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“Monstrous Vermin” — The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

I’ve read The Metamorphosis a few times, and I’m including it here during October because this time through, I was back to thinking it was kind of horrific.  If you don’t know the story, it’s as strange as Kafka gets, and that’s really saying something.  I’ve read this story before and thought it was hilarious.  I’ve read it and thought it was simply weirdness for the sake of weirdness.  I’ve read it, like this time, and thought, with a sort of dread: I can’t imagine turning into a bug and not having anyone care. I read it as the plight of someone without a voice.  Someone utterly inconsequential.

But whatever, let’s talk about the story.

A young man, Gregor, wakes up one morning to find that he has transformed into a giant cockroach.  I say cockroach, because that’s the picture on my version of the book’s cover.  Or it’s close enough that that’s what I started thinking. However, Wikipedia states that the literal translation is “monstrous vermin,” so feel free to imagine whatever that means to you.  I’ve never talked to another reader who referred to post-transformation-Gregor as anything but a cockroach or bug.

Because this is Kafka, when the discussions with Gregor’s family start, nobody seems overly concerned with the fact that he’s now a big bug.  Rather, he’s late for work, he needs to eat, he’s got to get out of his room, etc.  The situation gets more bizarre and banal with every page.

By the end of part three, things are in a rather shabby state, which, again, is pure Kafka.  This time through, it just felt like a horror story to me.  Not sure why.

But usually I think Kafka’s funny more than anything.  David Foster Wallace has a fantastic essay on Kafka’s humor in his book Consider The Lobster.  The essay is called Some Remarks on Kafka’s Funniness from Which Probably Not Enough Has Been Removed. 

What say you?  What kind of story is The Metamorphosis? My favorite thing about Kafka is that I never get tired of trying to figure out just what he was trying to say.  Or if he was saying anything.  It’s probably not worth trying to categorize, as the stakes are fairly low here, but I still think it’s fun.

If you feel like some sleuthing, read his letters for clues!


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  • Avil Beckford October 4, 2012, 1:27 pm

    Hi Josh,

    I reviewed that book last week and it’s a strange book because we are never told why Gregor was transformed, so we are left wondering and making our own conclusions, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Avil

    • Josh Hanagarne October 4, 2012, 2:09 pm

      Have you read any of his other stuff? That’s pretty much the only thing you can do with any of his stories.