The week of the (short) novel continues, this time with The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. The Metamorphosis is one of the most studied works of fiction from the past century and is widely regarded as a must-read. It is also a very strange little book.
“When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.” So begins Kafka’s unusual tale. Gregor Samsa is a traveling salesman supporting his mother, father, and younger sister. His life is changed dramatically when he wakes up to find he has become a massive insect. He is late for work, which alarms his family and causes his boss to drop by to check on him. When he unlocks his bedroom door and reveals his new form, all are horrified. Gregor is unable to work in his condition, forcing his family members to take jobs to support him. He is a tremendous burden on them all, and even his formerly affection sister comes to resent his presence. After months of neglect and abuse, Gregor is weak and depressed. He eats little and has been seriously injured in a squabble with his father. When he accidentally reveals himself to the boarders his parents have taken in order to make more money, his sister insists that his parents get rid of him. Hearing this, Gregor scrambles back to his room. The exertion proves too much in his weakened condition and he dies. His family is relieved, and reexamining their situation realize that it is not as dire as they had believed. They take a trolley to the countryside and consider their now hopeful future.
The Metamorphosis is remarkable for several reasons. The detail that stood out to me the most was the fact that Gregor Samsa accepts his transformation without question. He does not consider whether such a transformation has occurred, but simply accepts that it has. One possible explanation is that the transformation has occurred only in his mind. He has lived the life of an insect for years, toiling away for the good of the hive (his family) with no regard for personal pleasure. As soon as he took on financial responsibility for the family, he stopped being an ordinary son and became instead a drone. The only real transformation that has occurred is his realization that his life has been that of an insect. This (mental) transformation leaves him unable to work, forcing the other family members to regain their independence. They are angry at this turn of events and resent the loss of their drone. Upon his death, however, they realize that they are now in a position to provide a better life for themselves than Gregor ever could have offered.
That is one very brief and underdeveloped interpretation of the story. Many more are possible. Despite its brevity, Kafka’s Metamorphosis offers a wealth of material to ponder. For that reason, I offer my recommendation.
The Current Count:
10 Read, 90 To Go