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« Die Verwandlung (part 2) | Main | Almanac of Fall »
Monday
Dec012008

Die Verwandlung (part 1)

The first part to the famous story ("The Metamorphosis") by this great writer.  You can read the original here.

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from some unsettling dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a giant insect.  Lying on his back as hard as armor he raised his head to see his cambered brown stomach divided into arc-like bracings.  From this height he could hardly reach the bedcover which was ready to slide all the way down.  His many legs, pathetically thin in comparison to the rest of his girth, flickered helplessly before his eyes.

"What's happened to me?" he thought.  This was no dream.  His room, a proper if somewhat small habitation, was situated between four familiar walls.  Hanging above the table on which he had spread his collection of sample draperies − Samsa was a traveling salesman − was a picture that he had recently cut out of a magazine and hung in a pretty golden frame.  An observer of the picture would have noticed a lady in a fur hat and fur boa sitting up straight with a heavy fur muff which completely enveloped her forearm.

Gregor's eyes then wandered towards the window: the overcast weather − raindrops could be heard beating the window sill − made him very pensive and sad.  "What if I slept a little longer and forgot about all these stupidities," he thought.  But that was quite impossible, accustomed as he was to sleeping on his right side, because in his present state he could not get himself into that position.  However hard he tried to throw himself onto his right side, he always fell back onto his spine.  He must have tried it a hundred times, closing his eyes so as not to see his floundering legs, and he only stopped once he began to feel a light, numb pain in his side.  "Oh God," he thought, "what a stressful job I have!  Day in, day out, always on the road.  The tribulations of work are far greater than those of home, and I'm constantly exposed to the hassle of traveling, to worrying about making my train connections, to the irregular and second-rate meals, and to the ever-changing, never permanent return home, which never seems to become any more humane.  To hell with all of this!"  He felt a light itch on top of his stomach; he pushed himself onto his back closer to the bedpost so that he could raise his head more easily; he found the place that itched, covered in little white spots that made no sense, and then wanted to scratch the area with his leg.  But right as he touched it he immediately snapped back, overcome by chills.

He slid back into his previous position.  "This getting up early business," he thought, "makes one stupid.  People need their sleep.  Other travelers live like harem women.  When I in the course of the morning, for example, come back to the inn to sign those endless contracts, they've just started their breakfasts.  I should take that up with the boss; and if I did, I'd be fired on the spot.  Besides, who knows whether that actually might not be the best thing for me.  If I weren't so restrained because of my parents, I would have quit ages ago.  I would have gone to see the boss and told him just what I thought of him without holding back.  And he would have fallen off his chair!  Anyway, he has that odd way of sitting in his chair and talking down to his employees, who have to get so close to him because he's hard of hearing.  Now, all is not lost.  Once I have enough money to pay off my parents' debt to him − another five or six years should do it − I'll quit right away.  That will be the next great step.  For the time being, however, I do need to get up since my train leaves at five."

He looked over at the alarm clock ticking on the chest.  "Heavens!" he thought.  It was already six-thirty, and the hands of the clock were moving at their normal pace, almost halfway past the minute, almost three-quarters past.  Shouldn't the alarm have gone off?  You could see from the bed that the alarm had been set for four; it certainly must have gone off, then.  Yes, but was it possible to sleep through its furniture-rattling ring?  Now it was true that he hadn't slept that peacefully, but somehow he had slept more soundly.  But what should he do now?  The next train was leaving at seven; to make it, he would have to rush like no one's business, and his samples were not packed up, and he himself did not feel particularly fresh or mobile.  And even if he were to catch the train, there was no way he would be able to avoid the boss's wrath since his business partner had waited for the five o'clock train and must have long since reported his absence to his boss.  He was his boss's monstrous creation this business partner, spineless and unreasonable.  How about if he were to call in sick?  That would be very embarrassing and suspicious since Gregor had never called in sick once in his five years of service.  The boss would surely come by with the health care provider's physician, reprimand his parents for having such a lazy son, and then eliminate all possible excuses by tipping off the physician, for whom the world was composed only of healthy if work-shy people.  And would he, in this particular case, be so wrong?  As it were, apart from some sleepiness because he had rested for so long, Gregor felt quite good and was even very hungry.

As he mulled all of this over at lightning speed without making up his mind whether or not to leave his bed and the alarm clock struck six forty-five, there was a knock at the door near the headboard of his bed. 

"Gregor," said someone.  It was his mother.  "It's six forty-five.  Shouldn't you be leaving?"  That gentle voice!  Gregor was shocked when he heard his own voice in response, which sounded nothing like his normal voice, completely unrecognizable in fact, now combined with an irrepressible, painful squeak which only made the beginning of each word intelligible and then distorted everything with such an echo that one didn't know whether one had heard the words correctly.  Gregor had wanted to answer in detail and explain everything, but owing to the circumstances he limited himself to saying: "Yes, yes, thank you, mother.  I'm already up."  By virtue of the wooden door the change in Gregor's voice could not be perceived, as evidenced by the fact that the mother seemed appeased by this explanation and shuffled off.  But from their brief conversation all the other family members became aware that Gregor, contrary to expectations, was still at home.  Soon thereafter his father knocked on the side door weakly with his fist.  "Gregor, Gregor," he called, "what's going on?"  And after a short while, he urged him on again, his voice now deeper: "Gregor!  Gregor!"  At the other side door his sister then wailed lightly: "Gregor?  Are you not well?  Do you need anything?"  To both sides Gregor then answered: "I'm all set," and made an effort to remove everything noticeable from his voice by using meticulous pronunciation and long pauses between individual words.  His father went back to his breakfast, but his sister whispered: "Gregor, open up, I beseech you."  But Gregor had no thoughts of opening the door, and instead praised his habit acquired from so much traveling of locking all doors to the house during the night. 

He then wanted to get up peacefully and undisturbed, get dressed and, first and foremost, have some breakfast; only after all that did he want to think about the rest of his day.  He understood that he would come to no reasonable conclusions if he continued lying in bed and thinking.  He remembered often feeling some light pain from lying in bed in an awkward position, pain that when he got up turned out to be just his imagination, and he was anxious to see how today's thoughts and ideas would gradually disappear.  And he had no doubts that the change in his voice was nothing more than the precursor of a mild cold, which, for travelers, came with the territory.

Throwing off the bed cover was very easy: he only needed to inflate himself and the blanket fell off by itself.  But further progress was more difficult, especially since he was so ridiculously wide.  Normally he would have used his arms and legs to get up, but now he only had four legs which were in varied and uninterrupted movement and which he could not control.  When he wanted to buckle one of them, it was the first one that he extended, and finally he was able to carry out what he wanted, and all the others worked in the meantime as if set free, in great and painful commotion.  "Just staying in bed is completely useless," Gregor said to himself.

Initially he wanted to get out of bed starting with his lower body.  Yet his lower body, which he had yet to inspect and of which he still had no clear impression, proved to be too heavy to move.  He was moving so slowly!  And when, now almost crazed, he finally pushed himself forward with all his strength without taking into consideration what he was doing, it turned out that he was heading in the wrong direction and he ended up slamming into the lower bedpost.  The burning pain taught him that, for the moment at least, the lower part of his body was the most sensitive.

From here he tried to get his upper body out of bed, and carefully turned his head towards the edge of the bed; this he managed with little difficulty, and despite its breadth and weight, his body mass slowly followed the turn of his head.  But when he finally held his head off the bed in the open air, he got scared about moving forward in this manner, since if he eventually were to fall it would take a miracle for him not to injure his head.  And he could in no way afford to lose his senses now.  No, he would rather stay in bed.

Yet after much effort and many sighs, he was still lying in exactly the same position.  His legs, he noticed, were still struggling with one another in even greater frustration and there seemed to be no chance of instilling some order to this randomness.  It was impossible to stay in bed, he said to himself: the most rational thing to do was sacrifice everything to get himself out even if there was almost no hope.  At the same time, he did not forget that careful planning was far better than making desperate and rash decisions.  In such moments he focused his attention on the window, but unfortunately there was little cheerfulness or assurance to be culled from gazing at the morning fog cloaking the other side of the narrow street.  "Seven o'clock already," he said as the alarm went off again.  "Seven o'clock and still this much fog."  And for a while he lay there short of breath and still, as if he expected utter silence to return things to their true and obvious state.

Then, however, he said to himself: "I absolutely have to get out of bed before seven-fifteen.  In any case, by that point someone from work will have come to ask about me, since business opens before seven."  And now he tried with one great effort to wriggle his whole body mass completely out of bed.  If he were to fall out of bed like that, he would lift his head rather sharply and keep it from getting injured.  His back seemed to be hard, so falling on the rug would not do it any harm.  His biggest worry was the noise his impact would make.  Most likely it would raise either fear or concern behind every door, but he had to risk it all the same.

As Gregor was already halfway out of bed − this new method was more of a game than an exertion, as he kept needing to wriggle backwards − it occurred to him how simple matters would be if someone just came to help him.  Two strong people, and here he thought of his father and the maid, would have been enough. They simply would have placed their arms beneath his cambered back and peeled him out of bed, bent over with his full weight in their hands and then been especially careful and patient that he made it over to the floor, where, he hoped, his legs would finally have some use. Now apart from the fact that the doors were locked, should he really have called for help? Despite his desperate situation he had to smile at such a thought.


As his violent wriggling was about to make him lose his balance − and soon he had to make a decision once and for all since in five minutes it would be seven-fifteen − someone rang at the front door. "That’s someone from work," he said to himself and went almost completely stiff as his legs danced even faster. For a moment everything was still. "They’re not opening the door," Gregor said to himself, seized by a senseless hope. But then, of course, the maid’s powerful steps made their way to the door, which she opened. It took only one word from the visitor to tip Gregor off as to who had come: it was the general manager himself. Why oh why was Gregor fated to serve in a firm that assumed the worst suspicions at the smallest of absences? Were then all employees a bunch of blackguards? Was there no good and honest man among them who, even if he hadn’t used a couple of morning work hours to benefit the firm, became silly owing to his conscience’s remorse and was not in any condition to get out of bed? Was it really not enough to have an apprentice come and ask about him (if such questions were necessary to begin with)?  Did the general manager himself have to turn up? And did his whole innocent family have to be exposed to the fact that the investigation of this suspicious affair could be only entrusted to the general manager’s judgment?  And owing to this agitation which had gotten Gregor all worked up rather than any kind of decision, Gregor swung himself with all his might out of bed. There was a loud thump, not really a crash.  The fall was cushioned somewhat by the rug, but his back was also more elastic than he had thought.  For that reason the sound at impact was muffled and not that noticeable.  It was only his head that he had been unable to hold upright, and he banged it hard.  Then he turned and rubbed it in the carpet out of annoyance and pain.  "Something in there just fell down," said the general manager in the adjacent room on the left.  Gregor tried to think whether something similar to what happened to him today could also happen to the general manager, and concluded that one had to admit the possibility of such an occurrence.  But as if in brute response to this question, the general manager now took a couple of distinct steps in the adjacent room and let his polished boots creak.  From the adjacent room on the right his sister whispered so that Gregor could understand: "Gregor, the general manager is here."  "I know," Gregor said to himself; but he did not dare say that loud enough for his sister to hear.

"Gregor," it was his father speaking now from the adjacent room on the left.  "The general manager has come and is enquiring as to why you didn't leave on the early train.  We don't know what we should tell him.  Moreover, he would like to speak with you personally.  So please open the door.  He will certainly be kind enough as to excuse the disorder in your room."

While Gregor's father was talking, the general manager called out amicably: "Good morning, Mr. Samsa." "He's not well," said his mother to the general manager as his father kept on talking at the door, "he's not well, believe me, sir.  How could Gregor miss a train otherwise?  The boy has nothing on his mind except business.  I almost get frustrated that he never goes out in the evening; now he's been in town for eight days and every evening he's stayed home.  He sits at the table and reads the newspaper or studies timetables.  Working with a fretsaw is already a form of diversion for him.  For example, in two or three nights he made a small frame.  You'd be astounded at how pretty it is; it's hanging in his room.  You'll see it right away when Gregor opens up.  In any case, I'm happy that you're here, sir.  Alone we'd have never gotten Gregor to open the door.  He's so stubborn, and he's certainly not well although he denied that this morning."

"I'll be right there," said Gregor slowly and carefully, not moving so as not to miss a word of the conversations outside.  "I can't explain it in any other way, either, madam," said the general manager, "hopefully it's nothing serious.  On the other hand, I have to say that we business folk − for better or for worse − often have to overcome a mild case of ill health for business reasons."  "So can the general manager come in already?" asked his father impatiently, knocking again on the door.  "No," said Gregor.  In the adjacent room on the left reigned embarrassing quiet; in the room on the right his sister began to sob.

Why didn't his sister go over to the rest of them?  Probably because she had just gotten out of bed and hadn't started to get dressed.  Why then was she crying?  Because he wasn't getting up and letting the general manager in, because he was in danger of losing his job, and because his boss would then go back to harassing his parents about what they owed him?  For the time being those were unnecessary concerns.  Gregor was still here and was not thinking in the least about abandoning his family.  At the moment he was lying on the rug and no one who might have known of his condition would have seriously expected him to let the general manager in.  Yet Gregor could not simply be dismissed for this small impoliteness for which he would have to find an excuse later.  Gregor thought that for now it seemed much more reasonable to leave him in peace instead of crying and nagging him with requests.  But it was this lack of knowledge that urged the others on and which excused their behavior.

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