“The Metamorphosis” and lack there of…

I had heard of Kafka once before, in Prague on a walking tour where there is a statue representing one of his other books in honor of him. I had forgotten the name of Kafka and just remembered the story. Thanks to Juliana and her blog, I have a different spin on this.

I had trouble with this story; the very apparent lack of actual love expressed to Gregor was fairly appalling considering he lived in such misery for his family’s survival disgusted me. At the end, as the family relaxes in the car thinking of how they see their life now that he is dead, they seem more grateful for his death rather than his sacrifice. I say sacrifice because, unlike Gregor’s father who says “what a life. So this is the peace of my old age.”(p.41) Gregor worked hard and never experienced old age. He wished little other than to be free of the bonds to the employer, to have his parents be happy, and to send his sister to the conservatory, but died before any of these happened.
When I put down this book after reading it, the thought that popped to my mind was that “I dislike basically every character in this story” which is a very strange feeling. Sure, I sympathize with Gregor, but my interpretation of this story led to me feeling as if none of them were written in a way to be loved by the reader. Also, the characters feel very stagnant or “static” in their personalities, their own “metamorphosis” is rather subtle and in the case of the father, there is really only a change of character when Kafka describes how he was in the past. I did enjoy the amount of details that were adorned to each character, and the relationships and hierarchies that were developed between them (the three tenants, the manager, the cook, etc.) in contrast to the family. However, it is only through those  “outsiders” that the family is put in any view that would make me consider pitying them. The way they are treated by other’s is harsh, while they try to be courteous if not merely passive.
Connected to this train of thought, I had another thought go through my head as to why the story irked me: it feels as if nothing happens. Gregor has transformed into a dung beetle, but has no reaction to this fact other than the stress of being late for work. Thinking about this perspective now though, a lot does happen within the story, but the characters mentalities rarely change when interacting to one another, creating another element to how the story progresses (or feels as if it doesn’t).

I don’t know. This story plays with my mind and I still feel like I don’t really understand it. Hope you all fared better with it than I have.

2 thoughts on ““The Metamorphosis” and lack there of…

  1. Nice post! You mentioned a lack of any true protagonists or likeable characters in the novella, and I completely agree. Gregor may have my sympathy but not my admiration. He appears a bit of a klutz, and somewhat whiny. He may of even stolen money from his employers! Gregor worked hard for an ungrateful family, and he even consents to his own death to better off his loved ones, but I didn’t have any kinda of connection or compassion for him like that of Frankenstein’s monster.

    The lack of any kind of conventional plot or ending is what really gripped me as well. You expect Gregor’s family to come around and reflect on their selfishness, but that moment never comes. Even when Gregor’s corpse is rotting on the floor I expected at the very least a eulogy or some tears, but none! The imagery of his sister stretching her back like a cat in ecstasy, releasing a sigh of relief is what really enraged me. The novella defies all expectations, and it’s really provocative. The best stories really do defy conformity, and I guess that why they’re great. But ironically they always seem to end in tragedy. In fact I’d say 95% of the stories we’ve read are somewhat tragic, nihilistic or at the very least depressing. Tempest, way to be a combo breaker.

  2. I’m glad to hear that you agree, I was wondering if I was becoming calloused to all these books and stories…
    Your comparison of Gregor to Frankenstein’s creation is an interesting point and very true. It makes me wonder if the two stories would be more similar if we didn’t know all of the story surrounding the production of Frankenstein’s monster; if the book began as Shelly’s dream had, and the creation was just there. It would obviously change the interpretation of the reader and I wonder how differently it would provoke emotions.
    Also, (just had this thought pop into my head) Kafka does a remarkable job at provoking emotions from the reader without writing characters who express much emotion. How different do you think the story would have been had there been more communication on what the family was feeling? We hardly ever read of the family members emotions directly from them, it’s mostly through their actions, and the interpretation of Gregor who is a considerably dull character.
    Therefore, is it really a tragedy? I had difficulty saying that this is a tragedy and I couldn’t figure out why, but I think I just did. The events that happen are tragic, but the emotions expressed within the novella have (in some ways) been guiding the reader through how they should feel, and they haven’t been really tangible; there’s not much to “hold onto”, but that is because of Gregor’s personality and his own emotions.
    Sorry to go off on a complete tangent that feels really inarticulate… Does that idea make sense?

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