Title: The Metamorphosis
Author: Franz Kafka
Year Published: 1915
My Rating: 3 on 5
I know! Even I can’t believe I hadn’t read this classic all these years. Better late than never, so here I am trying to fill in all those gaps in my literary life. Franz Kafka has always been spoken about with a lot of respect among my literary friends. And ‘The Metamorphosis’ is considered as one of his best works which has been analyzed enough and more. When you hear or read such high praise about a book, your expectation from the book naturally is high. And when you pick up a book with very high expectations, you are very likely to be disappointed and that’s what happened with me.
‘The Metamorphosis’ is about a young man who finds himself transformed into a monstrous insect and about how things around him change due to his transformation. Gregor is a marketing salesman who is the sole bread earner of the family. He wakes up on a routine day to find that he has turned into a beetle (The closest translation of the German word Ungeziefer that appears in the original work). His family is unaware of this and urge him to get up and be off to work. When he doesn’t turn up at his workplace, his manager comes over to his house to see what is keeping Gregor from work. The manager and Gregor’s family are in for a shock when Gregor reveals his new ‘avatar’. The author takes us through how his family tries to cope with the fact that Gregor is no longer a human. Gregor’s sister, Greta, is burdened with the task of cleaning Gregor’s room and she can’t stand being in that room without feeling suffocated. His mother with her weak nerves cannot muster enough courage to even look at her son. His father blames Gregor for the whole mess. The author shows us how the family adapts to this crisis and how Gregor copes with it.
What struck me most was the fact that Gregor on realizing his transformation does not wonder about the cause or worry about how he is going to lead a life as an insect. Instead, all he is bothered about is how he can get up from the bed and get to work because his manager and his dad will get mad at him. Greta comes across as a kind sister who tries to make it easy for Gregor by leaving the window open so that he can see the world outside and offering him food which is fit for insects and so on. With time, the kind sister transforms into an unsympathetic woman because of the frustration and the embarrassment she has to endure. Gregor’s helplessness and the family’s indifference tugs at your heart. You pity Gregor and start despising his family for not understanding his plight. The ending, oh my God, the ending – it is disturbing. Though I could predict what was coming, I was left aghast when it actually happened.
The original book is in German and has been translated into English by many writers. German readers complain that the translated works do not have the same impact because of the difference in the structure of the sentences. Kafka ended his sentences with words which have the greatest impact and since this is not always possible in English, the impact of the sentences gets diluted. Much has been argued about the word Ungeziefer that appears in the first sentence (which is one of the most popular first sentences in English). While we see bug, insect, cockroach and beetle used in its place, experts argue none of them convey the real meaning.
While the book is an interesting (and slightly disturbing) read, I really don’t see what the hype is about. I fail to understand why this is so talked about and recommended as a must read. I know it is a metaphor and there are derived meanings, but I did not appreciate the book. At best, it taught me how a family should not behave in the time of crisis, especially when a dear one is at the center of it.
The book is in public domain and is available for free on gutenberg.