Date of Award

Spring 2014

Thesis Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Liberal Studies


R. Barry Levis

Second Advisor

Yudit Greenberg


Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis chronicles the bizarre tale of Gregor Samsa’s transformation into an insect and the despairing isolation and personal quest for a meaningful existence that follows. A masterpiece of modern literature, it explores the universal concerns and struggles of Modernity, but also offers insight into the lives of assimilated Jews living in Prague at the turn-of-the-century. The acquisition of basic civil rights afforded European Jews opportunities in education, employment, and housing. Integration into Western society presented new challenges for the Jews as they carved out their new position in European society. The Jews’ difficult task of adapting to Western culture met further challenges from the ambivalent European society still unsure of integration. The new place for Jews as free citizens in Western society made them vulnerable to the pressures of assimilation. Western, most often interpreted as German, culture assisted as protection from anti-Semitism for the obtainment of European culture, in theory would serve as proof of the Jews’ loyalty to state culture. The literature of this time reflects both the anti-Semitic attitudes in politics and in the media and the Jews’ response to assimilation’s effects on their identity. Franz Kafka’s literature transcends the historical context in which it was written but The Metamorphosis reflects the anxiety that pervaded the psyche of assimilated Jews in turn- of-the-century Prague.