My First Date with Kafka
To any resident in the literary world Franz Kafka is a household name that needs no introduction. Neither is his ‘The Metamorphosis’. In fact most of us would’ve had our rendezvous with Kafka only through this work, often cited as his epitome of his literary achievement. So am I.
The original version of the novella was first published in 1915 in German original ‘Die Verwandlung’ which is translated into English also as ‘The Transformation’. The protagonist of the story is Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman, who works hard in his firm to payback his father’s debt. One morning he wakes up and finds himself transformed into an insect, to his shock.
Though often, especially in illustrations for this work, the creature is represented to the likes of a cockroach or in some cases a dung beetle, Kafka doesn’t insist either of it. His narrations about the transformed, explained with intricate details, are more of the common morphological descriptions that could befit many insects. Indeed Kafka himself wrote to his publishers not to illustrate a bug on the cover of the book.
He was more concerned about the psychic transformation of the character due to his unforeseen physical transformation, rather than the form of transformation. What surprised me while reading this work is the way Gregor perceives his transformed state! He cares not of his abrupt transfiguration or anxious about the possible reasons of it. He cares not of his abrupt transfiguration or anxious about the possible reasons of it. Unable to move from his bed, all he thinks hard is not about his condition but ways to carry on with his routine.
His familial affection overwhelms his self empathy. He tries his best to compose himself all alone, as much as he could, and is particular about not revealing his condition, to his family members. After the retreat of his head clerk, utterly in shock, the repulsive manner of treatment by his father, upsetting Gregor leaving him little amused. In the initial portion only his sister Grete Samsa is shown to be showing consoling mercy. Later on as the days progress, growing to weeks and finally months things change.
The remaining part of the work focuses more on the attitudinal changes of the family members towards Gregor, as their patience and resilience fade eroded by the passage of time. The work stress pressing on them reflects all, in their treatment of Gregor changes phenomenally.
Kafka with his vivid description of the hardships faced by the protagonist with his new form makes it stand out and deserves its place to be identified as one of the seminal works of the 20th century literature. Literally the author should’ve mentally lived the life of an insect during the course of the writing.
The work, in my view examines the ways in which relationships turn sour when they are subjected to unexpected adversities. It also shows a picture of the change in treatments from the members of the family, of someone who from being the sole bread winner of the family reduces to a pressing burden to be carried on. The humiliation Gregor faces in general and in the presence of the three boarders totally distasteful from his PoV. Yet, on the other hand Kafka doesn’t paint an altogether bad picture on the others but develops the plot in ways that a reader is more tempted to blame it on the pathetic situation than on the characters.
The climax of the story makes us realize the practicality in the family’s acceptance of Gregor’s demise and insists on the need to pull on, for there is still life to live on, after all.
I would never categorize this piece of writing an analysis but merely a perception of the work as a reader.