[Review] The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka book coverThe Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Published: 2006 by Penguin
Literary Fiction, Classic, Short Story, Absurdist Fiction
Pages: 98
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780141023458
Book Depository

4 stars

I first read The Metamorphosis three years ago for university and at that time, I hadn’t realized the many depths and layers Kafka had woven into the tale. This lack of realization made the short story average for me. Now that I’ve reread it, however, I’ve noticed things I hadn’t noticed before and have come to the conclusion that The Metamorphosis is more complex than it appears and it needs to be read with multiple perspectives in mind for one to truly appreciate it’s brilliance.

I admit, I was initially grossed out by Gregor’s transformation. Though, it’s never explicitly stated what kind of vermin he becomes, my mind latched onto the notion that he turned into a cockroach (mostly due to the illustrations on the book covers) and well, I despised cockroaches. It was difficult going through the parts where he describes his new body. However, as the story progressed, I began to see Gregor as more than his body and started focusing on the emotions and the actions of the people around him. The result of this shift in focus? Firstly, an immense sadness for Gregor and being upset at the people around him. This was then followed by, appreciation and awe in how this little story is more than it seems.

Had Kafka not left Gregor’s transformation as a vermin ambiguous, had he chosen another creature or perhaps changed Gregor’s race or sex, then I believe that this story would’ve not have as much impact as it did. As an insect that bears much resemblance to the cockroach which many dislike, Gregor’s metamorphosis and his life thereafter leaves a strong impression and provides more emotional depth because he who was once human, was no longer one in the eyes of the people around him. This then, leads to the question of what is humanity? What does it mean to be a human being? Is the most important part of a human their physical appearance or their essence?

Moreover, the meaning of Gregor’s life had always been decided by the people around him, so once they reinforced his alienation, it had effectively made him useless and a useless Gregor means his life is thus, meaningless. (A depressing thought but let’s be real, not everything is sunshine and rainbows in real life). Other perspectives I read this short story is in one where Gregor might have fallen ill and was wasting away, and the one where Gregor was never human (in the emotional, self-thinking aspect as he was living for others and not himself) and so, his outer appearance finally reflected that.

Everything considered, I agree that this short story is a significant work, especially considering how it also reflects the way society alienates those who defy societal norms, something which continues to be prominent despite the many advances humanity has made.

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