May 28, 2009

'The Metamorphosis' by Kafka

I have heard about Franz Kafka's short stories, so thought of getting a glimpse of his work by reading his famous short story 'The Metamorphosis'. After I finished reading it, I couldn't really appreciate the greatness of the story except to say that it was a very interesting, thought-provoking story of a salesman, Gregory Samsa oneday waking up and finding himself metamorphosed into an insect and how it changes the life of people around him. Nevertheless, it made me to think deeply. Let me share them with you.
In ‘metamorphosis’, Kafka has shown several traits of the society in various places. The fact that Gregory doesn’t even realize his metamorphosis but is worried about his job, his manager and family reveals that in the modern society, most of us keep running towards our goals without having the time to stop and analyze what we are doing. Those of us don’t lead an ‘optimized’ life, i.e., a life in which most, if not all of the important things are optimized to the best. We accept mediocrity and simply want to move forward. Gregory’s plans to get up, even in his bug state, and think of catching a train to report to work is suggestive of the unrelenting pressure that he is under.
His brief mention of the manager and his colleagues tells us about the environment in the working place that one experiences. Highly demanding managers, colleagues who won’t hesitate to backstab if necessary, and an uncertain/unstable job situation are the things that can be seen in the modern corporate society as well. The intense competition at the inter-company and intra-company levels has made this place into a dog-eat-dog world.
For most of the readers from the US, the concept of an adult son staying with and working for reasonably fit parents would appear very strange; but that is the culture in most of South and South-East Asian countries even now. Sons who are married with children still continue to live with their parents. One can also see families in which all the sons live with their respective wives and children in the same house with their parents. In most of such families, the father, or if he is not alive, the mother is like the ‘head’ of the family.
Also, in the US, one can’t usually see an educated and fit female not interested in working or who doesn’t make an earning. On the other hand, in Southern Asia, it is common to see women with even master’s degree not working at all any time in their life. After the marriage, the decision of whether or not a girl works usually comes from her husband and/or her in-laws. Before marriage, her parents decide whether she needs to work or not. Since the education in most of South Asia is government-sponsored, the government’s investment on the girl’s education goes merely as waste. All this means that, a potential and large workforce remains dormant simply because of a combination of laziness, domination and controlling tendency. This trend is seen in many under-developed nations of the world, and I believe that the absence of such an attitude is a very important reason for the success of all the developed nations. In Kafka’s story, these inconsistencies are described quite well.
On one hand, the family wants to be free from its debts; but they hardly join hands together for such an important cause. They have entrusted such a job on the shoulders of their son. Moreover, their son is not even happy with the job he is doing. Even though they are aware of that, they do nothing to help him quit such a job and opt for something he likes. They could have helped his cause by earning some money from their part too. They continue to live in a large house which they don’t have to at all. Reading about such a family in great details first gave me a feeling that Kafka must have experienced a similar situation . Upon reading his biography, in which Kafka was reported to have a sad life with an imposing father, I could agree with others who also believe ‘The Metamorphosis’ to be autobiographical.

I felt that the final act of the family members getting fed up with Gregory and ‘let him go’ is very similar to Terri Schiavo case that stirred quite a bit of debate three years ago. When a family member becomes too ill to live but is somehow managing to merely exist due to life support system, what should the family do? Should they continue to allow him or her suffer in a situation that is far from normal living, or should they just allow them to die and put an end to the agony? This is a question for which there is no clear answer. Similar to the way the Kafka family was hoping for a miracle to happen to bring their metamorphosed family member to normalcy, several other families keep their comatose loved ones in life support hoping that a modern medical advancement would somehow provide a new lease of life to them.
In ‘The Metamorphosis’, many socially relevant themes are dealt quite nicely. It makes one question and analyze the concepts of love, care, career, family and compromise. Its global appeal and the applicability to several issues that the modern society faces help it become a timeless classic. Despite the act of Gregory’s metamorphosis not sounding believable, its underlying themes make this story an unforgettable read.


vm said...

Lol. I didn't expect you to write a post on Metamorphosis. Well, I enjoyed the hunger artist better :D
His stories are disturbing and engrossing at the same time.

Nitin said...

i have to read this book, and also after reading ur post, i remembered seeing something on imdb about a guy turning into an insect, it seems there is a movie in the making called Metamorphosis, based on kaffa's story.

Sriram said...

thanks. will read this one.

Raju said...

Vm, true that his stories are disturbing, but 'The Metamorphosis' was not engrossing to me though it was thought-provoking. I don't think I will ever read any of his stories.
Nitin, donno about a movie in the making, but there seems to be a 70's movie already made based on this story.
Sriram, welcome.. :) sure..

vm said...

Lol, you've become Kafka phobic :D

i think therefore i am said...

I just began Amerika.. I saw Metamorphosis but was still hesitating to read it

Anonymous said...

Ambedkar, your 'friend' from IISc, introduced me to Kafka, with flowing attributes and poetric exurbance he couldn't hide his appreciation for his works even if he tried. i did read metamorphosis, and was disturbed and amused simultaneosly, but under no instance would reviewed and given a perspective to it. this one book has completely desecrated the word 'metamorphosis'.

Raju said...

Vm, LOL.. yep u can say that..
Cogito, ur hesitation saved u, I guess.. :)
Sanjay, LOL... I agree with you... May be some authors' work would have been path-breaking at that time.
Who is the 'Ambedkar' friend of mine? Is my memory deserting me?