A couple of years ago I read a book by Franz Kafka called ‘Metamorphosis’. Since then, this book has inspired me in several projects and so I wanted to write a little bit about it for those of you who haven’t – yet – read it.
The ‘Metamorphosis’ – originally Die Verwandlung – is a fantasy novel written by Czech author Franz Kafka. It was written in 1912, two years before the First World War, and some authors point out the agony and pessimism present in Kafka’s words as a reflection of the environment and general feeling lived at the time.
This is the story of Gregor Samsa, a man who lives with his parents (both unemployed for health reasons) and his little sister, Grete. He sees himself forced to take a job as a bagman in order to financially support his family. One morning, Gregor wakes up to a very unusual situation: overnight, he had turned into a giant god-awful insect with a hard back and several legs.
The book consists of three parts. In the first, we follow Gregor in his process of consciousness of having suffered a metamorphosis and we see how he is being approached by his family. In the second part, we observe the day-by-day of an isolated and rejected Gregor. Finally, in the third and last part, we watch the main character getting weaker, both physically and psychologically.
The ‘Metamorphosis’ is a story that plays as a wake-up call to its readers in regard to the society we live in and the human behaviours which Kafka considers as absurd. Even though this novel was written over 100 years ago, it is still very accurate and pertinent today.
Through this metaphorical narrative, Kafka reflects on social aspects like loneliness/ the feeling of exclusion/ rejection, helplessness, existencial crisis, the absurd of life, the disconnection between body and mind, alienation and the limits of empathy/ sympathy… and criticises the values of the capitalist society which narrows the human being to what they look like and produce.
Regarding my own critical opinion on the novel, this was a book that was difficult to read at first, as Kafka’s way of writing is different from what I am used to (more static and descriptive). However, once I got used to his writing, it became easy to immerse myself in the story. The same detailed description that I hadn’t quite liked at first became what really got me into it and one of the reasons I liked the ‘Metamorphosis’ so much.
There are a few aspects of this narrative I found rather interesting: one is the title – when I first started reading the book, I thought the ‘metamorphosis’ refered merely to the physical and psychological transformation suffered by Gregor; however, I later realised another metamorphosis had occured within the family, regarding the feelings of Gregor’s parents and sister for their son and brother: if at first it was Gregor who supported the family, he was now considered a burden and even though the family had loved him unconditionally, they now hated him for the difficulties he made them go through.
Another peculiarity I was interested in was the fact that, through the entire narrative, Kafka never specified which insect Gregor was and that Gregor himself was never fully aware of his transformation (in the sense that he didn’t quite realised how he had also changed psychologically – to him, he was still the exact same person, only in a different body).
We are never told why and how this metamorphosis occurs. What happens during that night or anything previous to the morning Gregor wakes up and finds out he is an insect is a complete mystery to us readers. This is something that intrigues me. That and the fact that Gregor didn’t seem to be revolted or angry when discovering he had been transformed into an insect; instead, he simply resigns to his new condition.
These aspects, as well as the many topics covered during the course of the narrative, make ‘Metamorphosis’ a book propitious to reflection, something I quite like. This is a story that, while being sad, prompts us to thinking; thus, more than any other book I have read before, it is the reflection that arises from the reading that keeps us interested, more than the narrative itself.