So, I’m taking this English Literature class to fill my humanities requirement. The long title of the class is Literary Perspectives on the Modern World. Sounds funs, right? I think so. We’re only on day three, but I think I’ll like it. We’re reading several books that I’ve always wanted to read, but never quite got around to, like A Clockwork Orange and Slaughterhouse Five.
Anyway, for the last two days we’ve been discussing The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. I already wrote several of my thoughts in a Goodreads review, but it got really long. So I’m putting my next point here.
We spent a huge portion of the two hour class today debating whether Gregor did in fact turn into a bug or if he had some mental illness along the lines of schizophrenia. There are strong cases for both, as we quickly learned. I could tell you which side of the fence I fell on and support it pretty soundly. But in truth, I think it’s more important to realize that it just doesn’t matter. It’s beside the point of the story and I hope that’s not forgotten amidst the debate.
Spoiler warning: Stop now, if you want to be surprised.
In my opinion, the story is almost entirely about the family; their relationships, roles within the unit, actions, the consequences of those actions, etc. It’s about laziness, selfishness, greed, growth, sacrifice, and much more. Whether Gregor is crazy or a bug, the story unfolds the same. His incapacity to work suddenly brings out all the problems that have been lying in wait beneath the pond’s surface and forces the family to act on them.
There are so many poignant themes in the story, that I think it’s impossible to read without a great sense of tragedy. But it’s not Gregor’s state that brings on those emotions for the reader, it’s the family situations and reactions. And the fact that the story continues after Gregor’s death only emphasizes this further. If the main point of the story were Gregor’s life as a bug or his mental illness, it would have ended with his death. But it didn’t. It went on to tell us about the family and their new outlook on the future.
So, is he crazy or an insect? It doesn’t matter.