I thought I’d share my thoughts on Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. While I’ve read scarier and more disturbing books that very first line – such a simple, frank way to describe the inexplicable nature of such an event – affected me like little else I’ve experienced in literature. I’ve read it several times now, and it was one of the very few books that I managed to read during my hectic years at university.
Why did Gregor have to be the only one condemned to work for a company where they immediately became highly suspicious at the slightest shortcoming? Were all employees, every one of them, louts, was there not one of them who was faithful and devoted who would go so mad with pangs of conscience that he couldn’t get out of bed if he didn’t spend at least a couple of hours in the morning on company business?
I really like Kafka. I haven’t read his novels yet, like The Trial, as I’ve only really read his shorter works such as The Judgement, A Country Doctor and In The Penal Colony. But his style, which became known after his passing as ‘Kafkaesque’, is great because it’s so digestible. It reads like a stream of thought and even when those thoughts turn to delirium and incomprehensible aloneness it reads effortlessly and soon it becomes difficult to stop. Kafka combines surrealism and senselessness with the mundane rigours of daily life, with his characters often disoriented and helpless, stuck in complex and illogical situations from which they cannot escape. The Metamorphosis is no different.
The sister played so beautifully. Her face was tilted to one side and she followed the notes with soulful and probing eyes. Gregor advanced a little, keeping his eyes low so that they might possibly meet hers. Was he a beast if music could move him so?
Even if you haven’t read The Metamorphosis you’ve probably heard of it and might even have some idea of the plot. I won’t go into details; man turns into beetle, has a bad time.
Gregor Samsa’s plight is tragic. He is so monstrous yet his mind remains human. His parents reject him, disgusted and let down by their son whom they have come to rely on so heavily. And after initially showing sympathy and a willingness to help and live with Gregor, eventually even his sister (whom Gregor cares for deeply) rejects him as nothing but a monster, heartbreakingly referring to Gregor as ‘it’.
“It’s got to go”, shouted his sister, “that’s the only way, Father. You’ve got to get rid of the idea that that’s Gregor. We’ve only harmed ourselves by believing it for so long. How can that be Gregor? If it were Gregor he would have seen long ago that it’s not possible for human beings to live with an animal like that and he would have gone of his own free will. We wouldn’t have a brother any more, then, but we could carry on with our lives and remember him with respect. As it is this animal is persecuting us, it’s driven out our tenants, it obviously wants to take over the whole flat and force us to sleep on the streets.”
The Metamorphosis is a short story by Franz Kafka that brilliantly captures the feeling of helplessness and doubt and should be essential reading to anyone who doesn’t like getting out of bed. So most people then. But if you really can’t push yourself to read it, you can find an excellent narrated version by none other than Benedict Cumberbatch.
I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.