As one of the most important works of fiction of the 20th century, Franz Kafka’s novella ‘The Metamorphosis’ can’t be overlooked. Here’s why you should read it.
Why should you read it: The Metamorphosis
Franz Kafka (Prague 1883 – 1924) is a German-language writer and is one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, heavily influencing genres like existentialism and the notion of human existence and the importance of personal experience, responsibility and demands we make as individuals. This didn’t seem to comfort the writer, who said ‘I do not speak as I think, I do not think as I should, and so it all goes on in helpless darkness,’ which leads me on to his novella The Metamorphosis.
This short story was first published in 1915 and, almost 100 years later, is still the subject of many literature classes in colleges and universities. It tells the story of Gregor Samsa, a businessman who wakes up to find that he has transformed into a ‘monstrous vermin’, a vermin that has been depicted as a beetle or cockroach through the decades. Why this transformation happens, we are never told and nor did Kafka ever explain the fate of Gregor.
As mentioned before, Kafka had a keen interest in existentialism and The Metamorphosis is riddled with themes and concepts that nod towards this genre and are what make this book as relevant today as it ever was; the absurdity or life, the disconnection between body and mind, alienation and the limits of sympathy. All of these themes can be applied to many of today’s issues within society and how the use of social media and ‘liking’ culture is propelling these ideas.
The other main protagonists of the book are members of Gregor’s family; Grete Samsa, Mr. Samsa and Mrs. Samsa, who all take his metamorphosis to be a burden, seeing as he is unable to provide for the family anymore. At first his mother and sister attempt to communicate with Gregor but, fearing that he will scare them, he hides away, sending himself into a mental state that questions his incapacity to express what’s in his mind through his transformed body. His father, on the other hand, gives up on his son almost immediately, disgusted by his appearance, and considers what killing him might do for the family, expressing the limits of sympathy and alienation that hold this book together.
Ultimately, Gregor takes it upon himself to willingly die, giving up on life, knowing that his family have become tired of looking after him and realising that his existence is nothing more than a burden on the family; the lack of financial support, the problems his appearance causes, the need to care for him and that their lives have become consumed by him.
Yes, it is rather bleak, isn’t it? Well, when you realise that Gregor Samsa and Grete Samsa are based on Kafka himself and his sister, it adds another level of despair to an already uncomfortably relatable situation.
It’s such an important piece of literature and one that will stand the text of time, forging links to the issues that will hound society for centuries to come. Reading it and studying it presented an opportunity to look at myself in the context of where I am at today and will continue to serve that purpose as I age.
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