This was my first read of this book and Kafka's writing. His work was written in German from which this has been translated. This tale focuses on Gregor Samsa's transformation from a man working a meaningless job into a beetle-like creature or a piece of vermin (German). His family struggles with the change and the story details what happens as a result of the transformation. Interestingly, when Gregor no longer is able to work the members of his family go out and find work. Gregor is no longer needed.
I know there are meanings behind the author's story. Perhaps it partly refers to the meaningless work often done to support a family. Gregor must have felt chained to that role when many family members could have been helping themselves. Some believe that Kafka was decrying capitalism. Some take on religious tones. If one wishes still other meanings can be extrapolated. Check out the essays at the back of this book for more discussion on the topic. Perhaps it is enough to know that Kafka had a great impact on literature.
Kafka's writings were published following his death by his good friend, Max Brod. Brod found the task difficult because Kafka would start writing in the middle of a book and work whatever way he felt like working. I am glad that I read this book but have been puzzled by the theme that he intended to leave with the reader. He was a highly educated, a lawyer, so I believe that he was a deep thinker.
When I first read this book in high school my impression of it was "What terrible drivel! And this guy is a literary heavyweight!?", which is just more proof that what is considered literature was not written for children and therefore children are not the best audience for these works. They're just not equipped to understand the nuances of the story and to read between the lines. Of course there's always the option that my teacher wasn't all that good or that I was a particularly dense teenager, but I prefer the first theory.
If you read up on Metamorphosis you'll see the opinion that Gregor's transformation into an insect was just a physical manifestation of what he already was. Another commonly-accepted view is that the more important metamorphosis was that of the Samsa family as a result of Gregor's transformation. These interpretations made me think about the significance of Gregor changing into a creature that is revolting, a creature the family tries to accept but at the end cannot, and I wonder, for what is that a metaphor? What kind of person is Kafka writing about, what is it about him that is so unacceptable to his family? There is a passage toward the beginning of the book that indicates that there's something wrong with the lower abdomen of the insect Gregor, that it's diseased in some way. Then toward the end there is a passage about Gregor wanting to kiss his sister's neck. Do these passages reveal something about the nature of this character that overnight makes him a pariah in his own family? I think they do, and maybe I'm over-thinking it, but when viewed through that prism the story makes more sense than when it's not.
I'm pleased to say that this re-reading confirmed for me that Kafka's work deserves every bit of its exalted reputation. He really was a master of weaving stories that feel very close when you read them, despite the fantastical nature. Reading this book you can see the Samsas' apartment, them, and their issues. You even somewhat understand why the family feel about Gregor the way they do, regardless of his present state. After all, you know the man who dreams about kissing his sister's neck was odd even before his transformation into a gigantic insect. In fact, Metamorphosis is full of such implied revelations, but you have to be paying attention to see them. I would definitely recommend reading closely to get the most of out this book, and indeed any other of Kafka's work, because it seems that the boldest ideas are the closest to the truth with this author. Just bear in mind that often his imagery is far from innocent.
I'm curious to read more of Kafka's work now and I'm fully prepared to take my time with every piece, because his writing is just not something you should breeze through. Should you decide to pick up anything he's written I recommend you prepare yourself to take your time as well.
"When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin." With this startling, bizarre, yet surprisingly funny first sentence, Kafka begins his masterpiece, The Metamorphosis. It is the story of a young man who, transformed overnight into a giant beetlelike insect, becomes an object of disgrace to his family, an outsider in his own home, a quintessentially alienated man. A harrowing -- though absurdly comic -- meditation on human feelings of inadequecy, guilt, and isolation, The Metamorphosis has taken its place as one of the mosst widely read and influential works of twentieth-century fiction. As W.H. Auden wrote, "Kafka is important to us because his predicament is the predicament of modern man."