What Was Kafka Smoking?

As part of my summer reading for school next semester, I had to read two stories by the illustrious Czech author Franz Kafka. The first, of course, was the famous “The Metamorphosis,” and the second was “A Report to an Academy.” Neither of these stories are realistic, nor have I yet come to any conclusion about them other than that Kafka was on drugs. Though they weren’t nearly as powerful as Lewis Carroll’s, but I’ll address that after I’ve read the acid trip that is Alice in Wonderland.

For the record, and so that my citations make sense, I’m using The Complete Stories, from Schocken Books, Inc., in New York, published in 1971, and again in 1983 with a forward by John Updike. The latter is the version I have.

At any rate, as most people probably know, “The Metamorphosis” is about a young man named Gregor Samsa, who “awoke one morning from uneasy dreams” and “found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect,” (89). Yes, that’s right. A giant insect. Seemingly some sort of beetle or roach, since he has a hard shell-like back. The story is a decent length, I finished it in a matter of hours, and very descriptive, as is most Russian literature. But my problem is, what is the point? Why, and how does Gregor turn into a bug? Why does he *SPOILER ALERT* die in the end with no reason for his plight?

I have come up with a theory about this. Now, I know that I’m invoking Death of the Author (see this TV Tropes page) by bringing meaning to a story that Kafka probably didn’t even intend to have a meaning in the first place, just as the gruesome horror tales I have spun don’t have any meaning behind them other than, hey, I want to write a story about this. Nonetheless, it seems to me that “The Metamorphosis” could very well be an outlook on human shallowness. Everything with the Samsas is about appearances; they cannot bear to see Gregor’s disgusting, insect body, they cannot tolerate tenants to see Gregor, and even the bit of treatment they give Gregor is based on what it looks like he is interested in. In the end, he dies because no one can deal with his troubles any longer; and all the family wants is to move into a smaller flat and be rid of his burdensome presence. And when he dies, his family hardly mourns the loss of a key member such as Gregor; rather it is as though they regarded the insect as a completely different entity, and not the man they once knew and loved. All because he looked different.

I know that seems to be reading an awful lot into things, but it honestly does seem like the most plausible explanation. As for why he dies, I have no idea; the story is intentionally vague on that point, and I wasn’t entirely sure that he was dead until midway through the next page. Then I was thoroughly depressed, and then angry at the family for barely caring. True they locked themselves in a room and wept a bit, but even so, one would think that there would be a bit of a stronger reaction to his death.

Perhaps I’m expecting too much from a short story written in the late 19th century/early 20th century. At any rate, I enjoyed the story. And once I’ve figured out something to say about “A Report to an Academy,” I’ll get a post up about that one.

Just a random heads-up: since I don’t always remember to post things on schedule, I’ll just be putting things up as I see fit. So if I have something to say, I’ll say it. If not, well typoattack still sticks to the schedule, so there should be something around to read.


EDIT: When I originally wrote this post I’d incorrectly labelled Kafka as a Russian author and have since been corrected (twice!) as told he was Czech. I’d written this almost six years ago as of this note, so I’d like to think I can be forgiven for making such an error. I have absolutely no idea where that misinformation came from; I would have been closer had I said he was German, given he wrote in the language and his name is far more Germanic than Russian. What can I say, I was young and stupid. I should have made this correction three years ago when the first comment came in, but for some reason unbeknownst to me, I left the error in the post. Having been reminded again, I’ve now corrected it.


8 thoughts on “What Was Kafka Smoking?

    1. You weren’t in Vode’s class with us? This is how you know you’re getting old when you don’t remember who’s in your junior year class and you’ve only just graduated.


    1. Yes, someone else commented on that. I guess I should have changed it three years ago when that comment came through, but I never even thought about it.


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