Misery in Bohemia

Kafka’s The Metamorphosis
Or: How Not to Wake Up Feeling Like a Pest

Misery in Bohemia

Ugh, what a morning! You wake up feeling rotten – stiff body, muddled mind – like a real pest. You stretch out your limbs, sway from side to side, but you start to feel something’s not quite right. Then you lift your hands to look at your fingers – but wait. Where did they go? All you see are two pointy, hard appendages.

Well, face it: Overnight, you’ve transformed into a disgusting bug! Even worse, you’ve overslept your alarm. Now you’re late for work. What a grind! After all, your whole family depends on your income, and you can’t let them down – roach or no roach. They’re out there, knocking on your door. Even the boss has come by to see why you’re still in bed. How are you going to explain this one?

What it’s about

One morning, traveling salesman Gregor Samsa wakes up as a hideous bug. He continues in a state of denial and keeps worrying about how to support his family. At first, his sister brings him food, cleans the room and shows some concern for him. But soon, his physical state deteriorates, and the family loses patience. After his father severely injures him by pelting him with an apple, Gregor decides to stop burdening the family. And dies.

Three life lessons

No. 1
Find work you love

Gregor Samsa hates his job. Being a travelling salesman is lonely, physically taxing and superficial. Every morning he gets up, dressed and out the door, dreading the day before him. This dreary experience may sound familiar to more than a few people. If you hate your work, every day will be a kind of cruel torture. Instead, look for a career that you find rewarding. It might not be that every day is perfect, but if you wake up feeling less like a bug and more like a young pup, bounding out the door, you’ll be on the right track.

No. 2
Accept yourself and let go of others who don’t

Gregor’s transformation into a hideous insect could be read as a reflection of how the author, Franz Kafka, felt about himself. Kafka had a long history of poor physical and mental health. These conditions were compounded by the difficult relationship he had with his narcissistic, overbearing father. His father, a successful businessman, had little patience for Kafka’s artistic inclinations. Despite this, Kafka desperately sought his father’s approval – and never received it.

This father-son relationship was lifelong agony for him. While it may not be possible, or even advisable, to wipe away complicated family relationships, a lesson lies in Kafka’s experience. By trying to please someone who could never be pleased, Kafka lived in a vicious circle. However you do it – with practice, the help of a therapist or life changes – learn to accept that some people will never love you for who you truly are.

No. 3
Build a broad community

When Kafka, a German-speaking Jew living in Czech-speaking Prague, Bohemia, wrote The Metamorphosis, in 1912, he was a member of a very small minority. Add to that the pressure of contemporary economical pressure and Kafka found himself in a brutally isolated position.

Today, despite the appearance of being more connected than ever via the internet, people are finding themselves in ever-increasingly smaller boxes. This phenomenon risks putting fragmented sections of society into social isolation. Evaluate your peer group. Is it shrinking? Does everyone in it share similar ideas and opinions? If so, branch out. Look for ways to meet and build meaningful relationships with people from different backgrounds. As well as a more rounded worldview, it will also give you a robust support group in times of trouble.

At the end of The Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa – or the parasite that he has become – wastes away and, finally, dies. There is no funeral, no weeping mourners attend to him. Instead, the cleaning lady throws out his lifeless body while his family enjoys a trip to the countryside. At first glance, this bleak look at a man’s existence, written off, doesn’t make for happy, inspirational reading. And yet, dark though it may be, there is wisdom to be gained: If we do not try to change what makes us unhappy, no one will do it for us. We all risk waking up some morning to find ourselves morphed into metaphorical monsters.

Gregor says: Not the bug spray!
Gregor’s father says: How’d you like some apple sauce?

The Summary

Image of: The Metamorphosis
Book Summary

The Metamorphosis

Not every caterpillar turns into a butterfly.

Franz Kafka
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