The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

What if, one morning you woke up and found yourself turned into a bug? Maybe, in the fantasy world, you would think of acquiring superpowers of Spiderman, Antman and the likes. On a tragic reality front, you would realize the disastrous consequences awaiting your life.

The Metamorphosis is a novella written by Franz Kafka that was published in 1915. This is one of Kafka’s finest works. And, Kafka can never disappoint you; his knack to pull you into the darker side of the human mind and leave you trembling there is supreme.

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One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug.

The Metamorphosis is the story of Gregor Samsa’s overnight transformation into an insect/bug and the consequences thereafter. This physical transformation leads to a compelling story about his struggles and his family approach at the acceptance of this changed scenario. The emotional metamorphosis is rather hard-hitting as the characters come to terms with reality.

Kafka decides not to tell us why Gregor has transformed. It is an unlikely scenario that has unfolded and yet the narrative follows a realistic flow. Simply put, it becomes the story of the sole bread-earner of a poor family hit by some disease, leaving him disfigured, crippled and bed-ridden.

Gregor Samsa has led a burdened life. His father, though old, was healthy enough yet had not worked for the last five years. This is when there were debts to be paid off. The responsibility fell on Gregor, which would have taken him another 5-6 years. His mother suffered from asthma and his seventeen-year-old sister was still treated like a child.

At work, Gregor had an equally burdened routine, waking up early to reach office and undertake extensive travel. As a traveling salesman of cloth goods, Gregor felt his colleagues were rather living like ‘harem women’.

The story is divided into three parts. And, like the stages of metamorphosis, it charts Gregor’s condition from transformation to living in an antagonist family environment and then, the end.

What does the ‘Metamorphosis’ or the transformation bring for Gregor?

Gregor is put in a highly insensitive environment. Kafka has portrayed the revulsion and the disappointment of the family members beautifully. The physical sight is unbearable for the family members.

Gregor had expected his family to help him, atleast get him out of the bed on that unfateful morning. Instead, nobody tried to understand his agonies. Alongwith the physical transformation, Gregor’s voice also changes into incomprehensible blabbering. With this, Kafka cuts off any avenue for two-way communication. It is in this grim situation that you find the story moving ahead.

An office manager comes to visit Gregor at home for not reaching the office on time. And, here you realize how the modern-day corporate working style based on complete human apathy gets depicted. Gregor tries to request the manager to report everything truthfully to the Chairman so that his job is not in jeopardy but the startled manager runs away from the apartment.

Gregor is pushed back to his room and shut by his father; in a way that he is injured. And, as an ailing member of the family, Gregor is pushed to the margins; his room is almost like a storehouse with unwanted furniture and other items.

Two weeks since his transformation, Gregor’s parents do not gather the courage to visit his room. It is Grete, his sister who cleans his room and brings food for him.

…inspite of his present unhappy and hateful appearance, Gregor was a member of the family, something one should not treat as an enemy, and that it was, on the contrary, a requirement of family duty to suppress one’s aversion and to endure – nothing else, just endure.

Metamorphosis of the Family Members

In the absence of Gregor’s ability to work and earn, the family members discuss the future. The old father resumes going to work, Grete joins work and the ailing mother begins sewing undergarments for a shop.

Metamorphosis is also about Mental Health

We neglect the financial burden that is laid upon the male member of the family, a socially accepted norm. In the capitalist society that was still emerging, Kafka could sense the work pressure and isolation of an individual in the daily drudgery.

At one point Gregor had, “felt a great pride that he had been able to provide such a life in a beautiful apartment like this for his parents and his sister. But how would things go if now all tranquillity, all prosper­ity, all contentment should come to a horrible end?”

The sole bread-winner of the family is reduced to an unwanted invalid. This is when Gregor’s desire to live ends. He is physically hurt and emotionally strained.

On a Positive Note

The Metamorphosis can be interpreted in many ways. In contrast to Gregor’s metamorphosis into languishing and dying; Grete has matured and assumed family responsibility. Grete’s transformation into an earning member of the family can be seen as the rise of feminism and acceptance of women in the organised workforce.

More than a hundred-year-old tale is still so relevant and within this grim and dark world, there are so many aspects that keep you riveted to the book.

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