The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is a novella first published in 1915. Kafka wrote the novella over the course of three weeks and won the prestigious Theodor Fontane Prize, a German-language literary award for his efforts. This was a seminal piece of work for the author.
After a troubled night of dreams, and no doubt a lot of tossing and turning, traveling salesman, Gregor Samsa wakes to the sound of rain hitting the window pane, only to discover that at some time during the night he was transformed into a large vermin. He is quite calm about his new body and spends some time in his bed reflecting on his life – rushing from train-to-train to customers, but not seeing them often enough to build deep relationships, waking at 4:00 am to be in the office before 7:00 am.
As The Metamorphosis unfolds, the author gives us great insights into Gregor’s personality – he dislikes his job and his boss, but he cannot quit because his parents owes a great debt to said boss. We are not told how large the debt is, but the reader learns that Gregor has to work another five or six years to pay off the debt, so he is stuck, and accepts that.
After he is finished reflecting on his life, Gregor has a difficult time getting off his bed because of his awkward shape, his many legs seem to have a mind of their own. While facing this dilemma, the chief clerk from Gregory’s office has come to his home to ascertain his absence. Now, Gregor has never been late or absent in all his 15 years working for the company. Because of this, his parents who had knocked on his door earlier, believe that he is ill.
The chief clerk is talking to Gregor through the door and he is using subtle threats and commenting on his work although no one has every complained about the quality of his work before. The salesman tries to defend his work, but the sound is very “unhumanlike” as it should be, because he is now an insect. Those on the other side of the door are alarmed by the sound, and that’s when he realizes that he doesn’t recognize the true sound of his voice.
The father sends for a doctor and a locksmith. Using his mouth, and harming himself in the process, Gregor Samsa finally opens the door, and you can imagine the look on everyone’s face when they see him. The trembling chief clerk moves slowly toward the door, the mother is on the floor disappearing into herself, and the father weeps. Gregor realizes that he cannot allow the chief clerk to leave now because he knows he will lose his job for sure – he has to calm him down and win him over.
His father snaps out of the state he is in and forces Gregor back into his room. His sister Grete is the only one who shows some compassion during the ordeal and brings him food, and eventually she changes toward him. As time goes they are forced to change their lifestyle. Five years before, Gregor’s father lost his business and he steps up and works very hard and is quickly promoted from a junior salesman to a traveling representative. He earns a lot of money in his new role and takes care of his family. At first, they are very grateful, then they take things for granted. Although it’s not explicit, there is a strained relationship between Gregor and his father, and that could be indicative of the relationship between Kafka and his own father.
Shortly after Gregor’s transformation, the father is forced to take a job at the bank to bring employees their breakfast. The mother sews fancy underwear and washes strangers’ clothes, and Grete attends school and learns shorthand and French. The family also rents rooms to three gentlemen who are very demanding. They have to work very hard to satisfy these men.
After not playing the violin for a long time, Grete starts playing and the three men wants her to play for them. Gregor hears the music and leaves his room to get closer. The men lose interest and Gregor wants to get close to his sister to let her know he appreciates her. But the men see him and the family is ashamed of him and rush the men to their rooms. The men give notice and do not even want to pay for the time they have been staying in the house.
Later that evening, Grete tells her parents that they should get rid of the monster, that Gregor isn’t coming back and that she is tired of living like that, and the father agrees with her. Gregor wants to grant them the wish but doesn’t know how to leave. During the night, he shrivels and dies. Gregor dies so as he lived, always putting his family first. It is never explained why he was transformed in the first place.
The charwoman finds Gregor and tells the family. They mourn him, decide to take the day off, and go out together. They take the time to ask each other about their work, which they hadn’t done in a long time, they even discuss their finances, and decide to move to a better apartment. Through Gregor’s death, his family are able to live.
I detest people who behave like the Samsa family, because after Gregor is transformed and is no longer able to help himself or them, they do not really stand beside him – they are ashamed. He is an embarrassment and interrupts their lives. No one, including Gregor tries to find a cure for what ails him, is that important?
Communication is so important in a family, and people need to talk things through. Gregory was wrong to take on the burden of the family without them sitting down and talking about their financial situation when the father lost his business. He thought it was expected of him to assume his parent’s huge debt, when all along the father hadn’t lost everything and was frugal enough to save some of the money that Gregor gave to the family. Yet at no time did it occur to the father that he could use some of this extra money to apply to his debt.
Books like The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka give us insights into the roles people play in life. Gregor Samsa always put his family first and accepted his “lot” in life never questioning. I recommend The Metamorphosis which is a short read. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. If you enjoyed this post, please share it.
Book links are affiliate links.