The Metamorphosis (1915), written by Franz Kafka is one of the finest pieces of literature. This novella focuses on the modern day lives which is filled with dichotomy, dilemmas, frustrations and pomp shows. The book uses the story of Gregor Samsa and his metamorphosis to open a world of interpretations and discussions. Kafka cleverly weaves a web of absurdity of existence, the alienation in modern times, the Industrial era labor and the cruelty of authoritarian power.
About the author
Franz Kafka was born in 1883 in a a middle-class, German-speaking Jewish family in Prague. He worked in an insurance company for a living while writing in his spare time. He is considered as one of the best writers of the 20th century, despite the fact that whatever little was published during his lifetime attracted scant public attention. His works are a reflection his personal life where his troubled relationship with his father or his inability to survive in a committed relationship are recurring themes.
This book is of interest for
- Readers of existential literature.
- Franz Kafka enthusiasts.
- Absurdity, realism and fantasy enthusiasts.
Premise of the book
“One morning when Gregor Samsa woke up from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin”
Thus begins The metamorphosis, the story of Gergor Samsa, a salesman who lives with his family. His sister, Gerete is very much dear to him while he shares a troubled relationship with his father. After his metamorphosis into an “old bug”, as a charwoman calls him, Gergor’s life takes a turn and the story is all about that.
Kafka did not mention what led to Gergor’s metamorphosis and it is not even required, I assume because the story has more things to question about, the internal-external dichotomy, question of existence and the meaning of life. Gergor finds himself in situations where he is unable to help his family financially and sees his family members struggling with finances. Grete is the only person who takes care of Gergor but the bond slowly withers.
He questions his presence, his belongings.
For some reason, the tall empty where he was forced to remain made him feel uneasy as he lay on the floor, even though he had been living in it for five years
He becomes a victim of ire of his father once. His father almost kills him by throwing apples at him. After this incident, Gergor confines himself to him room and Grete no longer finds time to see him, he is left at the mercy of a charwoman. He loses his appetite and gradually grows weak.
“I don’t want to call this monster my brother, all I can see is; we have to try and get rid of it”
Grete says these harsh words and the family agrees to get rid of Gregor as they have outlived the patience of caring for a vermin. Gradually, Gregor dies. The family carries on with its other businesses, plans to move into a new, smaller house and has new dreams and intentions.
The Metamorphosis is an autobiographical piece of writing, and it is common to find parts of the story that reflect Kafka’s own life. It is well known that Kafka felt like an insect the presence of his authoritarian father.He was very close to his sister Ottla and she usually understood him but her but in some decisions, she turned against him and this betrayal can be very well seen in the story.
The book also talks about external-internal dichotomy wherein a person is taken by its appearance and not by its intentions. The novella is also a satire on the Industrial era where a person’s value is calculated in money and hours of work. After turning into a vermin, Gregor did not even spare a moment to think about his whereabouts, all he cared about was work, money, chief clerk, his family debts and other things. Modern society is still the same. A man is a tool of chasing luxuries which he never enjoys.
Kafka has done a commendable job by presenting an impossible situation, such as a man’s transformation into an insect and develop the story with perfect realism and great details. The beauty of this novella lies in the fact that it can interpreted in a number of ways and fit into one’s “great depression”.