I first read Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis on the first day of an introduction to literature class in university and, as an introduction, it was nearly more than anyone in the three hundred person class could comprehend. It’s nothing less than weird and as an opening to the whole course, well, it would be challenging to find anything more subversive.
Kafka was born in Prague, the son of a middle-class Jewish family. He obtained a law degree from the German University in Prague and held an inconspicuous position in the civil service for years. He was an anxious man with a deep sense of inferiority to his father, an indecisive nature that led to a prolonged engagement but never marriage, and a preoccupation with suicide. He was not altogether a pessimist but was tormented by his belief that goodness is remote and impossible to attain. This is more or less the origins of the great fretfulness that permeates his legendary literary works.
The premise of Kafka’s story The Metamorphosis is that of–well–metamorphosis. Gregor Samsa, a kind and loving brother and son, wakes up one day to discover that he has been transformed into a giant bug–by his description, a giant cockroach or beetle is most likely. His family is no help to him as they treat his startling transformation as an embarrassing illness and Gregor, naturally, slips into depression. A story of illogical chaos ensues.
If you were to read this story in a university English class (as I’m sure many who’ve studied English have), your professor is going to have a field day telling you about all the themes that they see are present within the work. There are themes of regret, isolation, sadness, and of absurd chaos. Most people will try and convince you that there’s a deep religious theme–that there’s some kind of hidden allegory that pertains to Adam and Eve and such. Personally, I think people are stretching pretty fiercely for this story to have anything to do with Christian religion. Gregor’s metamorphosis is not one based on punishment because of his bad character, because he doesn’t have a bad character: he’s more or less a perfect man. His transformation into a giant bug is never explained and his family treats it more or less like he’s caught an illness. There is no explanation for what has happened to Gregor and that, to me, indicates an allegory of pandemonium.
Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is a bizarre tale of an unexplained transformation and some people won’t like it because of this. This story takes place completely within itself–Kafka offers no explanations within the story or in life when asked–and some may find it hard to swallow. If you’re willing to give into the absurdity though it’s a strangely intriguing tale from a strange man and it’s a modern allegorical story that shouldn’t be overlooked... even if, after reading it twice, you can’t understand a lick of it!