{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Kafka's Metamorphosis

I feel so very small to write anything about it, I sense a deep sense of fear plunging in, that sometimes say what if you said something that refers to something stupid to a piece of art that you revere in totality, a piece of art, so horridly blurred with nightmarish fantasy and so clearly delineated, so powerfully behold the spirit of a poor fellow, a black and white story, so very elegantly painted, so meticulously done. Gregor Samsa turns to a gaint bug one fine morning. This happens in very first line of Metamorphosis. What else, so what, please don't ask these stupid questions. A poor guy has every right to turn to what ever filth, he wants to. Let him do that. Pity is a first emotion that Metamorphosis evokes, pity of entrapment and alienation, a pity of ritualistic living, a pity of powerlessness, a pity of how a beautiful body gets transformed to a heavy, grotesque bug, an insect of no respect. what a shame, what a pitiful sight. Gregor, the sole bread winner has to get up and go to work, earn money for the family, so that they can survive. The family of a Gregor has ghostly appearance more than the transformed Gregor himself. They look at Gregor as a old circus animal entrapped in four walls through three doors, calling and pounding doors at him to perform to bring them some pennies to them. No one think of Gregor and his new persona and why it happened, why he transformed into a bug, by his will or by some force. What does this all signify, if at all. Why are we subjected to the details of the nightmare that Gregor is having, why should we, Gregor should be let alone to die in peace, but a reader can be on any side of the wall, outside the room with Gregor's circus family, or inside the wall with Gregor. The power is such that we tend to move either side. Those who somehow cross that boundary are, in my humble opinion, great readers. I did cross the line, but not very consistently, not very frequently though.

On whole of the story, a feeling of entrapping hovers. The first indication is Gregor's job that he hate and want to leave, but to pay his family debts he continues. Second is the transformation (rather entrapment) of Gregor into a insect body, and third is Gregor's imprisonment in a dark room. These all signify a sense of solitude that Gregor is experiencing and how this solitude grows and become more painful and fatal.

Metamorphosis very clearly describes how we become increasing indifferent to others pain with time if it becomes even the slightest hurdle in our so-called daily routine and how our neglected pain can grow exponentially wasting us altogether. Gregor's sister, Grete is a very interesting character to understand in that respect, part from Gregor. A loving sister, transforms into deaf and blind lady unable to connect to Gregor. One of themes of Metamorphosis is inability to express oneself, Grete, mother and father are so horrified by Gregor they just stopped seeing and communicating with him, Gregor, too, on the other hand, being turned to an insect is unable to express himself, it was fully supplemented by neglect shown by the family. All the characters show their repressed feeling in one way or the other. Especially father, whose anger results in the 'Apple incident', which ultimately become calamitous to Gregor. Kafka uses Gregor's transformation as an indication of transformation of all the characters involved.

From one perspective Metamorphosis looks the analysis of transformation, from other look it seems like deconstruction of society in general and a family in particular, but from all angles Metamorphosis is a scrutiny of being human being pushed to live and survive. When I read Metamorphosis for the first time, I was more taken over my Gregor's plight and his family's increasing indifference to him. On the second time, it reflected much more, the feeling of insecurity and fear of every character and the longing of Gregor to get his position back in the family resonated. There is a very brilliant scene in Metamorphosis, one of my favorites, the violin scene, where Gregor comes out to hear the violin his sister,Grete is playing. It may be the most emotional [not melodramatic in any sense] scene of the whole story. The reaction of the family to Gregor's return from dark room brings more rejection for him and a final fatal unanimous decision by family. This scene shows Gregor's last effort to gain some love from his estranged family. What makes this scene and whole story so riveting is that fact that how misunderstood and helpless, speechless and loathsome Gregor is, and this feeling vibrates all over the story but culminates into this episode.

The end of the story is nothing short than perfect and stoically yet brilliantly breaks apart all the mush and goodness attached to the concepts of society and family. While coming to the end, I had a feeling that the story also started with a unwritten paragraph about normalcy of everyday life, the sweet weather and bird chirping. This full cycle gives, Metamorphosis a completeness, an integrity of structure and sense that everything is fine on surface and lots of Gregor's are trapped in dark chambers.

For more detailed, coherent and intellectual discussion on Metamorphosis, read Vladamir Nabokov's notes here ( These notes are very interesting, detailed and incisive, although I cannot disagree more with him when Nabokov says ...[Music] belongs to a more primitive, more animal form in the scale of arts than literature or painting..., I think music in the 'Violin sequence' is used mostly because it is the sound only that Gregor can register in his dark room and it can take him out. In fact sound plays a very important role in the whole story.]

All of those, who haven't still read it, can find it here. Here is a nice animation of story.


Anonymous said...

belongs to a more primitive, more animal form in the scale of arts than literature or painting...


Anonymous said...

I dont understand why a man will become a bug? any reasons?

anurag said...

To get the reasons, you need to read the story!

Mridula said...

Have to try and pick this one up, my brother-in-law is a big fan of Kafka. You did justice in your review of the book. You have got me hooked.

parallelcinema said...

Metamorphosis is not for someone who is looking for a "Story".

well written.

anurag said...

Thanks Mridula, I seriously feel that I messed up with the finer details of the story, as the story is very complex to be understood and to be written about.

Also please read another very short story 'A Hunger Artist' by Kafka. It is immensely intriguing and satisfying !

Thanks, I have been frequenting your blog for some time.Your write-ups on parallel cinema are really comprehensive.

We cannot see those kind of movies now. Seems like the good movie days are gone from Hindi Cinema :(