The Rear-View Mirror: Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis (1912)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect… ‘What has happened to me?” he thought. It was not a dream.”

When I read Kafka’s classic novella The Metamorphosis (written in 1912, first published in 1915) as a teenager, that first, audacious sentence grabbed me – but it’s the one that comes a little later that punched me in the gut. Kafka’s story about a man who finds himself turned into a beetle should be dreamlike, but the telling is deadpan, if at times a little droll, and it never once allows the reader to go for that easiest of interpretations: it’s a dream, it’s all metaphors, it’s one big symbol. Certainly there is symbolism there, but as we’re reading Kafka’s story, he doesn’t grant us that facile emergency exit of consigning it all to the realm of unreality. Kafka’s prose makes it seem, and feel, all too real.

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