By: Franz Kafka
I’m writing this review as part of the Back to the Classics Challenge
Category 8: Classic Novella
Recap from the perspective of 15-year-old M
Gregor Samsa turns into a bug. The end.
This isn’t going to take the form of other reviews because first I need to tell you a story.
I was assigned to read this novella as a high school sophomore. My tenth grade English teacher was a very sweet, kind woman, who wasn’t at all equipped to handle the shenanigans that my classmates put her through.
On the other hand, she once showed us a disturbing scene from The Silence of the Lambs without sending home permission slips, so maybe I shouldn’t bother defending her.
Regardless, she meant well, but I didn’t learn much. We read “The Metamorphosis” and I actually really liked it. The only thing she told us is that Gregor turns into a bug. Given that my typical reading material skewed towards fantastical, it wasn’t hard for me to believe that a famous (classic) short story would only be about someone turning into a bug. Nothing else. Just…hey, this character was once a human and is now a bug. The end!
Fast forward about six months. I was at my best friend’s house, talking to her dad about books (he and I read the same things), and he mentioned something about “The Metamorphosis” being a commentary on the working class and needless to say, 15-year-old M didn’t take this well.
(Perhaps Teacher Appreciation Week wasn’t the best time to share this particular story)
For many moons now I have ranted about this gap in my education, intending to do something about it, preferring instead to rant.
So when I decided to participate in this year’s Back to the Classics Challenge, the universe screamed at me “YOU MUST READ ‘THE METAMORPHOSIS’ OR ELSE WE WILL THROW MOONS AT YOU” and so I sighed and read “The Metamorphosis.”
Present Day M Recaps/Reviews
First of all, how dense was I not to realize this was a commentary about the plight of the working class?
Second of all, whoa this story was great.
It opens with Gregor in bed, not wanting to go to work. I didn’t think I would relate to many things in this short story about a bug written more than a century ago, but right off the bat it exceeded my expectations.
Through Gregor’s reflection, we learn that his life fully sucks. He works, a lot, in a job that he hates, to support his family. Gregor’s soul-sucking existence is expected to provide for his parents and his sister. They seem to be completely unaware that he hates his career and how much he has to travel; but in their defense, Gregor seems to be completely unaware of this as well.
As Gregor ruminates over his normal day-to-day routine, Kafka clearly shows us that Gregor has consumed the labor koolaid. He wants to go to work, because if he’s late or doesn’t show up it will reflect poorly on his work ethic and jeopardize his job (regardless of the accolades he recently received). Except…he also just wants to lay in bed for a few more minutes.
Did I mention that this story was weirdly relatable?
It takes Gregor awhile to realize that he’s turned into a bug. His family actually adapts to the idea fairly quickly, all things considered. He and his sister clearly have a positive relationship (one of the only joys in his life was the idea that he might be able to send her to some kind of institute to study the violin) and she does everything she can to make him more comfortable. She observes what he does and doesn’t eat so that she can give him the right food, she cleans his room, and she realizes that his furniture now impedes his movement and decides they need to make the room more comfortable for him.
Honestly, at this point I forgot who wrote the short story and what it was actually about and quite enjoyed the idea of Gregor living as a gigantic bug for the rest of his life while his sister cared for him.
Alas, Gregor’s golden days are behind him. His parents never really adjust to the new Gregor. All three of his family members have to start working to make up for Gregor’s lost income. His parents resent him, and later his sister joins their ranks. Gregor is neglected and every day brings further discomfort. He tries his best to not cause trouble and holy shit it’s like he never turned into a bug because that was basically his existence beforehand anyway.
It’s clear that, prior to his transformation, his family didn’t fully appreciate Gregor’s sacrifice. They expected him to continue the work he hated to support their lifestyle. After his metamorphosis (I tried really hard to pick a different word here), there’s a complete role-reversal. Now, they have to care for him, instead of the other way around. They have to work to support him, and they hate it.
Eventually, someone throws an apple at him, it gets stuck on his back and finally kills him. They dispose of the body and suddenly they’re all much more at peace because they no longer have to confront the bug in their house (i.e. their own guilt).
I’m giving “The Metamorphosis” a 5 out of 5 on the Normal Person Rating System (duh) anddddd (drum roll please) a 9 out of 10 on M’s Magical Meter. I actually enjoyed this story way more than I expected. There’s a lot of nuance that I missed when I was fifteen, and probably missed this time around, too. I’m still trying to figure out all the reasons why Gregor-as-a-bug refers to his family as “the sister” and “the mother” when Gregor-as-a-human and Kafka-as-the-narrator refer to them by their names. I’m docking one point because it’s a short story but still took me a month to read, so obviously it didn’t thoroughly captivate me.
Do you have a story about misunderstanding a book the first time you read it? Share it with me!
Questions about the rating system? See here!