ILAWFT: Kafka’s The Metamorphosis

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This does not look remotely like my copy.

I re-read ‘The Metamorphosis’ by Kafka recently because of a group read on Good Reads. I read it ages ago and remember being mostly impressed by the weird, almost comic way it plays out with no one ever doubting the creature is Gregor, and no one asking how it happened. It was atmospheric and weird, but I don’t remember taking away much more than that.

So it was an interesting thing to reread it last week and find that – in addition to the rather cliched question: who really undergoes a metamorphosis? Spoiler alert: it is pretty much everyone – this time round what was really engaging was the psychology of Gregor and family, in particular his sister and father (who seem to spend the entire story protecting the mother from Gregor, while the mother tries to protect Gregor from them).

The voice is subjective third, close to Gregor’s subjective point of view, and he is constantly far too charitable to other’s motives and is proactively doormat-ish in his reactions to everything.

For example: he supports the family who it turns after his transformation are all capable of working themselves, and is happy when it turns out their exploitation of him leaves them with a good nest egg. In some ways if there is a line that sums up their relationship it is not in reaction to the transformation, it is Gregor’s recollection that:

…although later on Gregor had earned so much money that he was able to meet the expenses of the whole household and did so. They had simply got used to it, both the family and Gregor; the money was gratefully accepted and gladly given but there was no special uprush of warm feeling…

Which is amplified in his insect life. He hides himself uncomfortably beneath a couch so that his appearance doesn’t upset his family. He’s such a doormat that he never objects to his treatment. It is left to the reader to think that maybe as family they might owe him some love too.

After all, think about how differently the family come-off if the story were about him waking up disfigured or disabled rather than transformed. Which is why that surrealist reaction of the family matters: if they react as most people would to finding a massive cockroach in their son’s room and their actions and motivation becomes about wondering what the creature is how it happened etc… then it loses the more psychologically interesting analysis of Gregor and his family’s relationships.

There is something pleasing in seeing the change which a second read can bring to a book, and how that analytical reading which is so dull as taught in school becomes an enjoyable detective-game when done on one’s own time.

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