The theme of transformation has been a constant scheme over folklore and literature, and whether it is willingly or not, many characters have experienced the stage of transformation both physically and mentally. No matter what happens in those stories, the question of identity is always central and it inevitably digs into the darker side of the human consciousness. We have all grown up with those stories about identity changes. From the magical world of Alice In Wonderland in which drinking a phial can make you enter the right door, to the complex transformation of Kafka’s character Gregor Samsa, literature shows that playing with identity has been a recurrent pattern over story-telling for ages.
Modern literature certainly did not invent the theme of transformation. It comes from much further than this and you need to go all the way back to Antiquity, where transformation as a literature theme was very common and prolific. “The Odyssey” by Homer and “Metamorphoses” by Ovid are the best classical sources of many myths. In Homer’s poems, Greek soldiers who fought at Troy were supposed to travel back to Greece but not all of them will make it through the journey. They will cross paths with Circe, who will transform some of the men into pigs as a punishment that was never clearly explained in Homer’s stories. Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” is also a well-known source of inspiration over literature from the past centuries.
Several iconic stories about transformation stand out from the rest like “The Methamorphosis”, written by Franz Kafka and published in 1915, in which Gregor Samsa wakes up and finds himself turned into a hideous insect. The story tells the struggles Gregor has to deal with after his parent and sister reject him. This makes a strong echo to the struggles we face in life: loneliness, handicap, rejection, identity loss, father and son rivalry. But physical transformation is not the only source of fascination for modern literature. Identity problems like the ones Jekyll suffers in “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” are also a solid way of questioning identity. His physical form is not the only one changing but his mind is also conflicted between two personalities battling each other’s.
It is clear that metamorphoses have had a major influence over literature in order to question identity. However, that is not the only purpose. It has also been used in a more playful way by the likes of Lewis Caroll in “Alice in Wonderland” or “Beauty and the Beast” by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. Those stories were extended to childish fairy tale and adapted as cartoons for the big screen.