Comparison of Kafka's Metamorphosis and Dali's The Metamorphosis of Narcissus

Comparison of Kafka's Metamorphosis and Dali's The Metamorphosis of Narcissus

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Comparison of Kafka's Metamorphosis and Dali's The Metamorphosis of Narcissus


        The painting that I chose to compare to the novel Metamorphosis, by

Franz Kafka, was painted in 1937 by Salvatore Dali.  Dali is an established

Surrealist painter, who, like Kafka, explored his own psyche and dreams in

his work. Dali invented a process, called the "paranoiac critical method",

which is used in this painting, to assist his creative process.  As Dali

described it, his aim in painting was "to materialize the images of

concrete irrationality with the most imperialistic fury of

order that the world of imagination and of concrete irrationality may be as

objectively that of the exterior world of phenomenal



        The rich landscape, seems to be limitless in detail.  Dali rendered

every detail of this landscape with precise accuracy, striving to make his

paintings as realistic as possible.


      In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a beautiful young youth, who fell

in love with his own reflection, and then drowned while trying to embrace

himself.  His body was never recovered, but a flower, which was named after

him was.  The left side of this painting shows the kneeling Narcissus,

outlined by the craggy rocks of what could only be Cape Creus's. On the

right side of the painting, the scene has morphed into a more idyllic and

classical scene, in which the      kneeling Narcissus has become the statue

of a hand, holding a cracked egg, from which emerges The Narcissus flower.


      This painting reminded me of the first chapter of Metamorphosis,

where the main character, Gregor Samsa, first realizes that he is

confronted with a ludicrous fate in the form of a gigantic insect.  In both

Kafka's and Dali's work, I noticed that they both implement a certain

"receding" technique.  Dali tends to put an object (In this case,

Narcissus) In the foreground, and the background of the painting tends to

be very crisp and detailed, yet unimportant, compared to Narcissus. I feel

the same way about Gregor, I see Kafka writing this story with mainly

Gregor in mind, as the main character and narrator.  Kafka puts this

puzzled victim in the story as a clerk, yet that element of the story tends

to receded in to the plot of the story.

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In a way, this technique seems to

intensify the scene, which later leads up to Gregor's rejection by his

family, and himself.


      Another similarity  between this scene and the painting, is the

fact that main 'character's' in the foreground, do not move, they only grow.

 Gregor did not get out of bed the first morning of his metamorphosis, yet

he did change. In both halves of Dali's painting, Narcissus's position does

not move, yet he also grows.  What is interesting about both works is that

they can both be perceived differently each time I see them.  When I first

read Metamorphosis, I did not realize that Gregor was laying  motionless in

bed, until a second reading. I had a similar experience with Dali's  "The

Metamorphosis of Narcissus".  I first saw this painting when I was on

vacation in London four years ago, at a Dali art exhibit.  My first

impression of this was simply a man kneeling down in the water, who in the

other half of the painting had a flower growing out of his skull, and there

were people living around this huge 'statue'. My second viewing of this

painting, in the book Dali, by Robert Descharnes, allowed me to notice many

more things. On the left panel of the painting, Narcissus looks more human,

with long flowing hair, and a solid body.


        On the right panel, Narcissus can be viewed as either a human

figure, or a hand growing out of the soil, which is grasping a blossoming

egg. I also now notice that the 'civilization' in the background of the

painting has seemed to have advanced during Narcissus'es metamorphosis. On

the left, Narcissus kneel's alone in the water, only surrounded by

wilderness, as the painting progresses narratively from the left side to

the right side, civilization seems to have advanced, human beings are

present, there is a house at the base of the mountain in the distance, a

statue in a courtyard, and there is a cow grazing in the field.


      With this description of the painting, the reader can hopefully

grasp the most important similarity between both Kafka's and Dali's work,

both objects, or persons, (Gregor and Narcissus) however you perceive them,

go unnoticed, yet life continues to go on around them. Both Gregor and

Narcissus, in my opinion, are important because the are the center of

attention of each piece of work, yet the world around them seems to go on

without them, and improve.


      Both of these works insist that the audience take time to interpret

and understand them.  This is perhaps one of the most important reasons for

my selection of these two works. Both stimulate controversy in their

interpretations, and make the audience look deeply to find what they

believe to be their purpose, or meaning. Franz Kafka and Salvatore Dali

were both great artists of their time, who consequently have both been said

to greatly revolutionize their field, especially the latter. The difference

between them as thinkers only lies in the implementation of their thoughts.

Kafka chose to write about his thoughts and dreams, and Dali chose to

visualize them on canvas.


      My comparison of Kafka's Metamorphosis and Dali's "The

Metamorphosis of Narcissus" are important to Surrealism , because they are

clearly both surrealist works which significantly took surrealism in a new

direction. Both were completed in the first half of the century, when the

modernist movement began to progress, and both are symbolic of surrealism

because they make the audience develop their own interpretation of the work.


 According to the Random House College Dictionary, Surrealism is a style of

art and literature developed principally in the 20th century, stressing the

subconscious or nonrational significance of imagery arrived at by

automatism or the exploitation of chance effects...


      I find that Kafka's surrealistic style, although descriptive, is

more blunt than Dali's. Dali has an advantage over Kafka in this argument,

since the audience is directly looking at what is in Dali's mind, whereas

we must visualize on our own what Kafka believes to be true of Gregor.

Another advantage of Dali's surrealism is that his color usage allows for a

much easier depiction of Dali's mood, as well as the narcissist portrayed.



1.) Tansey, Richard G. and Kleiner, Fred S. Gardner's Art Through The Ages, Book 2, Tenth Edition; Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1996, New York. P.1076

Works Cited:

Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. Mattituck: Vanguard Press, 1946

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