It is the story of a young man who, transformed overnight into a giant beetle-like insect, becomes an object of disgrace to his family, an outsider in his own home, a quintessentially alienated man. A harrowing — though absurdly comic — meditation on human feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and isolation, The Metamorphosis has taken its place as one of the most widely read and influential works of twentieth-century fiction.
The story follows Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman who one day wakes up and finds that he has been transformed into a large insect. Before his bizarre transformation Gregor was the head of his family who worked to support his aging parents and young sister.
The novel begins slow, with the first part consisting of his horror at waking up in his new form. There is actually a lot of hysterics in the first part and it’s pretty strange but comedic. The reader gets a sense of who Gregor is as a character and his dedication, only thinking of how he can continue working and supporting his family despite his present condition. Absurd, right? This first part also drags a little bit while laying the foundation for the rest of the story which is a shame because it is the point where I’m sure the book will lose many readers.
The following two sections of the book then go onto cover how Gregor and his family adjust to the new situation. Because of Gregor’s condition he can no longer work, so it falls on the family to go back to work and take care of Gregor. This is when the story transitions from a comedy to nightmare. The true “metamorphosis” was not Gregor’s transformation – but instead how his “loving” family change over time. How familial duty can become a burden and lead to neglect. Gregor starts to feel ashamed of himself and hides, yet he also craves the love and acceptance that he used to have from his family. This book was just as beautiful as it is heartbreaking and a little horrifying.
There are a multitude of interpretations for this book, and Kafka intentionally left it pretty ambiguous. To me though, The Metamorphosis at it’s core is a story about how a family deals with illness. If you take away all the absurdity of Gregor becoming an insect and instead make him terminally ill, you’d get pretty much the same story. It delves into the meaning of family and how quickly loyalties dissolve. How much care is given to a person who is now considered useless? How quickly are they swallowed up and forgotten? The brilliant themes of this novel are still incredibly relevant to this day and it’s an issue that doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserves. The Metamorphosis is an enduring classic and an important read about empathy and love, it continues to be one of my favorites.
Strengths: Strong themes that are still relevant
Weaknesses: First part is pretty repetitive, themes are ambiguous and are likely to be missed
Warnings: Mild violence