Franz Kafka and Haruki Murakami

There is an apparent connection between Franz Kafka’s story, The Metamorphosis, and Haruki Murakami’s work, “Samsa in Love.” It might be one of the most bizarre re-workings ever, but I suspect Kafka wouldn’t have it any other way.  If you read Kafka’s story, you’ll have the tools for digging into Murakami’s reworking of it. Before we begin, I thought it might be interesting to remember the comments Murakami makes when discussing Franz Kafka’s connection to his 2002 novel Kafka on the Shore.

Interviewer: Before “postmodernism” became a buzzword, Franz Kafka explored that particular condition of isolation associated with a post-nuclear, new-millennium world. Did you name your protagonist after him to draw out these themes, or were there other reasons?
Murakami: “It goes without saying that Kafka is one of my very favorite writers. But I don’t think my novels or characters are directly influenced by him. What I mean is, Kafka’s fictional world is already so complete that trying to follow in his steps is not just pointless, but quite risky, too. What I see myself doing, rather, is writing novels where, in my own way, I dismantle the fictional world of Kafka that itself dismantled the existing novelistic system. One could view this as a kind of homage to Kafka, I suppose. To tell the truth, I don’t really have a firm grasp of what’s meant by postmodernism, but I do have the sense that what I’m trying to do is slightly different. At any rate, what I’d like to be is a unique writer who’s different from everybody else. I want to be a writer who tells stories unlike other writers’.”

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”

~Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

Franz Kafka’s most well-known story, The Metamorphosis, was published in 1915. It is technically considered a novella but is often called a short story. This work centers on the bizarre happenings of Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman, one morning when he wakes up transformed into a gigantic insect, or more faithfully translated, monstrous vermin.

Franz Kafka The Metamorphosis

“I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.”

The reader quickly learns Samsa is indebted to his parents for his job and will require another five to six years to work off that debt. He despises his work for various reasons, and his lack of sleep is just one of them. That morning, his alarm did not go off, and he panicked when he realized he’d be late for work.

He still lives at home, and realizing he missed his alarm, Samsa’s parents urge him to get up and move. They cannot enter his room because he has the habit of locking his door at night, and when he tries to explain, they cannot understand him because his voice is strange. This part will feel familiar if you’ve ever woken up like a monstrous vermin.

His office manager comes to his home and urges him to return to work, which prompts Samsa to unlock the door with his mouth. When they discover his new appearance, his mother faints, and everyone is alarmed.

After a time, Samsa begins entertaining himself by crawling up and down the walls and letting go of the ceiling to land on the floor, and he grows increasingly used to his body. I’ll stop my summary there in case you haven’t read it.

So Kafka’s original tale is a precursor or a sequel to Haruki Murakami’s short story, “Samsa in Love.” I strongly urge you to read Kafka’s story to glean insight into the nuanced interpretation of Murakami’s rendering of Kafka. On the next page, I will ask questions about Samsa in Love that will spoil Kafka’s version if you have never read it.

You can find a PDF version of the story HERE.

Samsa in Love by Haruki Murakami

“Samsa in Love” is one of Haruki Murakami’s more recently published stories in The New Yorker in 2013. Written as an homage to Kafka’s story, Murakami reverses the metamorphosis in Kafka’s work as we see the monstrous vermin wake up as none other than Gregor Samsa, the traveling salesman we know as a giant bug. The thought of Gregor Samsa needing to rehabilitate himself after that transformation is delightfully absurd.

Perhaps the most absurd part of the story is that it remains (arguably) one of the most traditionally romantic stories ever scribed by Murakami.

“The only thing he knew for certain was that he wanted to see that hunchbacked girl again. To sit face-to-face and talk to his heart’s content. To unravels the riddles of the world with her.”

The backdrop of the story is the chaos on the streets in the city of Prague. The hunchback girl Samsa falls in love with is the daughter and apprentice in a family of locksmiths. She is called to the Samsa residences to repair a broken lock.

“…the streets are crawling with soldiers and tanks. There are checkpoints on all the bridges, and people are being rounded up.”

So even though her father and brother were supposed to attend to the broken lock at the Samsa residences, she is sent because “‘No one will notice a hunchback girl.'”

Au contraire – Gregor Samsa notices her. It’s strange to think he might care for her with such tenderness so quickly, but his desire for her is strong and, according to the text, out of his control.

“Just thinking about her made him warm inside.”

After reading the text and thinking through Kafka’s original tale, there are a host of questions we can explore — and because the word riddle is used on more than one occasion in Murakami’s text, we might wish to approach the story with a posture of solving a riddle instead of gleaning an exact interpretation.

In the entangled narratives of Franz Kafka and Haruki Murakami, we find a testament to the enduring power of literature to inspire reinterpretation and exploration. The Metamorphosis and “Samsa in Love” invite us to ponder the nature of transformation, isolation, and love, each through its distinct lens. Kafka’s timeless original and Murakami’s whimsical homage together remind us that the beauty of literature lies not only in its stories but in the conversations it sparks across generations. As we reflect on these literary intersections, we are left with a sense of wonder and an invitation to delve deeper into the worlds created by these exceptional authors.

Recommended Reading

A Tale of Two Samsas: Kafka\'s and Murakami\'s Literary Connection