Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is considered the greatest short story of all time and a masterpiece of 20th century. It tells the story of Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman, who one day wakes up to his surprise being transformed into a “horrible insect”. Is it just a plain short story or is there much more to it that really makes it a masterpiece? Let’s find out.
One major theme in Metamorphosis is the structure of modern society after industrialization and how it automatically alienates every human inside it. It becomes pretty clear when Gregor is not worried about his transformation but is sad about how he never gets to form freindships with his travel companions. This alienation is due to nature of his work, its effects slowly creeps in his home. This alienation is so subtle and severe that even after some attempts to reach out, Gregor never gets to leave his room, or rather his invisible prison that went everywhere with him and finally solidified.
Room is another metaphor signifying Gregor’s loneliness even in the comfort of being in his home. All of the objects in his room do not mean anything in the story and have any emotional value for Gregor. The only thing Gregor ever shows care for was a woman’s photograph cutout from a magazine, who is of course not a person he knows or ever met.
Out of all the symbols and metaphors present in Metamorphosis, the lock in Gregor’s room is the strongest yet most overlooked detail. In the wake of his transformation all he needed was someone, anyone who could help him yet when Gregor’s boss reach his home demanding explanation for his absence from work, Gregor feels relieved that he had a habit of locking his door before going to sleep even in his home. It is evident of his painfully long isolation that even in his most distressful moment he finds comfort in loneliness and signifies invisible & gradual degradation of human psyche within modern society.
What makes Metamorphosis extremely gripping and effective is the perspective it is served us from. Kafka has done that many writers failed to do. He puts us into the shoes or rather the mind of Gregor Samsa. All that we read, see and experience is from the eyes of Gregor Samsa. We never for once leave his perspective. Gregor’s thoughts feel like our own and it intensifies the complex absurdity Kafka’s work is known for.
Even with such a strong connection with Samsa we feel distant, just like his family. We never completely understand Gregor’s feelings and in turn we too are isolated from everthing occuring in front of our eyes. What better way could there be to experience Gregor’s tragic story.
Franz Kafka’s Magnum Opus straight away throws Gregor’s transformation at you without an explanation and force you to continue from there without even looking for it. That’s why it is easy to mistake that the transformation ended right there in the first few lines of Metamorphosis, but if we take heed we might realize that the book’s title is not meant for Gregor Samsa at all but for his family and the world outside. Gregor’s transformation may be a figurative method of pointing out the transformation in his life due to others’ transformation. We see that Gregor’s personality barely changes except for the fact that he lost his job, but his father, mother & loving sister changed drastically through the course of the story. His father changed from being a dominating figure to one who heartlessly attacks his own son. His mother cannot even bear the sight of him now that he has transformed or stopped earning. His sister is now tired of taking care of her brother who took care of everyone for a very long time. She can’t even understand the love Gregor has for her.
Near the end of the story Gregor dies alone and starving and we may expect for the story to end there but it continues on for little longer and ends abruptly. At that moment we are left stranded, looking for some meaning. A closure that will help us cope with Gregor’s tragic death but we never find it. This is what makes Metamorphosis even real than we can ever imagine. It shows that reality has no start no ending and therefore no exact meaning. It is complex, absurd and mostly tragic just like Kafka’s Metamorphosis.