Academic journal article German Quarterly

Gregor Samsa the scarab: An additional note

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Gregor Samsa the scarab: An additional note

Article excerpt

In German Quarterly 72.2 (1999), Michael P Ryan makes a compelling case for the importance of East and South Asian philosophy in the interpretation of Kafka's "Metamorphosis," and the connection between Samsa and Samsara. He also acknowledges that, by designating Gregor as a Mistkafer (scarab), "[a1pparently, Kafka knowingly utilized the insect which in Egyptian lore is the symbol for resurrection" (147). Further examination of the significance of the scarab suggests that its symbolism is more central to "The Metamorphosis." One can go so far as to say that, had Kafka written the story in ancient Egyptian, he would have written the title with the scarab hieroglyph or a word in which that hieroglyph is the primary character.

The hieroglyph of the scarab is used in the writing of the verb kheper "come into existence, become, change, transform oneself" and related words such as kheperu "form, transformation, mode of being" (Faulkner 188 if.; Buchberger; DuQuesne, "Review of Buchberger"). The Egyptian mortuary literature includes a series of "transformation spells"-"An utterance for making the kheperu as/into [...]"-in which the deceased, and perhaps also the living person engaged in certain ritual practices, transforms him/herself into a variety of entities or into "any kheperu that he/she wishes" (Federn). I would also suggest that the desiccated state of Gregor's body invites comparison with a mummy; the nature of mummification as transformation and deification is well established (Hornung, "Body").

The role of Egypt and Egyptianizing material in the work of authors who write in German can also be illustrated by the works of Thomas Mann (Hornung, "Mann") and Rainer Maria Rilke (Grimm; DuQuesne, "Review of Grimm"), as well as Sigmund Freud. It is interesting that the idea of transformation and the symbol of an insect are used by Carmen Martin Gaite in the Spanish novel The Back Room; she erroneously refers to the insect as a "cockroach," as do many Anglophones (Meltzer). …

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