The Multicultural Background of Kafka in The Metamorphosis Summary

This is FREE sample
This text is free, available online and used for guidance and inspiration. Need a 100% unique paper? Order a custom essay.
  • Any subject
  • Within the deadline
  • Without paying in advance
Get custom essay

Kafka’s multicultural background greatly influenced his writings. A Jewish by birth, Kafka did his education in a German school and died as a citizen of Czechoslovakia. He could fluently speak the Czech, French and Yiddish along with German language in which he wrote. Kafka can, thus, be identified with the international citizenship. Today, he is acclaimed as a great modern writer, a distinguished Jewish author, modernist prose writer in the German language and also a veteran of MetamorphosisAustrian writer.

The prominent writers of the age at Prague were Rainer Maria Rilke, Gustav Meyrink, Franz Werfel, Alfred Kubin and Egon Erwin Kisch. At the same time, the process of Jewish assimilation with Judaism and Zionist Movement which laid the foundation for Jewish nation state in Palestine also had its effects on Kafka. Many intellectuals opposed this movement and proposed for a renaissance of Jewish culture within the Western society. This renaissance was to be achieved through literature only. Though Kafka attended many lectures on Zionism in Prague, he proclaimed himself as a Western Jew.

Prague, the birthplace of Kafka, during his life time was in no way a happening city unlike London or Vienna. Its multicultural background definitely influenced Kafka to a very great extent. Kafka witnessed phenomenal change taking place in Prague. Prague was a part of the Habsburg Empire till 1918. The latter became the Republic of Czechoslovakia with Prague as its capital.

There was political tension during the lifetime of Kafka, though its climax reached only during the time of Hitler. Kafka has described in his diary the literature of his friends and his own literature as ‘the character sketch of the small people’. This literature is rich with features such as conflict, moral bankruptcy, minor themes and connection with politics. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in, ‘Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature’, assert that ‘In a minor literature, even the smallest individual concern is political and everything takes on a collective value’ (591-605). Kafka’s minority status is two-fold; linguistic minority and ethnic minority. The Jewish community, whose mother tongue was German, were at receiving end during the early 1900s as they faced hostility and discrimination in all walks of life.

During Kafka’s lifetime, Judaism presented itself as a divided house. While the older generations of Jews were committed to their amalgamation into the mainstream of the Western society, the Jews of Kafka’s generation were not inclined towards the assimilating aspirations of their elders and looked to the Yiddish speaking Jews of the Eastern Europe as a model for their spiritual emancipation. They also turned towards Zionism which constantly fought against anti-Semitism across Europe and aimed at establishing a separate state of Palestine for the Jews. Kafka was, evidently, fascinated by the Eastern Jews as the people with deep spiritual insights in contrast with those in Western Europe. Yet, he was uneasy at identifying himself with Jews. He wrote in his diary on 8th January 1914, What I have in common with Jews? I have hardly anything in common with myself and should stand very quietly in a corner, content that I can breathe (229).

Kafka declared himself as an atheist during his adolescent years according to Sander Gilman, Kafka’s biographer. His views on Judaism and Zionism are not clear. No doubt, the influence of Yiddish theatre, Jewish literature and folklore is evident from his writings; he greatly rejoiced attending the plays at Yiddish theatre and even helped those people raising funds. His views on them always remained a mixture of curiosity, doubt and fascination. His adherence to the Western European culture is evident in his letter to Milena Jesenska, where he says,

We both know, after all, enough typical examples of Western Jews. As far as I know, the most typical Western Jew among them. This means, expressed with exaggeration, that not one calm second is granted to me, everything has to be earned, not only the present and the future, but the past too (174)

Impact of Yiddish and Jewish Folklore:

The turning point to Kafka’s literary experiments came with his acquaintance with Yiddish theatre and folklore. He not only befriended the actors, but also helped them raise funds by giving a public talk in Yiddish language. Kafka borrowed much from Jewish and Yiddish folklore, especially the animal imagery, metamorphosis and trials. While using Jewish myths and legends, he gave a new meaning. The imaginative colour with which he paints them makes them serve the purpose of analysing his contemporary ‘Jewish issue’.

The Metamorphosis is a major work of Kafka which has a direct influence of Hasidism. In the Hasidic folktales, the protagonists undergo several metamorphoses as they move through the cabalistic cycle of transgression- punishment, exile and trial in the hope of redemption. Though it is hard to arrive at the conclusion that Gregor Samsa in The Metamorphosis could attain redemption through his physical transformation, the act of metamorphosis is definitely a direct influence of Jewish mythology. The other stories that have the animal imagery are, “A Report of an Academy” with apes, “Jackals and Arabs” with jackals, “The Animal in the Synagogue” with a marten like creature, “Investigations of a Dog” with a dog and the list goes on.

Many share the view that Kafka also made use of the motifs grown out of mysticism. For instance, Cabbala symbolism makes use of palaces, chambers, heavenly classrooms, scales of justice etc. In The Trial, the protagonist is made to face the trial for reasons unknown. While the Hassidic folktales present the trials of the ordinary human beings with no serious crimes, Kafka’s trials are very serious ones. “In the penal colony”, marks a transitional point in Kafka’s work.

An Enquiry into Kafka’s Works:

According to Ritchie Robertson, Reading Kafka is a puzzling experience. Impossible events occur with an air of inevitability, and no explanation is forthcoming, Gregor Samsa is turned into an insect, without knowing how or why. Joseph K. never learns the reason for his arrest. The other K. never reaches the Castle and cannot understand why he cannot meet the official who summoned him there as a land surveyor (Kafka: a Very Short Introduction 26).

The centre of Kafka’s world is ‘modern man’. The sensibility that he displays in his works and the emotion behind the very same sensibility is common to every individual irrespective of nations and races. The flavour of absurdity is just overwhelming; it may be from an incomplete novel or the shortest story of four lines. The people we meet there or the places we come across are sort of unheard of. But the meanings they give out are astonishing. He opened new doors to probe into the darkest corners of the human mind. As we enter into the world created by Kafka we are caught inside the cobweb of absurdity.

Kafka’s works are more relevant today because the uncertainties faced by men are more intense than uncertainties faced a century ago. The impact of literature on the world literary scenario and even on the Hollywood cinema is proved by the coining of the word ‘Kafkaesque’ which denotes his unique style of writing and treatment of the subject.

One of the major themes of Kafka’s works is uncertainty. The decisions of Kafka in certain aspects have a tinge of uncertainty. ‘To be or not to be’ is the stand that constantly troubled Kafka, which, of course, is a general human tendency. Kafka wrote many short stories inspired by this attitude describing his own self. The stories in the Meditation present this theme. “Trees” is significant in this respect. The story reads as follows.


Cite this paper

The Multicultural Background of Kafka in The Metamorphosis Summary. (2020, Sep 13). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-multicultural-background-of-kafka/



How does The Metamorphosis relate to Kafka's life?
The Metamorphosis is often interpreted as a reflection of Kafka's personal struggles with his identity and sense of isolation within his own family and society. The story's themes of alienation, powerlessness, and existential angst mirror Kafka's own experiences as a Jewish writer in early 20th century Prague.
What influenced The Metamorphosis?
The Metamorphosis was influenced by Franz Kafka's own life and experiences. He was raised in a Jewish family in Prague and experienced much anti-semitism from his peers.
What is the meaning behind Kafka's Metamorphosis?
Kafka's Metamorphosis is a story about a man who wakes up to find himself transformed into a giant insect. The story is an allegory for the human condition, and the insect represents the struggles and alienation that we all face in life.
We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Peter is on the line!

Don't settle for a cookie-cutter essay. Receive a tailored piece that meets your specific needs and requirements.

Check it out