.7 How are the subjects of language and communication -- including the problem of the literary artist -- suggested here, as well as in similar details in later paragraphs?
1.7 How does Gregor's habit from his job carried over to home, in relation to doors, suggest (a) self-imposed isolation or alienation, (b) a worried or armored shell, (c) a connection to sexuality?
1.7 How does the family's communication with Gregor suggest differentiation among Gregor's kin, Gregor's being hemmed in, and Gregor's isolation or alienation?
1.8 How is Gregor portrayed as a rationalizer in an unreal situation, as well as the contrast conveyed between the "real" and the imaginary as related to the pain Gregor feels and Gregor's voice?
1.9 How is the mind/spirit vs. material/body conflict or duality portrayed?
1.10 (1.10a) What overtones of sexuality are suggested by the description of the pain Gregor feels in or from his new body? (1.10b) What might be the sexual symbolism of Gregor being immobilized by inability to bridge or budge the "lower part" of the body?
1.11 What might the symbolism be of Gregor's being able to move the body and all with the head (but cf. 1.10a-b)?
Translations and Editions Listed Alphabetically by Translator
Aaltonen, William, trans. and ed. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. Chartwell Books, Inc, 2009.
Appelbaum, Stanley, trans. and ed. 1996; rpt. [Franz Kafka:] Best Short Stories: A Dual-Language Book. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1997.
Corngold, Stanley, trans. and ed.. The Metamorphosis by Franz
Kafka. 1972; rpt. New York: Bantam Classics - Bantam Books, 1981. Also rpt. in
[Franz Kafka:] The Metamorphosis: Translation, Backgrounds and Contexts;
Criticism. Trans. and Ed. Stanley Corngold. W.W. Norton, 1996.
Crick, Joyce, trans. and ed. The Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka. Introduction and notes by Ritchie Robertson. Oxford University Press, 2009.
Freed, Donna, trans. and ed. The Metamorphosis and Other Stories: A New Translation by Franz Kafka. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1996.
Hofmann, Michael, trans. and ed. Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz
Kafka. Penguin Books, 2007.
Johnston, Ian C., trans. and ed. The Metamorphosis and Other Selected Short Works by Franz Kafka. Walking Lion Press, 2003; rpt. 2006. Also rpt Richer Resources Publications, 2009; also rpt. Simon and Schuster, 2009; also rpt. Tribeca Books, 2011.
Lloyd, A[lbert] L[ancaster], trans. and ed. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. The Parton Press, 1937. rpt. Vanguard Press, 1946.
Lundberg, Phillip, trans. and ed. Essential Kafka : Rendezvous with 'Otherness' -- Five Stories. AuthorHouse, 2009.
Muir, Willa, and Edwin Muir, trans. 1948. rpt. Selected Short Stories of Franz Kafka. Introduction by Philip Rahv. New York: Modern Library - Random House, 1952 and rpt).
Muir, Willa, and Edwin Muir, trans. 1948. "The Metamorphosis." In [Franz Kafka:] The Complete Stories. Ed. Nahum Glatzer. New York: Schocken Books, 1971. (and rpt)
Neugroschel, Joachim, trans. and ed. The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, and Other Stories by Franz Kafka. New York: Scribner - Simon and Schuster, 1995.
Pasley, Malcolm, trans. and ed. The Transformation and Other Stories:
Works Published During Kafka's Lifetime by Franz Kafka. London: Penguin
Roberts, M.A., trans. and ed. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. Prestwick House, 2005.
Stokes, Richard, trans. and ed. Metamorphosis : and Other Stories by Franz Kafka. Hesperus, 2002; rpt. 2005.
Underwood, J[ames] A[mery], trans. and ed. Stories, 1904-1924 by Franz Kafka. Cardinal, 1981; rpt. 1990. Rpt. Abacus, 1995.
Wyllie, David, trans. and ed. Metamorphosis ; and The Trial by Franz Kafka. Borders Classics, 2007.