Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Metamorphosis




















They always seemed to be in a group, frantic, following each other in a line, moving urgently. The mere thought of them made my skin crawl. Cockroaches were the bugs I feared most as a child. I grew up in NYC, and if I spotted any roaches in the apartment, I was thrown into a panic. Although my sister, Sharon, drew clever cartoons about a cute, friendly roach, I grew up with a strong fear and loathing of these insects.

As a teenager I read The Metamorphosisby Franz Kafka, probably because of my father's recommendation. Published in 1915, this short story or novella appeals to young imaginations, as the main character, Gregor Samsa, wakes up one morning and slowly realizes that he's inexplicably metamorphosed into a giant beetle--a "monstrous verminous bug". He's not a roach, but an insect similar in appearance and status. I decided to reread The Metamorphosis online after reading a recent post about it on Mel's blog, The Reading Life.

The story is sad, because Gregor, a young man, has been working very hard as a traveling salesman to support himself, his parents, and his sister, Grete, and receives little if any gratitude in return. One of the themes of the book is alienation--from family, co-workers, and the world at large; Gregor does not receive affection or support from anyone. After awakening one dreary morning in his locked room, and discovering that he has been transformed into some kind of a large, hideous beetle, all he wants to do is to act responsibly, get out of bed, and go to work, which is now impossible. Transformed into an insect, he can hardly get out of bed, much less get ready for work, and he has no choice but to get used to his new state.

Is it all a dream?

It's not supposed to be a dream, although it could be. Gregor has just woken up after having had some "anxious dreams". (The story makes you think about your own dreams, and how reality can slip into them. For example, if I have to wake up earlier than usual, the last dream before I wake up is often related to getting up; my mind creates dreams that "remind" me that I need to exit the bed early.) Kafka transforms the protagonist into a disgusting beetle, a despised, useless creature, a character who could symbolize the alienation and melancholy of modern man. Even though Gregor was solely supporting his family, he was not appreciated at all. His sister shows that she cares for him a wee bit, and brings him food, but even that wanes as time goes by. Although he was a conscientious worker, "Mr. Manager" stops by his house and lets him know that he was not productive enough, that he has little value as an employee. All too soon, Gregor-the-insect is neglected by his family and becomes weary, sickly, and dirty. He feels guilty about his state and hides himself from his family because he wants to spare them the sight of him, first hiding under the sofa, later covering himself with a sheet, and sinks further into isolation, despondency, and hopelessness.

Although the themes in the story are depressing, Kafka's writing brings this memorable story to life through finely-detailed and vivid descriptions of this insect with "numerous legs, pitifully thin in comparison to the rest of his circumference". The title refers not only to Gregor's changed state, but also to his family, who go through their own metamorphosis as a result of his condition. The Metamorphosis is highly imaginative and believable and beautiful in a strange way, and is quite a worthwhile reading experience.

For a review of Peter Kuper's graphic novel version of The Metamorphosis, please visit Amanda's blog, The Zen Leaf.

This review counts toward LuAnn's Spring into Short Stories reading challenge.

17 comments:

  1. Oh my gosh, that would be a horrible dream. I'm with you on the roaches - they grow to be the size of small automobiles down here in the South and they totally creep me out.

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  2. I really enjoyed reading your post and thank you for the link-

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  3. I never read this book, but wanted to. I'll need to live to 100 and will still never read ALL I want to. Thanks for blogging about this one Susan.

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  4. I read this one in college and HATED it. I'll admit that I couldn't quite get past the fact that the main character had turned into a bug and a nasty one in that. But seriously, although I know it has underlying themes and such...it was one of those "required reads" that I was just not a fan of. It was interesting reading your thoughts on it though as I had forgotten all about this book :) Thanks for sharing.

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  5. I love Metamorphosis! It's been a few years since I last read the novella, which I've read several times since first exposed to it in college. I see the book as a metaphor for his position in the family. He wakes up as a bug, but in reality, he wakes up and suddenly realizes his worth, or lack of worth, in his family. He's always been a good worker, but on the one day he's "off," both his job and family reject him. I could go on, but I'll stop now. Lots of college analysis on this one. :D

    ps - my sister is deathly afraid of roaches, too. We grew up in South Carolina and later San Antonio, and both are horrible for roaches.

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  6. I have never read or even heard of this book, and have no intention of reading it. I also, have never seen a cockroach in my lifetime. I lived in the country and I guess we just never had any in my area of the woods. I can say I am very glad of that too.

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  7. I really love this short story. It is so well written and I tend to compare everything in short story form to its brilliance. I cannot recommend this short story enough.

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  8. What an amazingly perceptive review! I loved it! I have not read this story, but have heard much about it. It sounds like it would totally enthrall me and I am going to be looking for a chance to read this as soon as I can. It does indeed sound frightening and sad, but it also sounds like it's richly imaginative and interesting. Wonderful review, Suko!

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  9. Great review Suko, I have this in my TBR. Interesting point of view, that his family also changes in some way due to his state.
    http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/

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  10. I have wanted to read this for ages. Since Amanda at The Zen Leaf reviewed the graphic version. Fabulous review.

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  11. I've never heard of the book or author and I'm so glad I read your review! I'm adding it to my wish list. Sounds like a very good read.
    Thanks! And thanks for stopping by my blog too.
    Natalie :0)

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  12. I think everyone should read this brilliant story, and I've provided an online link in my review.

    Thanks for all the comments.

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  13. See and I just said that this one scared me but now it doesn't sound scary at all!

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  14. This was a lovely review. Kafka is on my list, need to get to this book soon :)

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  15. Thanks for the beautifully written review. I read this story ages ago in college, and you make me want to re-read it.

    --Anna

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  16. Oh, and I noticed something weird in your blogroll. It shows my latest post, but it makes it look as though my blog is called "Interview: Stuart Lutz..." I have no idea what that's about!

    --Anna

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  17. Reading this story, I had a feeling that it's like an allegory to the corporate world or life in the office. It is sad, isn't it? But it's also a very moving story. I guess many people could find different sorts of meaning from this story.

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