I am currently reading an eBook that was sent to me to read by a publishers, and I am nearly finished so that review will be up here soon. The book is focussed around a funeral and the impact that the death of a loved one has on those who were close to her, the characters all feel alienated with themselves, life and those around them. Which got me thinking about the same topics and all I could think of was Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.
In The Metamorphosis Gregor Samsa is transformed into a cockroach and then struggles to adapt to his new life. His family and those who visit his house are not particularly bothered by this change, they don’t question its impossibility but instead worry about money. How will they know fund their lifestyle that the breadwinner is incapacitated? The father and sister will have to do jobs they don’t like now Gregor isn’t doing the job he didn’t like. They will have to rent some of the spare rooms out to lodgers to create extra income. Hire a cheaper maid to do the cleaning.
There was a complete disregard for Gregor’s feelings. He was the one who had metamorphosed overnight into a bug that was unable to communicate with anyone, unable to protect and defend himself against his family; and yet his family don’t care. He is completed isolated and alienated (similar to Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye) is unable to do anything about it. Although alienated, Kafka appears to be critiquing society, with particular reference to Marxism and the exploited worker. Gregor has worked hard to support his family and seems unaware that they take him for granted. he just assumes that his family are incapable of working and doesn’t question their actions, which is interesting to compare at the end of the novella when the family does work. They found work easily, it tires them out and exhausts them, but that is nothing more than what the work did to Gregor. His metamorphosis could potentially have been cause by his physical exertion in order to provide for his family. He felt so alienated from his family, that he physically transformed so that he is also alienated from humanity. He is unable to interact with others and hides behind his sofa to protect himself. This alienation is just a demonstration and exaggeration of the alienation he felt as a human.
I don’t want to put people off. Although this book is a bit of a criticism on humanity and the treatment of individuals, it is not all doom and gloom. Gregor himself seems unaware of his exploitation and so remains relatively optimistic throughout the novel which shows that not everyone is willing to take and give nothing back. Moreover the text is so full of the impossible, implausible and the absurd that it is hard to take the novella as a serious criticism of society. The possibility of a human metamorphosing into a giant cockroach is next to none and so the text has to be taken as a piece of fantasy. The story never explains why Gregor transformed and so I guess my theory is as good as the next.
Despite the often pessimistic outlook on life, the novella is truly a fantastic piece of literature. Whether it has a political agenda or whether it should be read as nothing more than the story of an overworked man who wakes up as a bug one morning – it is still bursting with value and I can’t recommend it highly enough.