Supernatural in The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka and The Horla by Guy de Maupassant

The supernatural has, for a long time, intrigued many literary aficionados. The horror and paranormal genres developed from a nascent affinity for the macabre that was quickly taking root in the minds of 20th century writers. As a genre focusing on speculative fiction, its primary intention was to frighten, shock, and disconcert its readers by welling up feelings of terror and disgust. Often, the atmosphere created is eerie and typically frightens even the boldest of readers. The authors focus on provoking psychological and emotional responses from the readers in a manner that will ultimately induce fear within them. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka and The Horla by Guy de Maupassant serve as embodiments of these elements.

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Franz Kafka presents a protagonist, Gregor Samsa, who suddenly awakes one day and realizes that he has been transmuted into a gigantic insect. Samsa is shocked by this sudden transformation and immediately recognizes that his appearance would now make it difficult to continue earning a living as a salesman. Since Gregor is now a liability, his family locks him in his room where he dies soon after as a result of sheer angst. Similarly, Maupassant’s narrator is filled with anguish after, supposedly, being haunted by a supernatural being. He calls it the “Horla” and concedes that it has become the bane of his life. After his unsuccessful attempts to lead his tormenter out of the house, the narrator sets his house ablaze killing his servants in the process and even considering suicide. The horrors explored in both stories represent society’s collective fears of the unknown and all that may exist beyond human perception.

Family Traditions

In both stories, a strong sense of family traditions prevails over the setting. The Metamorphosis begins by describing the life Gregor’s life at home with his family. As a salesman, he strives to make ends meet so that he too can play his part and contribute towards ensuring that they live a comfortable life. Even though Gregor hates his jog and boss, he always wakes up early in the morning to prepare for work since it is clear that he cares for his family and their well-being. Gregor, his sister together with his mother and father live under the same roof, a state of affairs that warrants clear family traditions that must be followed to the letter. Gregor’s mother plays her role perfectly. She cooks and cleans, always ensuring that the family is fed. In addition to this, she is always keen on details and strives to ensure that everything is as it should be (Kafka 14). When Gregor is late for work, she knocks on his door to wake him promptly. His father also seeks to make certain that the family is together and provided for by working and supplementing the family’s income by offering up some of their rooms to lodgers.

Similarly, The Horla also features a degree of family traditions thatthe narrator’s life is centered on. From the onset, it is clear that the narrator was raised in a tight-knit family that allowed him to obtain the property which he currently owns. During this period in history, it was common for wealthy families to identify family members who would inherit the property. The main reason why this tradition was necessary was to make certain that it was managed by the right individual who would uphold the standards and the family legacy. Such choices were prudent since they averted the possibility of squabbles between family members, therefore, ensuring a smooth transition of family property from one individual to another.  The narrator has benefitted greatly from this family tradition since he is now in charge of his family’s property and all its servants. It is this family tradition that allows him to enjoy his days by sitting under the plane tree and enjoying its shade while stretching on the grass. He also acknowledges that he loves living in this particular area due to the family tradition that made it possible for him to acquire the land where his ancestors were lived and died.

Stereotyped Personalities

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka and The Horla by Guy de Maupassant both investigate stereotypes that were associated with a particular group of people.  In the first story, Gregor wakes up and soon realizes that he has been transformed into a giant insect (Kafka). The author was aware of the stereotypical reference he was making, which later had implications in future. In essence, Gregor represents the Jewish race at a time when European political establishments were acknowledging their presence in different spheres of life. Jews had developed a proclivity for business and other top professions in many European countries where they lived. By so doing, they became prosperous and were envied by some native populations that viewed them as a threat to their way of life.  For instance, they were referred to as the “insects of humanity” in Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich and greatly despised by the Nazi party. Such rhetoric served as a precursor to their internment in concentration where thousands were worked to death while others gassed using Zyklon-B (Rolleston 63). Gregor transformation into an insect represents the xenophobia that European Jews had to endure in the years leading to the Great War (1915-18).  Although shocked by this rapid transformation, Gregor calmly investigates it and perceives it as a natural occurrence. He, thus, unashamedly accepts his Jewish heritage without fear of its consequences.

            Correspondingly, the narrator in Guy de Maupassant’s The Horla has a stereotypical outlook of Brazilians as a demon-laden race. Initially, he had thought nothing of these individuals and had treated them as he did any other inhabitants of the South American continent. It was only after reminiscing on the events at the see that his resolve and stereotypical personality had developed. Four days before the beginning of his torment, the narrator had travelled to the seashore to relax at the height of summer. He soon comes across what he refers to as a “superb three-mast boat” of Brazilian origin. Intrigued by its splendor, he impulsively waves at it and soon believes that it was this unconscious action that invited a supernatural being into his home.  He is constantly tormented by the being that leads to an atrocious fever that affects him for days on end. Feelings of alienation and losing touch with reality soon take over his whole being and force him to contend that something really was amiss in his home. His deleterious and stereotypical personality is further revealed when he reads a story about a vampire species possessing Brazilian homes. It is at this point that he believes the “Horla” to be a real phenomenon that was brought to his home courtesy of the Brazilian three-mast boat.


A major difference exists with reference to the theme of money and financial capability of subjects in the short stories under review. Gregor struggles to make ends meet as a travelling salesman. It is evident that his family is dependent upon his contribution since they always seem to be short of money. His transformation from a man to a giant bug worsens their current financial situation. It becomes apparent to him that his new appearance is a hindrance to his main economic activity and would also lead to additional problems with his family. Gregor goes into a deep depression and self-imposed alienation when he comes to grips with the nature of his situation. He now knows that he is unable to provide for his family since he cannot work, and is deeply disturbed by this fact. Moreover, Gregor’s family is aware of his obligations and is worried that he will not live up to their expectations. His woes are further compounded by the fact that his parents are indebted which limits his progress in life. Gregor wants to make the most of his opportunity but also realizes that his capability is a major factor determining his progress in life. He is rarely at home and spends a majority of his time in hotel rooms in the quest of money while being smothered by solitude.

Conversely, the narrator making the journal entries in The Horla leads a life full of grandeur. Having acquired a handsome inheritance from his family, he does not lack and seems to have all that he desires. Throughout the short story, no mention is made about the narrator going to work at any given moment. It can, therefore, be rightfully assumed that he is a man of means who does not require an additional source of income to get by. He lives in a huge country house and always flanked by servants who are at his beck and call (Maupassant 40). They view him as their master and are always ready to serve him whenever he requires assistance. His position of privilege affords him the time to lounge and relax while others scamper around to serve him. For him, afternoons are spent on his lawn under the shade where he can contemplate and assess life from all imaginable angles. His financial ability also makes it possible for him to travel around rural France where he meets likeminded folk who ponder about profound questions. It was during one such excursion that he came across the infamous three-mast Brazilian boat where his troubles with the “Horla” began.


As a social issue, poverty emerges as a comparative issue in The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka and The Horla by Guy de Maupassant. Firstly, Gregor and his family live in the grips of poverty and strive to improve their lives through all available means. They are aware of their current status in society strive to achieve social mobility. Unfortunately, the whole family places all their bets on Gregor as their bus ride out of poverty. As a result, he is enslaved by his own kin since he is the only individual earning a living in their household. Poverty has also desensitized most of the family members. Apart from his sister, the rest of his family does not view him as a human being but as a source of income. It is for this very reason that they start despising him the moment his metamorphosis transforms him from a man to an insect.  Poverty is also a source of discord within the family. Tensions flare up in the family as soon as the other members begin working since they are only focused on the money and not on building meaningful relationships. Gregor is dehumanized and only valued as long as he earns a salary for his family.

Conversely, the narrator in The Horla seems aware of poverty as a social issue although it is clear that he has not experienced it. Through his many travels the narrator has witnessed wretched individuals who were clearly leading a difficult life. Poverty was the root cause of all their problems with many quickly falling into the abyss of despair. It is however vital to acknowledge that the narrator was cognizant of the crippling effects of poverty and lucky to have been born into a wealthy family that never lacked. The narrator made certain that he made a difference by providing opportunities to skilled individuals around Normandy and beyond who would be employed gainfully in his property (Lethbridge 67). By so doing, they would be provided with a source of income which would be a first step in alleviating all vestiges of poverty. The narrator’s thoughts and beliefs were also swayed by the influences of key figures who he met during his trips. He meets an old monk Mont Saint-Michel who reminds him of the importance of the local people in helping him resolve his conflict: “And the monk told me stories, all the old stories of this place, legends, and always more legends. One of them particularly struck me. The local people, the ones who live on the hill, claim they hear voices at night in the sands” (Maupassant 34).  It is here that the narrator truly realizes the importance being around people from all walks of life, no matter their position in society’s economic strata since these are the same individuals who offer help when needed.


The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka and The Horla by Guy de Maupassant are both literary magnum opus with a penchant for the macabre and speculative fiction. Their focus on speculative fiction points to a deliberate attempt by the writers to shock and frighten the readers as a result of supernatural phenomenon. Pursuant to these inclinations, Kafka’s protagonist wakes up one morning and realizes that he has transformed into a giant bug while Maupassant’s narrator is haunted by an invisible entity dubbed “Horla”. Nevertheless, the horrors explored in both stories represent society’s collective fears of the unknown and all that may exist beyond human perception. Family traditions and the presence of stereotyped personalities are similar aspects shared by both stories. It is through family traditions that both families find a firm foothold while stereotyped personalities are still evident in their revelations. The aspects of money and poverty were, however, different in each case since circumstances differed in both. All in all, they expertly explored society’s collective fears in a manner that reveals the challenges that many face while also adding supernatural elements to the tale. By so doing, the authors succeeded in crafting masterpieces that delved into real-life issues coupled with various supernatural predispositions.

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