By Franz Kafka
Kafka’s text begins with the hauntingly mundane description “When Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from troubled dreams he found himself transformed into his bed into a monstrous cockroach.”
Metamorphosis is a quintessentially Kafkaesque text, in that nightmarishly absurd things happen to unassuming characters, and are met not with excitement or drama, but instead with muted stoicism – any despair is suppressed by an overwhelming sense that what is happening is normal, and nothing can be done to change it. The story is immensely personal to Kafka too, as while he was a child, he was constantly tormented by his father for not being like other boys his age. He struggled his whole life with the feeling that he did not meet his father’s expectations. These experiences are what led to Kafka’s crippling anxiety and warped sense of self; indeed, the cockroach is a metaphor for someone who has been alienated and ostracised by those who they are supposed to be closest with.
Gregor’s family undergoes a transformation, too. While his parents are immediately repulsed by him (further evidence of the text’s personal foundations), his sister, Grete, initially empathises with him, but as the story progresses and his presence becomes increasingly difficult to accommodate, Grete too transforms, and it is she who declares that he must leave.
Kafka engages with multiple levels of the consequences of Gregor’s ‘metamorphosis’: its impact on Gregor, its impact on his family, and the practical implication of Gregor’s loss of his human form. Indeed, the Kafkaesque nature of the opening and of Gregor’s exploration of his new form, such as the simile ‘He moved very gradually as if there had been some secret prohibition on leaving the room’, which foregrounds the text’s interest in the realistic negotiation of his new reality through the descriptive and figurative detailing of Gregor’s movements. While Gregor himself has been transformed, his mother, father, and sister - Grete - are forced to fend for themselves in the face of the economic loss posed by Gregor’s change. Gregor himself observes the physical manifestations of that change through the juxtaposed sounds, noting ‘They no longer held the lively conversations of earlier times …. All of them were usually very quiet nowadays,’ illuminating the toll of the physical and familial consequences. Despite providing support to Gregor, Grete’s perspective on the situation shifts, culminating in her shouting that ‘ “It’s got to go … You’ve got to get rid of the idea that that’s Gregor”,’ crystallising her transformation through her exclamatory declaration and emphasising Kafka’s creation of a harsh, absurdist lens.
Underpinning Kafka’s text is absurdism; a world without order or meaning, where chaos occurs and there is no moral system in place to make sense of it. In this world, concepts such as love and hope do not exist, because there is nothing to love, and there is nothing to hope for: the world simply goes on unpredictably, and humans are subject to its whims.
‘“It’s got to go”, shouted his sister, “that’s the only way, Father. You’ve got to get rid of the idea that that's Gregor”.’
exclamatory dialogue pronoun
dehumanisation of Gregor demonstrating Grete’s transformation
‘She did not see him straight away, but when she did notice him under the couch - he had to be somewhere, for God’s sake, he couldn’t have flown away’
inclusion of humorous thought process grounds normalcy of textual tone
‘They no longer held the lively conversations of earlier times, of course, the ones that Gregor always thought about with longing when he was tired and getting into the damp bed in some small hotel room. All of them were usually very quiet nowadays.’
contrast in familial dynamic
‘He moved very gradually as if there had been some secret prohibition on leaving the room.’
exploring new reality for Gregor
‘When Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from troubled dreams he found himself transformed into his bed into a monstrous cockroach.’
establishing unsettling Kafkaesque tone