Book Review: Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Metamorphosis is a surrealistic fiction, 46 page Ebook novella originally written in 1912 by Franz Kafka, and published in 1913. The story is about Gregor Samsa, a textile salesman who awoke one morning from a troubled sleep to find he had transformed into a verminous creature, but with his human intellect still intact. The story’s main characters are Gregor Samsa, his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Samsa, and his younger seventeen year old sister, Grete. The minor characters are the maid Anna, the charwoman, the chief clerk, and three gentlemen renters. In Kafkaesque style, Franz Kafka describes Gregor’s acceptance of what he had become while still maintaining his humanity, how he copes in a new solitary existence in an inexplicable situation that eerily parallels his own life. The subtlety of the story may be lost on younger readers, and is better suited for ages sixteen years old and upward. Review based on Metamorphosis, Etext-No. 5200 translated by David Wyllie release date 8-17-2005, Size 50kb, Character set encoding ISO-8859-1, Copyright © 2002 by David Wyllie. The Metamorphosis is also available in paperback.
Beginning on page one the reader is immersed into Gregor’s world where his presence among humans is abhorrent, and his bedroom is the sum total of his environment. Kafka describes Gregor’s transformed appearance as he aroused from sleep this way; “He lay on his armour-like back, and if he lifted his head a little he could see his brown belly, slightly domed and divided by arches into stiff sections. The bedding was hardly able to cover it and seemed ready to slide off any moment. His many legs, pitifully thin compared with the size of the rest of him, waved about helplessly as he looked.”
Gregor’s initial thought, “What’s happened to me?” is a logical reaction in a nonsensical scenario. On the surface the story seems incredulous, but Kafka so intertwines the realistic emotions of the story’s supporting characters with the surrealistic emotions of the leading character that the tale almost seems plausible. Gregor described his new appearance in a clinical fashion, and then proceeded to pragmatically ponder how to get on with his life. At the top of his “to do list” was getting out of bed, catch the morning train, and get to work. While his appearance was even repulsive to his own family, Gregor still felt financially responsibe for his parents; Mr. and Mrs. Samsa, and his younger sister, Grete. However, when the chief clerk from his office ran from the Samsa home after seeing Gregor in his transformed state, Gregor was forced to see the impossibility of ever returning to work. With the realization that his world ended at his bedroom door, and that the outside world was forever closed to him, Gregor adapted.
When a nostalgic mood, Gregor would sometimes summon up the effort to push a chair to the window, climb up onto the windowsill, and gaze out at the world. And, when in an especially whimsical mood, Gregor would crawl up and down the walls and ceiling, or he would swing from the ceiling enjoying the sense of freedom it evoked. Although, his physical appearance had created for him a prison, his imagination was the key to escape his enclosure. His imagination and his sister, Grete, were the intermittent joys in his life now.
Gregor’s sister, Grete, took on the chore of bringing his food, and tidying up his room. However, Mrs. Samsa, found it unbearable to look at her son in his present condition, and still held out hope the old Gregor would be restored one day. Mr. Samsa’s initial reaction to his transformed son is best be conveyed by Kafka’s depiction of the scene, like this: “His father looked hostile, and clenched his fists as if wanting to knock Gregor back into his room.” In the backdrop of the story, there is another underlying story of a son wanting to please his father, and a father who is either incapable or who is unwilling to establish a close rapport with his son.
Throughout the story, Gregor’s caring and empathic consideration toward others, exhibited more humanity when juxtaposed with the actions of people who appeared whole. Kafka uses a key scene near the end to express Gregor’s need to prove to himself that despite appearances he was a man.
One evening the charwoman left the door to his room slightly open and Gregor took the opportunity to observe the family and the renters at supper. When the evening meal was over, Grete took out her violin and began to play. As soon as Gregor heard the music, he was drawn out of the darkness of his room into the living room. He was unconscious of anything except the sweetness of the music, and he thought to himself, “Was he an animal if music could captivate him so?”
In my opinion, Gregor was not an animal, but bitterness and self-loathing had gradually built up over the years, until one morning he was transformed to appear outwardly as he felt about himself inwardly. “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…” (Proverbs 23:7). He held a job he did not like; the constant travel, eating irregular meals, never with anyone long enough to form lasting relationships. And, had it not been for his family, Gregor would have submitted his resignation years earlier. But, he stayed, and his family who had once showed their appreciation for the life he was providing for them, now, didn’t even bother to pretend gratitude. Gregor, was transformed after years of compromise.
The life of Franz Kafka well-equipped him to write a story about living in isolation while maintaining a sense of self. Franz Kafka was born into a Jewish family in Prague, known today as the Czech Republic, and was taught to speak fluent German. Kafka grew up experiencing the Anti-Semitic riots in Prague, and must have at times fully identified Gregor, as he tried to comprehend the incomprehensible. But, just as Gregor used his imagination to cope with his isolation, so did young Kafka, when as a child he wrote and directed birthday plays for his parents, in which his sisters were the stars.
Kafka was very close to his sisters, especially Ottilie, but as in Metamorphosis, there was a lifelong tension between Kafka and his father that is depicted in his book, “Letter to His Father.”
Franz Kafka contracted tuberculosis in 1917, and was attended to by his family, particularly Ottilie, during prolonged periods of recuperation. Although, treated vigorously, Kafka’s health deteriorated and unable to eat he died in Kierling Sanatorium outside Vienna on June 3, 1924, and is buried in the Jewish cemetery in Straschnitz, Prague.
Franz Kafka’s three sisters, Gabriele, Valerie and Ottilie, along with their families died in Nazi concentration camps; Ottilie died in an Auschwitz gas chamber on October 7, 1943.
The story Metamorphosis makes more sense than the Holocaust.
Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka, David Wyllie translation, Gutenberg Ebook Project, Etext File 5200
Holy Bible, KJV, Zondervan Publishing House