Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is a Novella I just finished reading and it has transformed me into a Kafka fan for life!

The book is 44 pages long, narrative is crisp and concise, plot easy to understand and follow; and the overall effect spellbinding.

Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka The story revolves around Gregor, a young and honest traveling salesman, who is fond of his family; and has been trying too hard to make his parents’ and sister’s life comfortable.

Apparently his father had fallen on bad times five years ago and had taken some loan from a company to save his floundering business. But, the business couldn’t be saved and Gregor had to take up employment with the Company, to repay his father’s debt. The Company’s owner is very strict about maintaining discipline among his employees and has never been considerate of Gregor’s good intentions and sincerity. He has been subjected to frequent travels and excess work and is under continuous stress.

And then one fine morning, Gregor wakes up only to realize that he has transformed into an insect! Yes, he has been metamorphosed into a cockroach/dung beetle by some strange process and his body now consists of a hard shell, spindly legs and agile antennae!

It seems a nightmare and as I read the first few pages, I was under the impression that soon Gregor would wake up and realize that he was caught in the worst dream ever, and possibly transform his present for a better future. However as it turns out, Kafka had something else on his mind!

The story is not about a dream or nightmare, rather it is woven around the hard core reality. Gregor had transformed into an insect for real and was now doomed to remain in this state for months. From the most important, earning, respectable member of family, he would be slowly reduced to a loathsome burden. After the initial shock, the family tries to come to terms with the hapless situation they are in. All of them start earning and try to get some money in home.

However their good intentions are worthless as they focus on material things and forget to attend to Gregor’s hapless condition. They simply lock him in a room, barely attending to his need for food and comfort. By and by, he becomes a liability. The family is stuck with an insect-son, whom they have to keep in hiding and somehow cope with their stressful lives. Soon each one of them begins to get hopelessly tired and frustrated.

On the other hand, Gregor himself undergoes the greatest transformation. On the first morning of his metamorphosis, he had refused to accept his challenging situation and had stubbornly thought about returning to work and normalcy, his family had been his utmost priority and they occupied most of his thoughts.

However, as time passes, he becomes more immersed in his insect world. His instincts undergo a transformation as well. He wishes to crawl and lie in dingy places, human nature gets pushed to background. And as he finds himself in a forced lockup, he is bothered and at times irritated with his family, for abandoning him. And to make matters worse, his family has also undergone the same transformation. Gregor is no longer the valued member. They look down upon him as something they are tied up with and even wish to get rid of him.

Though initially the story looked fantastical and unbelievable, as I continued reading, the underlying thought became clearer. Franz Kafka has delivered an excellent emotional rollercoaster hidden beneath the facade of a fancy transformation.

The conversion into the insect form can be easily substituted by someone being rendered invalid in an accident or due to an interminable disease or someone with an altered state of mind. Here, the important fact is that as soon as a person becomes totally dependent on others, he ceases to exist as a person. He is reduced to a cross carried by his well wishers/successors, reluctantly. By and by, the emotional ties break down and the minimal care is offered owing to a sense of forced, unwanted responsibility rather than any genuine affection.

And, Kafka has underlined this unfortunate transformation of human relations in this story, in a brilliant twist of words and images. The story is engrossing and repelling at the same time. I couldn’t stop reading for a minute, though a part of me wanted to run away from it.

An unexplained sadness enveloped me while reading the novella and yet I was eager to rush towards the end. The story engulfed me with its little episodes of violence, frustration and turmoil. I would say that the story ran more in my head than it did on paper.

The world is cruel and Franz has laid it bare honestly in the shortest yet sharpest manner. The Novella leaves you with a dull ache, with thoughts to chew upon and emotions to get rid of!

An absolute masterpiece is Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka!

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