The Metamorphosis and Other Stories – Franz Kafka

With a vast imagination and a philosophical mind, Kafka creates one of the most unique and metaphorical stories in literature history. With eccentric characters and surreal plots, Kafka raises very ordinary questions about our psychology, morals and philosophies.

My first encounter with Kafka was “Before the Law”. Considered more as a parable than a short story, it definitely presents a new perspective on people’s ways of thought. Is it not a common occurrence that we shy away from high authorities or persons of power, and because of that, cease our journey to justice? And what will the consequences be if we are all fearless and fight for our rights; would we be defeated or victorious? Most importantly, is the risk worth taking? Franz Kafka left the answers as mysteries, and provoked the readers’ curiosity by ending his story with a suggestion that the “gate” – metaphor for the law and justice system – is there for us to enter. Perhaps we never recognized that we can achieve justice if we were brave enough to take journey to achieving it. 

In “The Metamorphosis”, Kafka skips pass the setting quickly and gets right into a story of human psychology and behaviour. A man is mysteriously transformed into an insect. As a natural response, the reader would automatically question why this happened, but rapidly the focus and interest of the plot moves on to the events that follow his transformation. The story presents such an eccentric setting and context, but also very recognizable human beings. As soon as readers suspend their disbelief to the surreal situation, they would find the characters quite familiar. There is fear of unfamiliar events, fear of the unknown, the struggle to adapt to a new condition, both mentally and financially. There is the need to feel human contact, and the uncomfortable feeling of being left out, being in the dark, like Gregor when he is shut off to the outside world. He covets to be part of the family again, and desires to hear his sister’s violin and get her attention. However, the state he had become results in exclusion and loneliness, a fear that not only an ‘insect-man’ suffers, but that we all secretly are afraid of. There is also confusion, from Gregor’s family, around various issues such as how to take care of him now that he is an insect, how to arrange his room and how to treat him. This is a stunning example of how clumsy human psychology is when facing an unfamiliar circumstance, and sometimes the confusion can lead to misunderstanding and unreasonable behaviour, like Gregor’s father unnecessary violence toward his “insect son”. Finally, human beings, no matter what, would always feel a need for love, a need to care for their loved ones. Gregor, even as a mistreated and helpless insect, thinks about his sister’s future, his family’s financial state and wishes to help them. And Gregor’s sister, no matter her fear toward what her brother had become, takes care of him and tries to protect him to the end. On the surface, Gregor’s family may seem like they are cruel and unsympathetic of their hapless son, but I would argue that they were not driven by ignorance nor evil, but taken over by the confusion of having their son turned into a hideous creature. Ultimately, it is the share of love and caring that took over Gregor; “he thought back on his family with affection and love” and found himself peace and allowed “his last breath [to] faintly flowed”. 

Gregor’s death is a symbol of freedom. He set himself free from the worries and pressure of living as an outsider, and he also set his family free from the cumbersome fear, confusion and anxiety they faced after his transformation. The ending is hopeful: “they felt it was like a confirmation of their new dreams and good intentions.” The family is not cruel; only when the past is left behind can they start a new future. The moral of the story lies in the fact that no matter what, Gregor would not be able to return to his human self, and the only thing his family could give him is shelter and care, by sacrificing their own freedom. There is a chance for metamorphosis when there is forgiveness, love and care.

 

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