Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Metamorphosis - A Commentary

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is the first novella I have read for Kafka. Unfortunately, I read in English for my German skills have not reached that level of sophistication. It is nonetheless an interesting piece.

The book published by Bantam Classics comprises an introduction, the novella, explanatory notes to the text, some documents, some critical essays about Kafka, his writing and finally some selected bibliography.

I must say that not only is the introduction a bore; it also contains a spoiler that tells the reader how the story ends. Although, The Metamorphosis is not your average story, still I would have liked some tiny bit left for me as a reader to find out for myself whilst reading.

The book is 201 pages, but the novella itself is only 59 pages long, divided on three chapters. The story begins with the climax, as critic Martin Greenberg points out. (The Metamorphosis, p. 61) “When Gregor Samsa woke one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.” (The Metamorphosis, p. 3)

The novella begins with the metamorphosis and throughout there is no reference as to how this transformation occurred or why it did. Despite that, it is an interesting novel, and if it were not for the spoiler in the introduction, it might have been even more interesting. The story begins with a fact and a state of helplessness. Throughout, both the transformed Gregor and his family await another miracle that would change Gregor back to his former self. They hope that things would be back to the way they were; in other words a normal life.

Although the story is written in the third person, the reader cannot help but notice that the dominant atmosphere is that of Gregor. True, the story is about him and his ordeal, but nonetheless, the other characters’ emotions are seen, often, through Gregor himself. The story does not have the amount of action that I would have liked; it is not an action-filled novella, but it is nonetheless not devoid of it. The little things that happen to Gregor become actions in it. The reader cannot help but sympathise with him, for although he wakes up to find himself transformed “into a monstrous vermin”, Gregor constantly desires – or at least wishes to turn back - to save his family from looming poverty and hardship. Gregor sacrifices his life in order to work for the firm so that he can give his parents and sister a comfortable life and pay off his father’s debts. Even as a vermin, he still seeks to do the same – if he could.

Although Grete, Gregor’s sister, is seen as taking up the lead in caring for Gregor at the beginning, towards the end, I, as a reader, feel that she becomes cold and uncaring. She announces to both her parents that it is pointless to say that this monster is her brother and refuses to use Gregor’s name in addressing the creature. Furthermore, the reader sees that Gregor does nothing but work and when he has a few days off, he spends them at home. He has few friends and no one special that he would like to marry. Therefore, when he is transformed, or if we can look at the metamorphosis as an illness, his family begins to care for him but do not wish to see him. They realise the calamity that their sole provider is indisposed and will not be there to assist them or put food on their table. Only then does each family member consider finding a job to support one another. For me, this is selfishness on part of the family. One man, and not the father, works his entire life in a job that he does not like to support a family of four. His father has not worked in five years, since the collapse of the business, the mother is often depicted as too weak to do anything, but nonetheless exerts huge efforts to sew and do a few things around the house, and finally the seventeen-year-old sister who is seen crying for no reason whatsoever at the beginning of the novella, when Gregor would not open the door, takes the lead in giving the transformed Gregor food, cleaning his room and finally in neglecting him. Only when the family members realise that there will be no remedy for Gregor, does each of them find a job to cope with life and to meet their daily needs.

For me, the metamorphosis occurs on several levels, primarily the physical transformation of Gregor; then, there is Grete, who is viewed by her family, particularly her parents, as a child. In the three chapters of the novella, we see Grete’s metamorphosis from a crying child into a young woman who can juggle working as a salesgirl, studying a foreign language to improve her career and taking care of both her parents, at the same time. At the end of the novella, the whole family seems to have grown up to take responsibility of taking care and supporting one another.

The novella ends on a fairly positive note. The family goes out, the first time they had done in months, and are happy to see what a beautiful young woman Grete has become.

Works cited:
Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. New York: Bantam Classics. 2004. Pages 3 and 61.

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