The problem with most books, I think you’ll agree, is that the main character rarely turns into a giant bug. Why so many authors refuse to transform protagonists into insects is beyond me. I was waiting for it in Crime and Punishment, it would have saved The Great Gatsby, and what a twist it would have given St Augustine’s Confessions.
Franz Kafka is one writer who understands what readers want. In The Metamorphosis, he gets straight to the action: the main character, Gregor Samsa, turns into a giant bug. There’s no explanation, no reason for it—it just happens. Why the heck shouldn’t it? Life doesn’t give warning before dumping garbage upon us; we just have to accept it and deal with it. Gregor’s father, mother and sister have to adjust to their new way of life when he becomes an oversized roach. Aside from being a beloved family member, Gregor was the household’s main breadwinner and hope for prosperity. His transformation leaves him unable to work or even communicate with his family. He has become repulsive to all who see him, and so he remains in his bedroom, where he now prefers the darkness and the accumulating filth. Bugs’ lives are short-lived—even hideous, ex-human bugs. Gregor’s death brings some relief to his family, who were struggling with the human/vermin shared living situation.
While Gregor’s metamorphosis is a tragedy, his death brings a blessing. His parents and sister had come to rely on him as their source of income, and hope for future wealth and happiness. With their safety net removed, the family is forced to make ends meet. Gregor’s father returns to work, and ends up doing better than he feared. The family takes a trip away, and the change of scenery helps them realise there is plenty to be hopeful about. It turns out prosperity was not beyond their reach, it was just hidden behind some effort and a change in attitude. It made me wonder if some things I rely on in my own life are really holding me back. Am I playing things safe and settling for average? Is the fear of the unknown keeping me from making a wonderful change? What happiness and fulfillment might I find if I was willing to risk failure? Also, how do bugs climb walls? It makes no sense to me. Maybe their feet are sticky.
The Metamorphosis mixes impossible weirdness with inescapable reality, and produces a thought-provoking read. 7/10
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