I just finished reading The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. This short novel is often listed as a literary classic and a must read, and I can certainly see why. I decided to read this piece after it was mentioned on a television show. The students in the show (briefly) discussed the deeper meanings in the book, and it caught my interest.
When I began reading The Metamorphosis, I had a vague idea of what it was about, but what I found was even more interesting than I had anticipated. Kafka doesn’t waste any time; right out of the gate within the first two or three sentences, we’re told that Gregor woke up from a distressing dream, and he is now a giant bug. It’s a strange concept, and a truly lovely one indeed.
So here’s Gregor, stranded on his bed, attempting to comprehend how to get up, how is he going to get to work, and how to control his little legs that seem useless to him at first. But here’s the rub, and this is something that I could not get passed as I continued to read this book: never once does Gregor bemoan his situation on his own behalf. Yes, he admits that it’s a terrible state to be in and all the problems it’s going to cause – but not for him. His only concern is for his family.
From minute one, Gregor is worried about how his being a bug is going to effect his family. Gregor lives with his parents and his sister. After his father suffered a great financial downfall a few years before, Gregor has become the main, if not the sole, moneymaker in the household. Now, he’s a giant bug and it’s obvious that he’s not going to be able to go to work in that condition – though he does consider it. At one point he’s attempting to make it off his back and stand up so he can get ready and still catch the train to get to the office so he won’t be counted tardy at work or have anything unflattering said about him by his co-workers for not coming in.
All I could think as I was reading through the first part of this book was, “How can he not be worried for himself?” But he’s not, or at least that’s not the focus of the story. As it continues, Gregor goes on to do more for his family. He’s locked up in his bedroom, and there he stays, not trying to force his way into the rest of the house for their benefit. He hides when his sister enters his room, so she won’t have to look at him and be frightened or disgusted. He keeps himself clean, so as to be less like a bug and he even stays away from his one window during the day, so that the neighbors won’t see him, and in return harass his family.
All of this led me to truly sympathize with Gregor. I even got to the point of worrying over him. For the few days it took me to read this, I kept updating my husband on Gregor’s progress, or lack thereof. I started to wonder what would happen next and if he was ever going to be cured, and, more importantly, would his family ever accept him for how he is now. It was troubling, and Gregor – despite being a bug – played the role of the hero perfectly.
The Metamorphosis is divided into the three parts, and by the time you get to part three, things in the household have taken a dark turn. Gregor can’t communicate with his family, though he tries in a number of ways. I think this really brings a whole new level of sorrow into the story. He tries so hard, and yet nothing comes of it.
Without going into too many spoilers, Gregor ends up getting hurt, and slowly starts to deteriorate – physically and emotionally. His family, too, are headed down that same path. With Gregor no longer bringing in an income (and it’s quite appalling how they’ve been using him as a means to money and stable living, before he was a bug), they’ve all gone to work and by the time months pass, the pressure and strain of working long hours and caring for the giant secret locked in the bedroom – they start to think very ill of Gregor. Murder is discussed, though it’s clear they don’t see it that way. Gregor becomes a “thing” and not the family member they all once loved.
It’s heartbreaking, and in one of the last scenes, even though his demise is being plotted, Gregor is still trying to communicate, still trying to encourage his sister to not give up on her dreams. It’s almost too much of a blow when his sister – who had been his greatest advocate through the entire book – turns on him in the end.
I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream at her, “How could you?!”
But so it goes. People get worn down. They give up. Selfishness takes hold, or maybe it’s just exhaustion that eats away their strength to do what’s right. Either way, it happened.
I won’t say how this book ends, though I’m sure it’s probably more than obvious by now. What I will say though, is that it is worth the read. It’s an emotional tale about a man who was no longer treated like a human just because he didn’t look like one anymore. But underneath it all, he was still Gregor – and that’s the point.