Thursday, July 08, 2010

Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

I remember first reading this way back in college (when I was twenty-one). I remember finding the whole experience of this story extremely unsettling -- and for good reason: its distinctively nightmarish quality. Upon re-reading it today I was pleasantly surprised, and no less unsettled, by its timelessness.

We all know the story. Gregor Samsa awakens one morning to find himself transformed into a gigantic cockroach. The family (consisting of mother, father, and younger sister) is thrown into turmoil because Gregor, the primary breadwinner, cannot go to work. Everyone in the family struggles with how to cope with this revolting "thing" that was once a functioning member of the family. Shock, grief, resentment -- all the stages of coping with the transformation lead to the story's inevitable conclusion, yet the family endures.

Now in my forties, I find this tale even more unsettling in its depiction of a family coping with the disability of one of its family members. From the start, Gregor's physical condition deteriorates in various ways. Of course, the obvious theme of a person coping with the demands of a job, family, and financial distress infuses the story with its distinct modernity. And in many ways, is this story not really a metaphor ... for alcoholism?

The Metamorphosis is definitely a great story to read when you're an adolescent (I plan to add it to my A.P. curriculum this fall). But it's even more harrowing when you read it twenty-five years later!

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