Book review: ‘The Metamorphosis’ by Franz Kafka

By Siti Zulaikha Shawaludin

A novel by Franz Kafka, “The Metamorphosis”, has taken place in the nineteenth century. A harrowing and meditation on human feelings of inadequacy, guilt and isolation during war that time. Franz Kafka grew up in Prague, a Czechoslovakia city within the Austro-Hungarian Empire during a period of intense social, economic, and political conflict. Ethnic tensions between Czechs and Germans and between Czechs and Jews were common in Prague. As a Jew, Kafka identified more with the German-speaking elite than the Russian-speaking Czech majority. Among the German community, however, the Jews were not readily accepted. Kafka would have witnessed the consequences of the Industrial Revolution during his lifetime. In addition to these social tensions, that Franz Kafka endured as a Jew, living within the anti-Semitic Austro-Hungarian Empire, included rejection, distortion, and worthlessness – being treated inhumanly. These are the reasons why Kafka turned Gregor into a dung beetle in the novel, “The Metamorphosis.”

Both Germans and Russians rejected the Jews in Prague. This feeling of discrimination is reflected in the scene when Gregor first revealed his new self at the beginning of the story. His father, mother, sister, and his boss were impatiently awaiting him to open the door, because he was late for work. “As soon as he did, the boss screamed and fled and his father seized in his right hand the manager’s cane… and stamping his feet, started brandishing the cane and the newspaper to drive Gregor back into his room.”(18) They all were terrified of Gregor’s new formation and they felt disgust with him and treated him badly.

The evidence is of feeling of rejection. Before Gregor’s transformation, Grete Samsa was an adoring and devoted younger sister. She started to lose her innocence towards her brother, Gregor, after a while. Grete decided to kill Gregor. “We must try to get rid of it…It will be the death of you two. I can see it coming. People who already have to work as hard as we do cannot put up with this constant torture of home too. I cannot stand it anymore either….It has to go. That is the only answer, father. You just have to try to get rid of the idea that it’s Gregor.”(49) The feeling of rejection is reflected when Gregor Samsa’s family started to abandon him. This quote described how Gregor’s family was rejecting Gregor. During the time, being a Jew is useless, disgust and everyone as in Germans wanted to kill them.

Franz Kafka was being distortion shows in this quote, “Gregor was deceived. His sacrifice was meaningless. The family’s whole happiness and contentment were founded on deception and covert calculation… Everything rested on possessions and assets, not on being.”(42-43). The entire idyll of the family was a lie; nowhere was the truth. The more money Gregor had given to his family, the cooler the relationship between them had grown. They had just gotten used to it, the family as well as Gregor. Money was received with thanks and given with pleasure. However, no special feeling of warmth went with it anymore. Just like the Germans took advantages towards the Jews to do the cheap labor, and all the hard working conditions.

Due to Industrialisation, it has affected in Gregor’s life. The economic status in his family; he is the only one who is working. Gregor is working as a traveling salesman; he did not even like his job. He is only working to pay off his parents’ debt. “What a gruelling job I’ve picked! Day in, and out-on the roads… I’ve the torture of traveling, worrying about changing trains, eating miserable food at all hours, constantly seeing new face. No relationships that last or get more intimate. To the devil with it all!…. If I didn’t hold back for my parents’ sake, I would have quit long ago… Once I’ve gotten the money together to pay off my parents’ debt to him…”(4). Gregor is a very hard working person. He believes being duly to family is important but as soon as he changed into a dung beetle, his family rejected him. As the Jews have been working hard they still did not get anything in return or being treated nicely or humanly.

Finally yet importantly, the worthlessness or the meaningless drudgery was one of the reasons why Kafka uses a dung beetle reflecting Gregor. “The next train left at 7, he would have to hurry like a mad man… and even if he did make the train. He could not avoid getting rid from the boss, because the messenger boy had been waiting for the train at 5 o’clock and would have long ago reported he is not showing up. He was a tool of the boss, without brains or backbone.”(5). This shows how the cheap labourers were being treated. He was scared of being late to work and the boss even had a messenger boy to report to him on he’s being late. All his hardworking are all worthless and meaningless drudgery. The Germans were treating the Jews inhumanly.

Franz Kafka assumes a beetle’s mode of life towards Gregor, at first, caught in thoughts, ideas and emotions of his former life. He feels it painful to be no longer able to make himself understood. Existing as a beetle thrust him out of everything that he used to and makes him alienate and frighten to everyone. His attachments to the world around him are not there by diminished. Not even by the fact that his family actual financial circumstances, industrial revolution, and social tensions. He would like to return to his old life, but was prevented from doing so by the beetle state. Gregor finally does, nevertheless, free himself from his enslavement by the empirical world. His death is not merely a meaningless, a liberating realisation. He dies reconciled with himself and the world. Kafka is reflecting his feelings and emotions towards Gregor. Kafka felt he was trapped in the new Industrial Revolution world. Being rejected, distorted and meaningless drudgery are the reasons why Franz Kafka uses a dung beetle to transform Gregor.***

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