Tuesday, October 18, 2011
The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka
I'd heard about this story many times, but had never actually read it. When I came across it in my search for audiobooks, I decided it was time to hear it for myself. Bonus that it's read by Ralph Cosham, who I recognized and loved from the Watership Down audiobook. The story is about a traveling salesman named Gregor that wakes one morning to find that he's been transformed into a giant beetle. It sounds ridiculous, and it's true that there is a LOT of comedic aspects to the story, but it's also very sad.
First, though, we'll talk a little about what made me laugh. I mean it, too. I was driving down the road laughing, people that witnessed it probably thought I was mad, and they're not terribly far off. Anyway- Gregor wakes up and sees that he's become a giant beetle. He then realizes for the first time how small his room is, and tries to go back to sleep. Unfortunately, being that he is now a beetle, he can't roll onto his side as is his preferred method of sleeping, which he laments- not being a beetle, mind you, he laments that his being a beetle prevents him from sleeping comfortably. In fact, I don't recall that he ever directly feels sorry for himself about actually BECOMING a beetle, merely the different changes that are made as a result. Later in the book, his father is trying to chase him back into his room and does so by lifting his foot high in the air and bringing it down to the floor while moving towards Gregor, which causes Gregor to scuttle backwards again and again clumsily. This goes on for some time, Gregor observing how slowgoing the process is, and the imagery had me in stitches.
What's sad about the story, while maintaining an amusing quality, is that Gregor lives with his mother, father and sister and wholly supports them- or did, at least. They live in a rather large apartment and Gregor is the only one that worked. You get the distinct impression that he did so diligently and without complaint, and he even attempts to get up and go to work as a beetle, apologizing all the while for his state and promising he'll figure out how to fix it. Of course, everyone else is horror stricken that he's a giant beetle and ultimately lock him in his room. His parents want to avoid acknowledging him completely, but his sister brings him food while they're sleeping or absent. Eventually, the parents and sister end up having to get jobs to maintain their lifestyle. They complain constantly about how inconvenienced they are by having to work, and how awful it is for them to come home and have this giant bug waiting for them in their house and demanding of them. The ironic part is that Gregor, having a large heart and who has always cared for them without complaint, still finds it in himself to feel terribly guilty about being a bug and therefore inconveniencing them. He even goes out of his way to cover himself with a sheet and stay perfectly still when his sister comes in to feed him so as to not frighten her or cause her to have to view him in that form.
I won't go so far in my description as to talk about the ending in the event that someone's reading this that hasn't read The Metamorphosis, but I can see why this book is widely studied in a lot of colleges. It really sets the perfect example of martyrdom, guilt, greed and both selflessness and selfishness alike. The ending was abrupt but with purpose, and I found myself both infuriated by, and ashamedly identifying with, Gregor's family. Definitely a good read if you're the type that enjoys being introspective, especially. Though the idea of a man turning into a giant beetle comes across as fantastical and crazy, this is one of the more honest examples of writing I've read in a very long time.