Franz Kafka’s Modernity

Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis eerily captures the effects of various dehumanizing influences on the modern European family brought about in the name of economic surviva.

Gregor’s “metamorphosis” into an insect represents in vivid terms how a human being can imagine himself separated from the world in which he belongs, his very selfhood placed in jeopardy by his own family.

One of the most important aspects of the novella comes about at Gregor’s death, namely the role of the family. Gregor’s relationship with his parents is troubling. There is resentment between Gregor and his father.

When Gregor joins his family in the parlor, his father throws apples at him; one of them becomes embedded in his back and leaves him crippled, and eventually kills him. Instead of taking pity on his son, as one might expect, his father grows abusive.

Gregor’s mother faints at the very sight of him in his altered state. Her rejection of him is demoralizing. Grete continues to feed her brother.

Even in his present condition, Gregor still plans for Grete’s future, hoping to be able to send her to a music conservatory where she can continue to study violin. Having abandoned hopes of pursuing his own future, this giant insect absurdly puts all of his energies into getting his sister into a music conservatory.

Ironically, Gregor’s family becomes more self-sufficient as a result of his plight. His father has gone back to work. He no longer appears as an angry, disabled old man, but rather has undergone a metamorphosis of sorts into a bank messenger “holding himself very erect.”

Gregor’s mother sews piecework, and his sister has become a salesgirl. As they become more immersed in their new roles, the family members become increasingly indifferent to Gregor.

Grete begins to spend less time cleaning Gregor’s now filthy room, and is less attentive to his needs for food. The family has even begun to use his room for storage, making navigation extremely difficult for Gregor.

Gregor’s family is continuing to grow more resentful of him as they each grow to become more self–reliant and confident. Aware of their resentment, Gregor lies in his room and thinks “back on his family with deep emotion and love” until his death one night.”

After his death, the family members act as if they’ve been freed. “Well,” said Mr. Samsa, “now we can thank God.”

His parents and sister take off from work, which Gregor would never had done while he was supporting them, and take a streetcar out to the country to plan for a new future—another change.

Kafka weaves absurdity throughout his tale in obvious and subtle ways. Despite the fact that Gregor has been cast aside, so to speak, by his family, he still thinks of them lovingly. It can even be assumed that he died of a broken heart.

An interesting undercurrent of the story involves the changes that “flip-flop” between Gregor and his father. Gregor was strong as a result of his father’s failure. He crippled his father’s self-esteem and took over the father’s position in the family.

After the catastrophe, the same sequence took place in reverse. Gregor became weak and dependent, and his father maimed and ultimately killed him. As well, Grete became strong and beautiful. The family is happier after they are freed of Gregor’s stifling love.

It is Grete who succinctly sums up Gregor’s oppressive affection: “You just have to get rid of the idea that it’s Gregor. Believing it for so long, that is our real misfortune. But how can it be Gregor? If it were Gregor, he would have realized long ago that it isn’t possible for human beings to live with such a creature….But as it is, this animal prosecutes us…”

On the primary level, the “metamorphosis” involves Gregor, and his becoming an insect. However, as we read the story more closely, we discover a broader and deeper level of transformation – for ultimately, this story is profoundly embedded in the myth of death and resurrection.

Thus, it is with Gregor’s death that we see a resurrection on various levels, for it is this resurrection that is the metamorphosis of the story.

First of all, we realize that Gregor frees himself from the enslavement of his world. Thus, his death is not merely a meaningless fall of an insect; it is an act of liberation.

In fact, Gregor dies a very peaceful death, for he is utterly reconciled with himself, his death, ad his world: “He thought back on his family with deep emotion and love. His conviction that he would have to disappear was, if possible, even firmer than his sister’s. He remained in this state of empty and peaceful reflection until the tower clock struck three in the morning. He still saw that outside the window everything was beginning to grow light. Then, without his consent, his head sank down to the floor, and from his nostrils streamed his last weak breath.”

It is important to note that Gregor’s death takes place just as a new day is dawning; and it also takes place at the end of the March, just as the sterility of winter is giving way to new life in April.

The second level of the transformation takes place in Gregor’s parents. They have become self-sufficient, strong, and vibrant. While Gregor was alive, they were cacooned as if in a chrysalis.

In fact, Gregor’s father actively destroys his influence when he hurls the apples at him, one of which lodges in his back, perhaps leading to his death.

With Gregor’s death, they are freed of Gregor’s prison and they walk out of the house into the liberating light of spring and the promise of new life: “The car, in which they were the only passengers, was completely filled with warm sunshine. Leaning back comfortably in their seats, they discussed their prospects for the time to come, and it seemed on closer examination that these weren’t bad at all, for all three positions…were exceedingly advantageous and especially promising for the future.”

Lastly, it is Grete who is metamorphosed. No longer is she under Gregor’s wing; she has become a beautiful, young, vibrant woman. Like her father, she too actively sought the destruction of Gregor, as she realized that Gregor had to go; that was “the only answer.”

In the train ride together, her parents instantly realize the change that has come over their daughter. No longer is she pale and weak, but she has “blossomed into a good-looking shapely girl;” and her parents will soon “find her a good husband.”

All three have awakened from a nightmare into a dream: “And it was a confirmation of their new dreams and good intentions when at the end of the ride their daughter got up first and stretched her young body.”

If we extend the analogy of the insect world (suggested by Gregor’s transformation), we see that each member of the Samsa household has emerged from a larval stage into maturity, and hence freedom.

Gregor emerged from his larval stage and became an insect, through which he could free himself from the prison of his days. Mr. and Mrs. Samsa emerge and become independent and strong, and are freed from Gregor’s stifling love and worrisome care. And finally, Grete emerges as a beautiful, young woman, who brings with her the full promise of rebirth in the spring.


The photo shows, “The Matchseller,” by Otto Dix, painted in 1920.

Doric And Ionic Orders In Greek Architecture

The beginnings of the Greek Doric and Ionic orders lies rooted in temple architecture. Early designs were simple and practical, where a shrine was constructed to house the image of a deity.

Under a low-pitched gable roof, the interior was a windowless rectangular room called the “cella,” which sheltered the cult statue of the deity. The “portal,” or doorway to the cella was on one of the short ends, which extended outward in a “portico,” or porch, faced with columns to form the “façade,” or front. Sometimes columns were erected around the building in a series known as a “colonnade.”

The construction was simple: a platform of three steps, the top one known as the “stylobate,” from which rose the rose the upright “posts” that supported the “lintels,” or horizontal beams.

When these columns and lintels were made of marble, the weight and size of the superstructure could be increased and the “intercolumniation,” or span between the supporting posts, widened.

The history of Greek temple architecture was largely the refining of this “post-and-lintel” method of construction, which permitted the architects a steadily increasing freedom of expression as time went on.

And it is in this method that we find the beginnings of the Doric and the Ionic orders, as well as their refinements. Let us now examine both these styles, and their evolution.

The Doric order is the oldest classical style of temple architecture, characterized by simple, sturdy columns that rise without a base to an unornamented, cushion like capital. The “capital” or crown of the Doric column is in three parts: the necking, the echinus, and the abacus.

The purpose of any capital is to smooth the passage between the vertical shaft of the column and the horizontal portion of the building above. The “necking” is the first break in the upward lines of the shafts, though the fluting continues up to the outward flare of the round, cushion like echinus.

This, in turn, leads to the abacus, a block of stone that squares the circle, so to speak, and makes the progression between the round lower and rectangular upper members.

Above the columns and below the roof is the “entablature.” Directly above the abacus is the architrave, a series of plain rectangular blocks. These stretch from the center of one column to that of its neighbor to constitute the lintels of the construction. They also support the upper parts of the entablature, namely, frieze, cornices, and pediment. At this point, sculpture is called into play for decorative purposes, beginning with a carved band known as a “frieze.”

In the Doric order, the frieze is made up of alternating triglyphs and metopes. The rectangular triglyphs are so named because of their grooves (“glyphs”), two in the center and a half groove on either side.

They are the weight-bearing sections, and as a rule, one is placed above each column and another in the space between. The sameness of the triglyphs contrasts with the differently carved relief panels of the metopes. This alternation creates a visual rhythm, which illustrates the classical principle of harmonizing the opposites of unity and variety.

The frieze is protected by the overhanging “cornice” (and enhanced by its shadow), and the “raking cornice” rises gable like from the side angles to the apex in the center. The triangular space enclosed by the cornices is called the “pediment,” which is recessed or set back to create a shelf on which freestanding sculpture can be placed to climax the decorative scheme.

As well, a “peristyle” or colonnade, of freestanding columns completely surrounded the temple (as in the Parthenon). The columns were placed far enough from the cella walls to permit an “ambulatory,” or passageway. The number of columns used on the porch of a Greek temple was determined by the size of the building rather than by any rigid rule. The usual number was six, although some temples had as few as two, others as many as ten or twelve.

The outer surface of the Doric column has twenty grooves, or “flutes,” that form concave vertical channels from the bottom to the top of the shaft. Fluting serves several purposes, the first being to correct an optical illusion.

When seen in bright sunlight, a series of ungrooved round columns appears flattened. In addition to maintaining the round appearance, the fluting makes a constant play of light and shadow and makes a number of graceful curves to please the eye.

Also, the increased number of vertical lines quickens the visual rhythm, and the eye is led upward toward the sculpture of the entablature.

The Doric order can be seen in the Parthenon, which was built entirely of Pentelic marble. When freshly quarried, this fine-grained stone was cream colored, but as it has weathered through the centuries, its minute veins of iron have oxidized, so that today the color varies from light beige to darker golden tones, depending on the light.

For sheer technical skill of its Doric construction, the Parthenon is astonishing. No mortar was used anywhere; the stones were cut so exactly that when fitted together; they form a single smooth surface.

The columns, which appear to be monoliths of marble, are in fact constructed of sections called “drums,” so tightly fitted by square plugs in the center that the joinings are scarcely visible. The harmonious proportions of the Parthenon have long been attributed to some subtle system of mathematical ratios.

But despite close study and analysis, no geometrical system has so far been found that fits all the evidence. However, there is a recurrence in several instances of the proportion 9:4.

This proportion has been noticed in the length of the building (228 feet) relative to its width (104 feet), when measured on the stylobate, or top step.

The next evolved stage of the Greek column, the Ionic, developed in Asia Minor and is distinguished by slender, fluted columns and capitals decorated with volutes or scrolls. Thus, the Ionic order is more slender and has its greatest diameter at the bottom, in marked contrast with the Doric style.

The Ionic shaft rests on a molded base instead of directly on the stylobate, and they have twenty instead of twenty-four flutings. Most striking, however, is the Ionic capital, with its “volutes,” or scroll-like ornaments.

The fine columns rested on molded bases carved with a delicate design. The necking had a band decorated with a pattern, and above it was a smaller band with another decorative motif, followed by the volutes and then a thin abacus carved with various designs.

The columns supported an architrave divided horizontally into three bands, each receding slightly inward. The architrave thus consists of a continuous carved frieze rather than the alternating Doric triglyphs and metopes. Above rose a shallow pediment without sculpture. The Ionic order is perfectly demonstrated by the Erechtheum.

The plan of the Erechtheum is as complex as the Parthenon is simple. The rectangular interior (about 31½ feet wide and 61¼ feet long) had for rooms for the various shrines on two different levels.

One was 10¾ feet higher than the other. Projecting outward from three of the sides were porticoes, each of different size and design. The east porch has a row of six Ionic columns almost 22 feet high.

The north porch has a similar number but with four in front and two on the sides; while the smaller porch on the south is famous for its six “caryatids,” the sculptured maidens who replace the usual columns.

Thus, at their Acropolis, the Athenians brought to the highest point of development two distinct Greek building traditions: the Doric (with the Parthenon) and the Ionic (with the Erechtheum as well as the Temple of Athena Nike).

By displaying the two architectural orders, the Athenians made a symbolic reference to their city as the place where the Dorian people (of the western Greek mainland), and the Ionian people (of the east coast of Asia Minor across the Aegean Sea) had for centuries lived together in peace and harmony.


The photo shows,  “The Temple of Athena Nike. View from the North-East,” by Werner Carl-Friedrich, painted in 1877.