It’s time for the ‘A-Z challenge’- a post every day in April (except Sundays) working up through the alphabet. This year I will be writing about books that I read before I started this blog, that were important to me in some way. The vast majority are ones I still have on my bookshelf today, despite a move in house and sometimes many years since I first read it.
K is for Kafka
Book: the Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
What is it about:
Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman who provides for his parents and sister, awakens one day to find he has been transformed into a giant insect. He is, obviously, unable to go to work. His family react with varying levels of disgust and compassion, and have to learn to both make their own money and to look after Gregor. Gradually Gregor starts to accept some of the new habits and urges his insect body gives him, despite his mind remaining human. Gradually the family forget his previous humanity and come to view him with less compassion, and more disgust.
When I first read this book:
A couple years ago, I was given the Meowmorphosis for Christmas- as a well known cat lover, there are always a few cat themed items. I decided to read the original work before I read the spoof. In case anyone was thinking of doing this, I recommend you don’t read them one after the other- the Meowmorphosis is largely a copy of the metamorphosis- about half the book is word for word excepting a few descriptive words changes so as to describe Gregor as a cat not an insect. Reading them one after the other thus becomes very repetitive.
Why it is important to me:
I wouldn’t rank this book as one of my favorites. But it is considered one of the most important works of fiction in the 20th century. There are several themes that can be discussed- alienation, dichotomy of mind and body, change, acceptance, the absurdity of life. To me there were two issues that stood out. Firstly, how Gregor has been trapped by his caring for his family- trapped in a job and a routine he didn’t like. This transformation was a horrible thing to happen, but it freed him from their dependence. And out of necessity they became self sufficient- implying that really he never should have had to be their provider in the first place.
Secondly, the depiction of illness and the reactions of those around us to it. Gregor’s metamorphosis into a despicable, degraded animal could be considered a representation mental illness or chronic disease. People often feel worthless, guilty, disgusting, helpless and hopeless when they have either mental or severe chronic diseases. And the people around them exhibit the same reactions that his family did- there are those who want to help and understand but just can’t like the mother. There are those who commit themselves to acting like a caring, supportive friend or family member, like the sister, but secretly have negative feeling towards the illness and often the person themselves. This usually comes out eventually- unless you truly feel compassionate, understanding and loving to a person, it doesn’t matter how much you wish to be that person for them- you will burn out and hate them eventually. And then there are people like the father who are openly disgusted or irritated by the changes and behaviours they see in the unwell person from the start.
Who should read it:
People who like classics and feeling educated.