Lesson 13: Kafka; Rilke; Akhmatova; Lorca; Xun; Mahfouz

Learning Objective:

You should gain a critical understanding of the symbols in the texts and their cultural significance.


  • Kafka, 943-977.
  • Rilke, 904-910; Akhmatova, 997-1007; Lorca, 1007-1016.
  • Xun, 910-921; Mahfouz, 1026-1037.
  • Answer discussion question; Take Quiz in Blackboard.

Lecture Notes:



What’s more appalling: the fact that Gregor Sama has been changed into a giant cockroach, or his reaction to his situation? What governs his reaction is what guides his life. He tries to reason himself through his trauma, focusing on how he will get out of bed and get to work. Is that the first thing that would occur to you if you woke up as a cockroach?

First of all he wanted to get up quietly, without any excitement; get dressed; and, the main thing, have breakfast, and only then think about what to do next, for he saw clearly that in bed he would never think things through to a rational conclusion. (2751)

He seems intent on going through the boring motions of his already-confessed lackluster life – even in the face of complete transformation. He will not veer. He is bound-in on his habits, a product of his environment, steered by material,  not spiritual, needs. Therefore, his transformation is symbolic: he has become that which he already was.

“Just don’t stay in bed, being useless.” Gregor said to himself. (7) … And for a little while he lay quietly, breathing shallowly, as if expecting, perhaps, from the complete silence the return of things to the way they really and naturally were.” (2752)

His outer transformation represents his inner reality: alienated, frightening, strange. He cannot be familiar to himself because the purpose of his life is bound-up in his family. He has not reached a psychology of independence. He’s stuck in thinking that he owes his life’s pursuit to his parent’s debts. Instead of breaking free, and therefore allowing his parents to face their own problems, he’s become their object.

Why doesn’t anyone else in the household work? His father spends hours on end reading the newspaper in the morning but has no job. If someone will fix your mistakes for you, why fix them yourself? Why must Gregor make the money to pay off their debts? Because he believes he ought to.

The only thing he’s done for himself is make a gilt frame in which he put the picture of a well-dressed woman. This is an act of adolescence, not adulthood. An adult would seek out a woman for companionship and love. Instead he hangs up a pre-made and unoriginal version of a female, the magazine version, on his wall. Thus, he seems to he’d be unable to face something like a real woman, who might be self-sufficient and living her life out of her own desires, and thus threatening his own because, when contrasted with an authentic life such as her’s, Gregor’s life would be revealed as in-authentic, a dummy reproduction.

Rather than thinking about how to fix himself, or change himself from his horrible state, Gregor is more concerned about his manager, whose voice fills him with fear and anxiety. He lives to serve others, not himself. When his manager threatens to take his job, Gregor continues to lie to his manager and to himself that he can still live a normal life. He neither listens to himself nor sees himself. If he could hear himself, he would know his utterances are not in human language and thus he would not even try to speak to his manager through his bedroom door. If he could see himself, he would not desire to expose himself to his manager and his family. He would know how ugly a thing he is, and then he would change. But he tries to persist living by his old fictions.

He lies there hoping the locksmith or doctor will save him when he should be saving himself. He should leave. His sister agrees:

If it were Gregor, he would have realized long ago that it isn’t possible for human beings to live with such a creature, and he would have gone away of his own free will. (2780)

But he stays, and the family’s terror at the their son and brother draws them closer and, as a result, he lets himself die. That’s my two cents.