It was always puzzling to see how different people interpreted Franz Kafka’s work. Some writers would find him absurd, some analyst would call him a communist, while others consider him as a great philosopher of our time. The other day, I was searching the internet for some information on a Kannada playwright Samsa. The search took me to some other page which contained the excerpts of the Franz Kafka’s novel The Metamorphosis. The only reason for me landing on that page was simply this. The protagonist’s name in this novel was Samsa Gregor.
Reading about the critical acclaims novel received made me interested in the book. Although not a fan of e-books, I decided give thios novel a try I must say it was worth it. This is a short novel which kept me glued till the end. The novel has a very unusual plot. This is a story of a bachelor travel executive who gets up from sleep one fine day to discover that he has been transformed into a vermin (a roach to be precise). Though his thinking capacities are still intact, his new body makes it extremely difficult for him to move around. Samsa Gregor – whose body is mutated – was a very hard working man and a family person who loved spending time with his old parents and listening his teenage sister play violin. His work had made him a busy man who spent most of his time roaming from one place to another. Because of his hard work he could pay back the father’s debts.He was also planning to send his sister to a music institution to specialize in violin. He was a very responsible man in every sense. But the metamorphosis took place all of sudden, literally overnight.
Initially, his plight leaves his family in a deep sorrow. His parents are shocked to see him crawl in his room. The chief clerk of his office who comes to ask about Samsa’s absence returns after having a kind of heated arguments with him. Later, Samsa’s sister Grete takes courage to come into his room and give him some food. It becomes a routine for her to come and give him his food.They have stopped talking to each other now, but the routine of giving him food somehow continues. It could be because of the reason that Samsa thinks attempting to talk to her might scare her away. Whenever she enters the room he runs under the couch thinking that his looks may make her feel embarassed. Gradually, we see Samsa being treated like an animal. The dark room becomes his world. Most of the time either he sleeping or crawling the walls and ceiling of his room and sometimes listening to the murmuring of hes fellow family members. The responsibility of overseeing the family is slowly shifted to Samsa’s sister now. His father who is retired, now thinks about taking up a job again. His mother also starts working. They decide a portion of their flat on rent to the tenants thinking that it will help them. The tenants are very rude to the family. Samsa hears all these changes from his room with a grave silence. This abstract story hides a very deep philosophical meaning in it. From the concept of metamorphosis to the the characters, Kafka narrates everything in the language of metaphors.
What is metamorphosis in real sense? The one which we see in Gregor is a physical one. What about the one which takes place in the lives of Samsa’s sister and his parents? The relationships play vital role in this novel, especially the relationship the siblings share. We can see the change in her attitude towards him,. The metamorphosis is actually about the transformation of Grete from a girl to a woman. Initially it was her who shed tears for Samsa; and it was her who brought food into his room. But we see her coming to a decision that Samsa is mere an animal now and in order to bring peace to their family they should get rid of it (Samsa). This shows the completion of the metamorphosis in Grete.
As I said earlier this story can be interpreted into many themes. Many themes like loneliness, the attitudes towards those who are different, materialistic attitude or Freudian psychological themes can be derived from this novella. This novella makes you think about your life; most importantly about the goal of your life. People recognize you and treat you well for the works you do. What will happen if you were to become a vermin one day like it happened to Samsa? Think!
(Here is a free e-book of ‘The Metamorphosis’ – courtesy Project Gutenberg. This is the image of the original novel in German.)