Beginning with one of the most shocking first sentences in all of literature, Franz Kafka details the horrific tale of an absurd life. Virtually imprisoned in his room, Gregor Samsa discovers that every aspect of his existence has amounted to nothing. Even the struggling, dysfunctional family he has sacrificed to support is thriving without his financial assistance. Slowly stripped of every bit of his humanity, Gregor realizes that no man’s life, especially his, actually matters.
Harpers: Laughing With Kafka by David Foster Wallace
Goodreads: The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Let's set the scene...
Lane: You went shopping.
Rory: Yes I did. I got a moo-ing cow shaped timer for Sookie, some cardio-salsa tapes for Michel, a book for Dean...
Lane: You got Dean a book?
Rory: Yeah. ‘Metamorphosis’.
Rory: It’s Kafka.
Lane: Very romantic.
Rory: I think it is romantic.
Lane: I know I’ve always dreamed that some day a guy would get me a really confusing Czechoslovakian novel.
Rory: I think he’ll appreciate it.
Lane: A book sends the wrong message.
Rory: What are you talking about?
Lane: You have to look at what a gift says to the other person, not to you. Remember two years ago, I got my mom that perfume?
Lane: Ok, to me that said, ‘Hey mom, you work hard, you deserve something fancy’. Now to my mother, it said ‘Hey mom, here’s some smelly sex juice, the kind I use to lure boys with’ and resulted in me being sent to Bible camp all summer.
Rory: Yeah but...
Lane: Just imaging that you actually gave Dean something really romantic, and he gave you a football. Your hypothetical romantic present is saying that you really, really like him. And his present is saying ‘Hey man, let’s just be friends’.
Rory: And you’re saying that this book is...
Lane: Is a Czechoslovakian football, yes.
First of all, let's get this out of the way. I had no clue that this book would be about a man turning into a giant insect over night. I will admit I was a little taken aback and all "This is the Kafka I've heard so much about?!" Then... I kept reading.
I think the biggest thing that struck me about Gregor's story was the idea that people of value eventually become a burden on the community. Gregor began as the main breadwinner in the Samsa family. The only productive member of a family of four, he ensure that not only were his family members clothed and fed... but he had plans to contribute to his sister's future education. The household revolved around Gregor and you could tell that he felt honored that he could provide for the people he loved most dearly. So it is heartbreaking that the moment he is unable to provide financially, he instantly becomes a burden on the entire family unit. What is Kafka saying about the treatment of the elderly in society? Does everyone have a "best if used by" date? When is yours? And will your family lovingly accept the burden... or will they prefer to pretend that you never existed, as in Gregor's case?
Along with most adults in today's society, I fully understand what it's like to work in a job where you're under-paid, under-appreciated and under-valued. Gregor had been blissfully unaware of his drone status as a salesman. He was proud that he was able to assist his family and that seemed to be all he needed out of his work. He didn't seem to have aspirations for the future. He plugged along at the same job and was content. In the story of The Metamorphosis, is Kafka trying to shake up other worker bees? Is ignorance bliss? Should we be happy in our mediocrity? What value are we really adding to this world if we don't have dreams and goals? Are we all eventually dehumanized by the corporations who rule our lives?
The one thing that many readers point out is the fact that Gregor and the Samsas never appear to question Gregor's transformation. Even when Gregor awakes to realize that the metamorphosis has occurred, he's more concerned with how it will look to others and how it will impact his job. Gregor's family also is never seen asking "why?". What is Kafka saying about the way humans accept their fate? Are we are own worst enemies... accepting our own powerlessness without question? Does life happen to us... or we do happen to life?
In the end, Gregor's unfortunate transformation acts as a catalyst for a bond between his sister, mother and father that previously did not exist. Without the glue that held them together, they were forced to work together and take control of their own lives. In the end... Gregor's "illness" is what ensured that his family would no longer just accept their pre-destined role in this world as he had. Is Gregor's death a signal to us all of the dangers of losing control of our lives? Is it a reason to break out of our hamster wheels and decide where our lives are going? Do we have the capability to exercise complete control over our existence?
I know this review has posed a lot of questions. And I believe that was Franz Kafka's reason for giving usThe Metamorphosis. From the outside, it looks like a story about a big-ass bug. But as most readers know, there is so much under that layer. Kafka is asking us to challenge our beliefs, to go against the grain and to ask ourselves the tough questions about our own places in this world.
Who do I see reading this in the Stars Hollow gazebo?
I could see this book totally blowing Zack's mind.