When was The Metamorphosis Written?

Instructor: Richard Pierre

Richard has a doctorate in Comparative Literature and has taught Comparative Literature, English, and German

Franz Kafka's novella ''The Metamorphosis'' is recognized as a masterpiece of world literature. In this lesson, you will learn about the artistic context and related works that led to the writing of the story.

1912: Kafka's Breakthrough

Franz Kafka's ''The Metamorphosis'' is full of dark, horrifying imagery and a distorted sense of reality that fascinates readers all over the world. After all, its main character, Gregor Samsa, has turned into a giant bug.

Ironically, although Kafka is now a widely studied author, he published very little in his lifetime. ''The Metamorphosis,'' (''Die Verwandlung'' in German) is a novella, which is a long short story or a short novel, depending on how you look at it. It was one story that did see the light of day while Kafka was alive. Though published in 1915, ''The Metamorphosis'' was actually written earlier, in 1912.

The cover of the first edition of The Metamorphosis
Cover of Metamorphosis

That year was a breakthrough for Kafka. He'd been trying to get a novel going for a while, but felt frustrated with his unsuccessful attempts. Then, in September 1912, he did what we all may need to from time to time: Kafka pulled an all-nighter.

In a single marathon session one night, he wrote his first real artistic success, a story called ''The Judgment.'' (''Das Urteil.''). That lit a fire under Kafka, encouraging him to continue with his creative writing. Between November and December 1912, he wrote ''The Metamorphosis.'~

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A portrait of Kafka from 1910
Portrait of Kafka

The Context Behind ''The Metamorphosis''

Kafka's Workplace

Let's stop here and remember that writing was actually Kafka's side gig. After going to law school, he tried out some day jobs, eventually settling at a place called the Worker's Accident Insurance Institute in Prague, in 1908.

There, he did things like help file claims for workers' injuries and figure out how much companies needed to pay to insure their workers. Some even attribute the invention of the hard hat, that epitome of workplace safety, to Kafka.

Claims, hard hats, and insurance may seem pretty dull, but the job did two things for Kafka.

  • First, he usually got off work in the early afternoon, which left him plenty of time to write.
  • Second, being surrounded by reports of workplace injuries -- severed hands and fingers, for instance -- may have fueled the dark, grotesque, and sometimes violent imagery evident in works like ''The Metamorphosis.'' For instance, at one point in the novella, Gregor's father begins pelting the bug with apples. One of them gets stuck in his back, leading to a nasty wound in an already disgusting creature.

Running Theme Reflecting Life

''The Judgement'' and ''The Stoker'' (part of the novel Kafka was struggling to write) were written around the same time as ''The Metamorphosis.'' These stories aren't just part of Kafka's boon year, however. They also share a common theme.

Each story deals with a conflicted relationship between a father and son. Evidence shows that Kafka, Jr. didn't exactly see eye to eye with Kafka, Sr. ''The Metamorphosis'' is a deep, rich tale open to many opinions, but family woes definitely seemed to be on Kafka's mind at the time he was writing it.

He kept thinking about them, too. In 1919, he wrote a 100-plus-page handwritten letter to his father (who never actually received it), detailing his feelings about their dysfunctional relationship. Critics have pored over this letter, seeing it as a way to understand what Kafka was going through when he wrote ''The Metamorphosis'' and related works.

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