Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (1883-1924) begins with a startling opening sentence.
One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin.
Understandably Gregor’s family are quite shocked and distressed by his sudden transformation. Not really knowing quite what to do, they lock him away in his room, out of sight. Perhaps even out of mind.
Over the course of the story Gregor becomes progressively non-human. He prefers hiding under the couch in the dark, eating half-rotten vegetables and crawling up and down the walls and ceiling. His treatment at the hands of his family also deteriorates. Initially his father treats him like vermin, chasing him into his room by stamping his feet, prodding him with a stick and hissing at him. Then the family decide they need to “swallow their revulsion,” “be patient” and hopefully Gregor will return to normal.
Gregor though is not the only character who undergoes a metamorphosis. His younger sister, Grete, transforms from a whimpering and crying young girl who is considered useless and annoying by her parents, to a confident young woman who was “blossoming into a well built and beautiful young lady.” She takes charge of Gregor’s care, gets a job in sales and starts learning shorthand and French in the evenings to further her prospects. Sadly, it is only due to Gregor’s demise, that the parents start to recognise the worth and beauty of their daughter.
Metamorphosis was first published in 1915 and is one of Kafka’s most well-known stories. Born in Prague during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Kafka was a German speaker, so his stories were written in German and often blended elements of realism and the fantastic. My edition, pictured above on my iPad, was translated by David Wyllie in 2002 but English translations date back to 1937. Interestingly, at the time of publication, Kafka ordered that there be no illustration of Gregor in the book. The German word used to describe Gregor was “Ungeziefer” which apparently means “unclean animal,” although it has also been translated to mean “cockroach” or “dung beetle.” In fact the description of Gregor throughout the story does suggest something like a cockroach but Kafka didn’t want readers to be influenced or biased by a cover picture. In the years since, there have been quite a few different covers. Here are just a few.
Kafka’s stories can be interpreted in many different ways and disability, illness, alienation & isolation are just some of the ways that Metamorphosis has been interpreted. There are also some very interesting interpretations by literary critics which just goes to show there are an infinite number of ways of reading the same story. It’s a short read and quite thought provoking.
#BookSnapSunday is hosted by Sharon from Gum Trees and Galaxies. Feel free to snap a book and join in.