The Metamorphosis

A man who wakes up and finds himself transformed into a cockroach and then dismisses the discovery to get more sleep is surely a strange way to open a story.

But to have the climax in the beginning can urge the reader to immerse himself further into the story. It’s like climbing down from the top of Mt. Everest, which in itself, is not a simple journey.

In Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa is a monstrous vermin, but he’s a funny one.

He worries about getting to work instead of crying in despair about his ugly appearance and unlearned mobility. When his sister insists that he open the door, he taps himself on the back for remembering to lock it, as his usual practice when travelling. And when his boss comes to investigate his tardiness, he scoffs at the ridiculousness of the visit. To him, the normal reaction would be to assume that he’s like any human being who gets sick from time to time.

Kafka uses black humor in this story most entertainingly. It adds depth to the story, which Kafka could have ended in a few pages by having Gregor swept from the floor and thrown away like any garbage.

Instead, Kafka complicates the story by retaining the protagonist’s humanity even if only in his thoughts, while advancing his physical transformation, to the misfortune of Gregor’s family.

When he hears his sister Grete playing the violin, he is most human despite the dust that has covered his body.

Was he an animal, that music can move him so? He felt that the way to the unknown nourishment he longed for were coming to light.

The next paragraph, which gives simplistic analysis of the behavior of the Samsas toward Gregor has since changed after further thought on Gregor’s humanity, previously deemed strange in the course of his metamorphosis, but realized as his one true redemption compared to the cruelty of the Samsas.

The ending, while tragic, gave an atmosphere of hope for the Samsa family. One might think that the true metamorphosis didn’t happen to Gregor, but to them, who used to be too dependent on Gregor.

Also, while I’m saddened by Gregor’s final fate, I’d like to commend Kafka for creating a character whom at the start we encounter as a monster, but was human—-a loving brother and son, to the very end.

It was deliberate, the bittersweet parting. I feel both pain and pleasure in reading the last lines, but I thought it was a perfect way to end the story.

*I hasten to add that after reading about Winston Smith in George Orwell’s 1984, Gregor Samsa is the only other character in the course of my Study of Classics who has reminded me of the beauty and pain of being human.¬†

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