Hardly aware of what he was doing other than a slight feeling of shame, he hurried under the couch. It pressed down on his back a little, and he was no longer able to lift his head, but he nonetheless felt immediately at ease and his only regret was that his body was too broad to get it all underneath.
Last month when I found out that I could download a lot of the classic books for free on Apple Books, I came upon Franz Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’. I had heard his name before, but never read anything and mainly out of curiosity did I start to read the first page. I didn’t think I would finish the novel so quickly.
Although the story itself is quite odd; the main character Gregory Samsa wakes up as a ‘monstrous vermin’, which details give the reader the occasional nauseousness, talking about his little, jerky legs or in general his slimy body; the writing itself and the tension building is extraordinary.
The book starts with Greg waking up and finding himself turned into an insect for reasons that are not explained in the book. Kafka writes about this moment so detailed: Greg waking up and perceiving his body, trying to get out of bed, attempting to communicate with his sister Grete and parents outside the locked door, but they only hear squeaks.
It’s interesting here that Greg doesn’t seem the panic about his new body so much as that he worries about the welfare of his family. He is the main provider for the family and can’t lose his job. But when they finally find out that he’s turned into an insect, despicable, hideously looking, and unable to work, he’s locked up in his room where he resides mostly under the couch or hangs from the ceiling.
As the story unfolds, the family lose interest in him. He’s neglected, injured by his father and finally perishes from starvation when he realises that he’s a burden to the family.
It’s a tragic story in its own right and, to me, a metaphor that I interpreted as Greg being ‘vermin’ in the eyes of his family after he was unable to provide for the family (and lost his function). Although the family first experiences great distress from finding their son turned, they later seem happy that he’s gone.
Often Metamorphosis is seen as influenced by Kafka’s father problems, but he denies this. According to him, the sister Grete that’s his downfall. I agree that Grete makes his life harder, although Greg at first interprets this as good intentions. It also shows to me a certain ignorance from Greg’s perspective. He’s never truly angry or upset by his change; he’s worried about his family and he even accepts his death in order to ‘relieve them of him’.
The story seems simple, but it’s very layered. I read through it because I wanted to find out to what insect specifically he’d turned (I suspect a cockroach), whether he was going to turn back to a human, what changed him; but as I progressed through the story, the intricate social interactions kept me going.
What I also liked about Metamorphosis is how Kafka manages to write seemingly unimportant scenes and turn them into interesting parts. The time spent by Greg in his room without doing much didn’t bore me at all; Kafka described the room, talked about things Greg does and thinks, goes back to previous occurrences and so keeps the reader interested in what a man-turned-into-a-cockroach might do with his spare time. That’s good writing.
This story will stay with me for those reasons. It shows how people’s feelings and opinions change after a significant event that affects their life. In the end, they didn’t see Greg as their son, but as a burden. It’s a story about the selfishness of people, the rusted habits in which people tend to fall back again and again and it’s a story about a kind-hearted man who turned into an insect.