The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (1915)
Fiction | Classic
“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. He was laying on his hard, as it were armor-plated, back and when he lifted his head a little he could see his domelike brown belly divided into stiff arched segments on top of which the bed quilt could hardly keep in position and was about to slide off completely. His numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his bulk, waved helplessly before his eyes.”
With this startling, bizarre, yet surprisingly funny first opening, Kafka begins his masterpiece, The Metamorphosis.
It is the story of a young man who, transformed overnight into a giant beetle-like insect, becomes an object of disgrace to his family, an outsider in his own home, a quintessentially alienated man. A harrowing — though absurdly comic — meditation on human feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and isolation, The Metamorphosis has taken its place as one of the most widely read and influential works of twentieth-century fiction.
As W.H. Auden wrote, “Kafka is important to us because his predicament is the predicament of modern man.”
pooled ink Review:
I first read this book in high school and I read it because I had to for my English class. This book at first was not a good fit for me because I detest insects, bugs, and the like. I know they do good in the world, blah blah blah…but still if they dare to enter my home…let’s just say it’s a one-way ticket.
Moving on. As I read this book and discussed it as a class and also with my friends and my teacher its significance began to become clearer to me. The more I read the less repulsion and confusion I felt and instead I felt more sympathy and began to catch glimpses of understanding from this window Kafka has crafted into exploring a hushed away part of the human soul.
Perhaps some of the story is comedic or at least it’s supposed to be. But for me I mostly just felt sad (well I did once I got past the whole giant bug part because until then I just felt grossed out). I could relate to brief moments of Gregor’s experience and those that I couldn’t I yearned to try to understand or simply sit back with a troubled stare and ask myself ‘why?’
Weirdly, or perhaps fittingly, I can relate and understand a bit more as I’ve grown older.
The fact that Kafka never explains the cause behind Gregor’s transformation either in the story or in reality speaks volumes because it’s not simple is it? A transformation is never a simple thing. Although in this world of almost instant gratification we demand a simple solution for everything but the human condition is not one that will ever yield such a thing. Humans are incurably (and beautifully) complex.
The conclusion to this story I will warn you is tragic. Perhaps it is easily guessed at but I tend to have this infuriatingly persistent hope and so when the ending became un-ignorable and clear and as my eyes swept the words off the pages as the events unfolded I was left in my chair feeling annoyingly upset.
While this story takes on clearly metaphorical components to illustrate its message it still plays out heartbreakingly realistic as you realize how possible, relatable, or secretly common it is and this realization spreads through your mind and forces it open a bit wider and the wonder at how many people can, could, or do completely relate with Gregor’s story is overwhelming.
If you’ve already read this book as a student then whether you liked this book or not may have to do with the accompanying homework, tests, and the teacher that taught you. But whether you’re a young student or a hundred years old I’d still recommend reading this book. It’s not a classic and a 20th Century influence on literature for nothing.
Purchase here: The Metamorphosis
Meet Franz Kafka!
Franz Kafka was one of the major fiction writers of the 20th century. He was born to a middle-class German-speaking Jewish family in Prague, Bohemia (presently the Czech Republic), Austria–Hungary. His unique body of writing—much of which is incomplete and which was mainly published posthumously—is considered to be among the most influential in Western literature.