Metamorphosis: Can One Really Love a Soul?

A Gist of the Metamorphosis

Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, begins with a young man, Gregor Samsa, in bed waking up as a bug, unable to get out of bed as he lies on his back. Thinking it will all disappear he goes back to bed only to wake up late for work and yet still a bug.

What seems to begin with a mediocre story line turns into a gripping story based on human relationships in families and society. You see Gregor was the sole earning member of his family, who was staying in a job he hated to repay the debt of his father and hoping to give his sister a better life.

But then now as a bug he becomes dependent on his family, from being the provider he now has to be taken care of. Given food, his space has to be cleaned and most of all he has to be hidden because the very sight of him is repulsive.

How the dynamics change, with his father who wanted to get rid of him, his sister who from caring for him initial begins to hate him and his mother who wants to show him her affection but has a tough time showing it because she cannot stand the look of him.

The story ends with the family finally begins to enjoy life far more than when Samsa was providing for them after his death.

“He thought back on his family with deep emotion and love. His conviction that he would have to disappear was, if possible, even firmer than his sister’s. He remained in this state of empty and peaceful reflection until the tower clock struck three in the morning. He still saw that outside the window everything was beginning to grow light. Then, without his consent, his head sank down to the floor, and from his nostrils streamed his last weak breath.”
~ Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

What is the meaning of Metamorphosis?

I would like to start with a very interesting fact, at the time of publishing, The Metamorphosis, Kafka ensured that the cover of the book would not have any representation of Gregor becoming an insect.

Franz Kafka wrote a letter that stated, “The insect itself is not to be drawn. It is not even to be seen from a distance.”

metamorphosis - die verwandlung

This made me wonder why would he not want to actually show the insect? It’s pretty obvious that the insect is a metaphor, but from the cover of the first published book, it looks like Gregor is having a break down.

While some say he did not transform physically and its more about Samsa’s mental state , its evident that Kafka’s story revolves around Gregor’s relationships before and after the transformation.

Metamorphosis, struck multiple chords for me, how lonely it can get when times are tough, how those who consider close to you and can also be family can end up being ungrateful.

I think there’s a special message here for selfless givers, Gregor kept giving selflessly, he gave up on his own dreams to make life comfortable for his parents and sister. Yet when he is incapable of supporting them, those who he hoped would take care of him ended up hating and abusing him.

Gregor on the other hand keeps wanting to provide for his family, when he finally accepts that he cannot be of value to them, he accepts that his death as his family wishes for will be of most use to the others and gives him no reason to live.

“We can’t carry on like this. Maybe you can’t see it, but I can. I don’t want to call this monster my brother, all I can say is: we have to try and get rid of it.”
~ Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

You can say that Gregor experiences multiple deaths, through loneliness, through ostracization and finally his physical death. It’s hard to imagine that a book of under 100 pages can pack so much emotion, depth and insight into it. Here’s a little video that can help you get a feel of it.

Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis illustrated

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Other metaphorical meanings of Metamorphosis

Since Kafka himself hasn’t given us an interpretation of The Metamorphosis, everyone who has read the book will probably have. Here’s few other meanings of Metamorphosis that are floating around the internet.

Metamorphosis was Anti-Capitalist

“What a fate: to be condemned to work for a firm where the slightest negligence at once gave rise to the gravest suspicion! Were all the employees nothing but a bunch of scoundrels, was there not among them one single loyal devoted man who, had he wasted only an hour or so of the firm’s time in the morning, was so tormented by conscience as to be driven out of his mind and actually incapable of leaving his bed?”
~ Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

Gregor’s boss keeps knocking on the door, suspecting that he suddenly got lazy and doesn’t want to work any more. While Gregor himself hates his job and is waiting to exit it to follow his dreams.

His employer washes his hands off and doesn’t show up again after he sees him after his transformation. Could the Metamorphosis hold an anti-capatalist message, for someone who wants to see it that way, why not?

The book speaks about a lack of self-esteem or self-value

Although the book itself never speaks about why or how Gregor’s transformation takes place, Gregor has put his own life on pause to help his family. He puts his dream on hold as he saves up money for his sister to live her dream.

After his transformation he finds no reason to live because he only found his self-worth by giving, the moment he couldn’t provide any longer he ends up spending most of his time in a little corner in his room. Yet again another possibility!

Other theories explaining the meaning of Metamorphosis

There’s so much one can interpret when it comes to the human elements in the book, is it a metophor for aging. Is it picking on the industrial revolution taking place. Was it how he felt as he waited for return letters from his lover or was it a way to put forth details about his relationship with his father?

Revel in the fact that we will never know what really went on in Kafka’s mind when he wrote this book. All I can say its a phenomenal read and as a treat you can read the metamorphosis for free online.

Read the Metamorphosis

“He thought back on his family with deep emotion and love. His conviction that he would have to disappear was, if possible, even firmer than his sister’s. He remained in this state of empty and peaceful reflection until the tower clock struck three in the morning. He still saw that outside the window everything was beginning to grow light. Then, without his consent, his head sank down to the floor, and from his nostrils streamed his last weak breath.”
~ Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

Image Source:
Metamorphosis by Chryssalis
Metamorphosis cover design

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