My First Kafka

Hello, I am excited to say that I’m done with book #46 of the year. It was The Metamorphosis by (duh) Franz Kafka. I don’t know if you remember my post from a few weeks ago about writers who intimidate me, but Kafka was one of them so I can officially say I’ve gotten over that irrational fear.

This short story was good, and interesting, but what’s more interesting to me is how it’s become what it is today. Hopefully that will make more sense as I get into it.

So the story is about Gregor Samsa, who lives with his parents and sister and works as a travelling salesman to provide for them. One day, he wakes up as a grotesque bug instead of the young man he has been waking up as. So suspend your belief for a second on that one.

His manager and his family find him in this state and are terrified, disgusted, and really unsure of what to do. Eventually, everyone in the family has to start working to make up for their lost income now that their son/brother is a bug and can’t rake in the dough anymore.

Gregor’s younger, kind sister tries her best to continue bringing Gregor/bug-brother his food, cleaning up his room, etc. but eventually she can’t handle it anymore either and gives up. Plus, Gregor isn’t really being fed the right food so he’s getting weaker and weaker, and is unable to communicate with his family. He’s also probably a little self-conscious because of their reactions of sheer terror whenever he makes and unexpected appearance.

Spoiler alert: Gregor dies in bug form, probably because he hasn’t been eating, and just as his family sadly decides they need to get rid of him anyway. The story ends with a day of kind-of-mourning and rejuvenation; Mr. and Mrs. Samsa proudly watch their beautiful young daughter and fantasize about her marriage.

So, that’s the story. It’s a mere 55 pages, but my copy of the book continues for another 133 pages with critical essays, notes on the texts, and an assortment of Kafka’s documents. That’s what is so interesting to me: who read this book and decided that it was so much more than a book about a boy turned into a bug?

I get it to some extent, and I can see why it’s meaningful, but this type of story (the type that becomes larger than life, and heavily studied for a century and counting) is always fascinating to me. What if Kafka just wanted to write about a family becoming alienated when one member’s inconvenience starts becoming a burden?

There are notes comparing this story to the Transfiguration of Christ… There’s a note about Dante’s Inferno, and how Gregor has become his sin of exploitation (?) and turned into the literal parasite that he is. To me, it’s a sad story about family, selfishness, and selective memory. Maybe I’ll reread it someday and understand the mystery of life and all that, but for now, I’m just settling with “I liked it.”

At least now, when someone calls another novel or show “Kafkaesque,” I’ll be better at pretending to know what they’re talking about. ◊

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