Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis – Literature Review: Challenging Aspects of The Other, Disability, Superficiality

If there was an admonishment in literary form that gestured towards the maxim that one should not judge a book by its cover, Kafka’s Metamorphosis could be considered as such. The bizarre and darkly comedic tale masterfully obscures the particulars necessary to nail down details that a reader is normally used to navigating – literary signposts that in Metamorphosis have been displaced entirely.

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A Multiplicity of Meaning – an “Ice Axe to Break the Seas Frozen Inside our Soul

Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis is a short and rather matter-of-fact tale of Mr Gregor Samsa – a travelling commercial salesman who is dedicated to both his work and his family. Gregor provides his family with nearly the entirety of his earnings, to be spent on sustaining his mean-spirited and abusive father’s retirement as well as sending his younger sister to the Conservatory to study classical violin.

Awaking one morning to find himself transformed into some sort of spider/beetle amalgam, Gregor’s first thoughts run towards his work duties and responsibilities to his family – not to shock and horror at his own grotesque form, as the overwhelming majority of people would be more likely to do in reality. This blatant suspension of disbelief lends a comic edge in the form of absurdism, perhaps necessary black humour in an otherwise grim tale.

After Gregor’s immediate pressures have ceased – his Manager has seen his new form and was duly scared off, his family has seen him and prefer to ignore him – the novel settles into deep contemplation. As time passes, Gregor’s bedroom becomes filthier, more besotted with debris – his own hygiene becomes questionable. His family, without his income, becomes emotionally strained and financially overburdened – having to accommodate lodgers while working at various jobs.

Through the Eyes of Another – “It Could Happen to You!”

Metamorphosis is told from Gregor’s point of view, as The Other, secluded and forcibly separated from his previous life, society, and even his family. Several parallels are drawn with a disability, not only the most obvious manifestations (Gregor’s spiderlike legs are crushed violently several times, and he is nearly fatally wounded by his father) but also in the patronizing and strained relationship that immediately develops between the new Gregor and his family.

The beauty of reading Kafka is that he is able to relate powerful and timeless concepts in such an eccentric and terse manner. How many who read Metamorphosis will be unable to relate to or at least empathize with, Gregor – a positive and ambitious young man who does the best he can for his family. And how many still will question why Gregor was chosen for such a cursed fate – surely he did not deserve such a tragic and hopeless end?

How fair is a capitalist system that chains a man like Gregor Samsa to an exhaustive, ill-paying job while healthy and discards him as useless fodder the moment he becomes useless in the pursuit of capital? How strong is familial love amongst family circles strained by poverty, disability, chronic illness, and ageing?

The answers to these implied questions illuminate the wry and subtle character behind Kafka’s work here in Metamorphosis as well as in The Trial and The Castle – a poetic and highly human insight into hopeless struggles that are part-and-parcel of the human experience.

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