The Metamorphosis is the story of a young traveling salesman who, transformed overnight into a giant, beetle-like insect, becomes an object of disgrace to his family, an outsider in his own home, a quintessentially alienated man. It is a harrowing--though absurdly comic--meditation on human feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and isolation.
The descriptive quality of the writing is excellent, and although it is a sad and gruesome tale, it is also very funny in parts; I couldn't help laughing out loud a couple of times.
The main thing that struck me, was that even though this story is nearly 100 years old, it is still totally relevant to today's world (and I'm not sure that's something we should be proud of).
As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. He was lying on his hard, as it were armor-plated, back and when he lifted his head a little he could see his domelike brown belly divided into stiff arched segments on top of which the bed quilt could hardly stay in place and was about to slide off completely. His numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his bulk, waved helplessly before his eyes.
I'd read this work published in 1915 was a seminal work of the early 20th century. I'd read it was important to the Existentialist movement, surreal and absurdest and despairing. So what surprised me about this short novella--it's only about 22 thousand words--is how funny it is. I just found this all pretty hilarious. Is that bad, and wrong? It has been described as horror--but I mean, just the way Kafka describes poor Gregor trying to get around on his little legs--or trying to squeak out explanations to his supervisor or his family... I found nothing very heavy in this--or anything all that philosophical--at least not in any ponderous or pedantic way. It felt more light humor than anything--and really, an engaging introduction for me to this writer who'd I'd definitely read again.
Source: BBC Radio 4 Extra
'I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.'
Imagine you go to bed one night with nothing out of the ordinary occurring only to wake up to find you have transformed into a monstrous insect overnight. Your family can no longer communicate with you, they no longer can even stand to look at you. You've become repulsive and abhorrent for seemingly no apparent reason. What do you do?
Everyone has heard of The Metamorphosis, Kafka's literary masterpiece, a book that is obviously more than meets the eye. The story possessed a dream-like quality where nothing is ever considered appropriately, as Gregor accepted his transformation into insect form a lot more readily than one might normally. Many have attempted to form their own interpretations of the story but I personally can't see it being anything other than a metaphor. While there are bound to be several different opinions on this, this is what I came up with:
Up until that life altering morning Gregor led an uneventful life where he worked constantly to support his family and in turn they steadily grew unproductive the more they began to depend on him. Gregor travels so often for work that communication between him and his family begins to cease and most importantly his family stops being appreciative of all he does for them and instead begins to simply expect it. That fateful morning he woke and began to contemplate his job and how terrible he finds it and if he didn't have his parents to worry about he would have "given in my notice a long time ago, I'd have gone up to the boss and told him just what I think, tell him everything I would, let him know just what I feel." The more and more he dwells on this the more he realizes what he does for them, what they don't do and how his work ethic in order to support his family has in turn alienated them from him. By becoming the sole breadwinner of the family he transformed himself into an outsider, the transformation only becoming a physical interpretation when he realizes that himself.
I've never read Kafka before having always found myself intimidated by his works. When I discovered that the BBC Radio had produced a recording of this being read by Benedict Cumberbatch I jumped on the opportunity and I am so glad I did. I had listened to a clip of the audiobook that was released by Blackstone Audio and narrated by Ralph Cosham... that audiobook sat on my phone for so long I forgot about it because it sounded dreadfully dull. Benedict Cumberbatch truly brought this story to life and made this a real treat for me.
After I finished reading it I wasn’t really sure what I thought about it but after having a couple of days to ponder it- I’ve decided that I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed Kafka’s writing style; it was very simplistic and straight forward. Another aspect of the story that I liked was that the climax was at the beginning of the novel and the story develops from there. The protagonist’s reaction to ‘the metamorphosis’ itself was interesting to me, in the sense that there was no apparent alarm there and ‘the metamorphosis’ was seen in the most pragmatic terms, all things considering. I think ‘Metamorphosis’ was Kafka’s view of human nature, how we tend to deny or bury unpleasantness and excuse our bad behaviour, especially with the support of others within our group or circle that happen to be guilty of the same bad behaviour and how society will come to terms, and even to accept injustices done to others. I think also, it could be symbolic of Kafka’s own family experience? It’s a quick little novella that would take you no time at all to read
This is one of the most famous opening lines in literature, and the general concept of The Metamorphosis, which hovers on the borderline of being a short story or a novella, is one of literature’s most famous and fascinating stories. No explanation is given for Gregor Samsa’s terrible fate; he and his family must simply endure it. Almost the entire novella takes place within the Samsa family’s apartment, and over a mere 61 pages Kafka develops an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia, alienation and sheer misery at the unjustness of the world.
This is a book many students are forced to read in high school, probably because of its short length, like The Great Gatsby, with no consideration for the fact that high school students probably aren’t yet equipped to appreciate the themes it explores (again like The Great Gatsby). There are dozens if not hundreds of scholarly interpretations as to what The Metamorphosis is allegorising; mental illness and depression are popular ideas. If I had to throw my hat into the ring I’d suggest it’s about the struggles of adulthood, the sometimes crushing sense of responsibility, the loss of innocence; much is made of the fact that Gregor, in his early twenties, has been working as a salesman to support his recently impoverished family, and following his transformation his inability to work and provide for them leaves him with a terrible sense of guilt. On the very morning of the metamorphosis the head clerk arrives from his office, demanding to know why he has not turned up for work, and it’s almost a scene of black comedy as Gregor attempts to leave the bed and open the door, to reassure his superior that he is fit and able and enthusiastic. The fact that he has turned into a monster is of secondary concern to his job security.
This particular edition has a couple of Kafka’s other short stories at the back, presumably because the publisher wanted to pad the length out. None of them struck me as particularly memorable. The Metamorphosis, on the other hand, deserves its status as a literary classic – an enduring symbol of alienation in human society.
From Gregor's perspective there's the problem of his no longer being able to communicate with his family in return. He can no longer explain his wants or desires in any language they will understand because he has become entirely alien to them, and so he discovers his own ebbing of empathy for their perspective as well, like a memory in the act of being forgotten.
This might be a good classic for adolescents, who so often feel isolated or misunderstood by their family (assuming it's properly introduced.) I read it while ill, an event that tends to skew one's priorities and values and so gave me my own way of relating - the sick invalid who temporarily lacks the same cares as his family around him, shut up in his room and not to be disturbed. Some parts were darkly humorous, but I can't say I found it comforting.
This is so wonderfully written and paced and the message, so strong in its dark tones, is very balanced with the narrative, making it a pleasure to read.
In trying to find a similar work, I can think only of Orwell's "Animal Farm", with its strong message also perfectly intertwined with it's narrative. The difference is I find Kafka's writing style more alluring, more poignant.
I opened it, planning to read only a bit of the beginning and ended up reading all of it without getting up from the chair.
I suspect I'll be reading this many more times.
So I finally sat down to read Kafka’s most famous work, the short novel Metamorphosis, and it’s everything I had ever meant to express by invoking the man's name: absurd, dark, grotesque, and humorous only in the blackest possible sense of the word.
I was, of course, already familiar with the very famous first line of the book, translated in my edition as, "One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin." I think I had imagined, before reading, that the book would jump from that absurd beginning immediately in some other direction, but it doesn’t. It’s a good 10% of the way into the book (I read it on the Kindle; no page numbers) before Brundle-fly - sorry, Gregor-roach - even manages to flip over and get out of his bed, and it sets the tone for the rest of the book: unflinching, matter-of-fact in its depiction of surreal things, and compulsively readable at the same time that it’s psychologically uncomfortable and viscerally repelling.
I won’t spoil the ending for anyone reading this who is as big a poseur as I was, but I will say this: if Dan Savage woke from troubled dreams one morning to find himself transformed in his bed into Franz Kafka, he’d have started a viral video campaign called "It Gets Worse."
Before reading the story I thought that the storyline was that Samsa discovers himself transformed into a bug and is completely horrified but then his family, coworkers and strangers aren't the least bit perturbed by his monstrous appearance and he carries on his life “as usual” except he’s a giant bug. I suppose this too would have made a good story—if it hasn’t already—but one quite different from Kafka’s original tale. My erroneous expectations took nothing away from the experience for me and in fact, I found this story could be read on many different levels. For instance, one could easily conclude that this book was a commentary on antisemitism, which was rife in 1915, the year this book was first published, and/or that Kafka was perhaps working out issues of self-hatred or that it was an omen of things to come with the rise of Nazism in the 1930’s when the depiction of Jews as monstrous vermin became ubiquitous in Nazi propaganda. Then again, maybe Kafka didn’t mean to convey anything else than the story itself at face value, which still leaves us with plenty to ponder.
An entertaining story with profound impact.
Although Gregor didn't grasp how little his family thought of him through most of the story, I was glad he didn't or his feelings would have been even more hurt.
I don't like bugs, especially roaches, so parts of the story grossed me out. But is was well worth the read!
Well, this will certainly be a day unlike all others.
A classic work of expressionism. A metaphor for what happens to an individual when he lives a life he loathes, for extreme alienation and rebellion. What the reader brings to the text will inform his or her interpretation, and that makes the work all the more extraordinary.
Gregor Samsa "woke up one morning from unsettling dreams" and "found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin". This is how the story starts, with its climax. The rest of the story goes on to tell about Gregor's new life as a bug, and how he and his family react.
I am glad I read this story.