Author: Franz Kafka
First Published: 1915
Genres: Classics, Horror
Source: Free Promotion, Public Domain
One morning, traveling salesman Gregor Samsa wakes from an anxious dream to discover that he has inexplicably changed into a monstrous insect. Nonetheless, life goes on, and poor Gregor is left to deal not only with the existential questions of who or what he now is but also with more mundane concerns: his job (which he fears he’ll lose), his loved ones (whom he fears he disgusts), and the daily indignities of everyday life (which continue apace). Soon, even those who sympathize with his bizarre predicament begin to lose their patience…
A darkly comic examination of social mores, family dynamics, and the nature of identity itself, Kafka’s unsettling masterpiece has inspired a century of literary debate and interpretive theories. But its enduring power lies in the simplicity of its audacious premise, its deadpan surrealism, and its humane sensitivity.
The Metamorphosis follows Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman who one day wakes up and finds that he has been transformed into a large insect. Before his bizarre transformation, Gregor was the head of his family who worked to support his aging parents and young sister.
The novel begins slowly, with the first part consisting of his horror at waking up in his new form. There is actually a lot of hysterics in the first part and it’s pretty strange but comedic. The reader gets a sense of who Gregor is as a character and his dedication, only thinking of how he can continue working and supporting his family despite his present condition. Absurd, right? This first part also drags a little bit while laying the foundation for the rest of the story which is a shame because it is the point where I’m sure the book will lose many readers.
“I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.”
The following two sections of the book then go onto cover how Gregor and his family adjust to the new situation. Because of Gregor’s condition, he can no longer work, so it falls on the family to go back to work and take care of Gregor. This is when the story transitions from a comedy to a nightmare. The true “metamorphosis” was not Gregor’s transformation – but instead how his “loving” family change over time. How familial duty can become a burden and lead to neglect. Gregor starts to feel ashamed of himself and hides, yet he also craves the love and acceptance that he used to have from his family. This book was just as beautiful as it is heartbreaking and a little horrifying.
There is a multitude of interpretations for this book, and Kafka intentionally left it pretty ambiguous. To me though, The Metamorphosis at its core is a story about how a family deals with illness. If you take away all the absurdity of Gregor becoming an insect and instead make him terminally ill, you’d get pretty much the same story. It delves into the meaning of family and how quickly loyalties dissolve. How much care is given to a person who is now considered useless? How quickly are they swallowed up and forgotten? The brilliant themes of this novel are still incredibly relevant to this day and it’s an issue that doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserves. The Metamorphosis is an enduring classic and an important read about empathy and love, it continues to be one of my favorites.
Warnings: violence, death