Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis: A Brief Analysis
A Quick Introduction
**Apologies for not writing in a while. Midterms, a new job, and lots of social events**
I read this book for my Creative Breakthroughs in 20th Century Thought class. We talked more extensively about this text and a few others in class, but as usual we were asked to write a 2 page essay (mine got a little longer, oops) about the text. These essays are called "scholarly notes", if that helps you at all.
Anyway, I really enjoyed this reading and I hope you enjoy my brief analysis on it.
Franz Kafka’s novella “Metamorphosis” is an absurd, surreal look at the life of a traveling salesman and his family. It begins immediately with Gregor Samsa’s transformation into a bug and continues with how he then deals with his life and how his family navigates around him. The novella ultimately becomes a piece of absurd and existential content that breaks some basic rules of sense and storytelling while simultaneously remaining compelling, disturbing, and forcefully provocative. These qualities strung together give the reader a whole new experience, which helps to define 20th century literature and thought.
Kafka keeps his story compelling despite its ambiguities and plot gaps by micro-describing each experience that Gregor has through the eyes of a bug. Every effort to crawl, climb, eat, and communicate becomes hyper realized, giving the reader a true sense of Gregor’s struggle through his new everyday life. At first one might guess that the existential breakthrough presents itself before the novel itself begins in that Gregor is forced to readjust his life in a completely different form, but it later becomes clear that even in this state he becomes complacent and monotonous. This can be seen in the family as well, as their initial reactions to Gregor’s transformation and their actions thereafter are all made compelling by the fact that they never, in fact, seem to wonder about how their family member got into his present state. That being said, Gregor doesn’t seem concerned with it either, and only seems concerned with how to deal with it (although in the beginning one might argue he copes through denial). His transition from human to insect is a slow process and spans the three parts, as he still seems to think he’s “able to provide a life like that in such a nice home for his sister and parents” (19) at the start of part II.
The disturbing part of this novella centers around his slow decay into the insect he has become and his ultimate acceptance of the loss of his own humanity. While at the beginning he struggles with his body and particularly his legs, which “continuously moved in different directions” (9), he later deals with the move between human food and rotted garbage as adequate nutrition. The final transition is in his room, which is the last piece of his humanity. His furniture becomes symbolic of his ability to remain Gregor, as he finds it makes “it difficult for him to crawl about mindlessly” (27). But unlike his other obstacles, this one remains strong and conflicting until near the very end of the story, as he struggles internally with his identity as either human or animal.
The thoughts that this piece provokes are endless: from Gregor’s standpoint, the audience can watch the tragic decay of a human to an insect and how the subject struggles with this both internally and externally. Through the family and their relations with Gregor, the audience watches the decay of a unit and its inability to cope and love unconditionally, despite their best efforts and intentions. Where Grete first served as Gregor’s advocate, she eventually refuses to “call this monster m brother;...we have to try to get rid of it” (39). From keeping him a human, Grete has transformed by the end to seeing him as an insect both in appearance and identity. The father’s role proves to take the opposite path, where he first refused to acknowledge Gregor as his son to where he wishes “he could just understand us” (40). Ultimately, despite his best efforts, Gregor dies as an insect, in a pile of dust. Where the entire family might have been opposed to seeing him as their son/brother any longer, his death renews these sentiments and he once again becomes a part of the family in memory. More importantly, his death allows him to intrinsically move on, and allows his family to literally move on into a better life. Grete finally becomes “livelier” (44), and the story concludes happily with the family being able to move past their son’s death as a bug and into remembering him as he was.