I was not looking forward to re-reading The Metamorphosis, a text which I first encountered some years ago and only read in the first place due to educational duress. I placed it upon my Classics Club list, however, as I wanted to view the story from a more mature perspective, in order to see whether my opinion of it had altered at all.
The first time I read The Metamorphosis I was, to put it frankly, rather freaked out. It is impossible to write a review about this book without mentioning Kafka’s use of magical realism, and the way in which the reader is forced, both out of their comfort zone, and to suspend their disbelief, in order to invest within the peculiar tale which ensues.
First published in 1915, the novella caused Czech author Kafka to ‘become a universal spokesman for [the] perplexed and frightened twentieth-century man’. The introduction to the volume goes on to say that there is a ‘well-balanced coexistence of detached humor and deep-seated horror. Kafka’s sympathetic portrayal of the trials of a petty bourgeois worker should not go unnoticed, either’.
I am sure that many people are vaguely familiar with the plot of The Metamorphosis, but just to recap, it begins in the following manner: ‘When Gregor Samsa awoke from troubled dreams one morning, he found that he had been transformed in his bed into an enormous bug’. The initial description of travelling salesman Gregor’s new and bewildering form works well: ‘He lay on his back, which was hard as armor, and, when he lifted his head a little, he saw his belly – rounded, brown, partitioned by archlike ridges – on top of which the blanket, ready to slip off altogether, was just barely perched. His numerous legs, pitifully thin in comparison to the rest of his girth, flickered helplessly before his eyes’.
Much of the story, as one might expect, deals with Gregor – and his family – having to get used to his new body, and all that it entails. His sister, Grete, becomes the go-between for he and their misunderstanding parents; she is the bridge, as it were, between her beloved sibling and the older generation. Gregor alternates between wanting to thank her for her stellar efforts, and thinking thoughts such as this: ‘Gregor thought it might be a good thing after all if his mother came in, not every day of course, but perhaps once a week; after all, she understood everything much better than his sister, who, despite all her spunk, was still only a child and, in the final analysis, had perhaps undertaken such a difficult task only out of childish thoughlessness’.
Kafka is deft at showing all of the small but fundamental problems which Gregor comes up against – not being able to turn a key in a lock, for example. As the story progresses, Kafka discusses the manner in which the human condition can adapt to practically any situation.
Whilst my re-read of The Metamorphosis was better than I remembered, I must admit that I still didn’t enjoy the story very much. I do, however, admire the way in which Kafka writes, and will definitely be more open to trying more of his work in future.