Franz Kafka “The Metamorphosis” （Penguin Classics）
Is there a fate worse than death? Perhaps it could be being stuck with the people that bring out the worst in you for all eternity. Perhaps it could be rolling a stone up a hill only for it to fall. Regardless, the topic of “fates worse than death” involves a sense of eternity. Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit or Freidrich Nietzsche’s concept of the Super Man come to mind. Though both encapsulate the concept of eternity in their unique ways, there is one work that touches on the idea of eternity in the most absurd way possible that I chose to be my book of the year.
Gregor Samsa is a salesman who wakes up one morning as a large insect. Though this should be an urgent matter for Gregor yet despite waking up as a disgusting insect, he is only concerned about not making it to work. The family who then discovers Gregor in his new form struggles with how they will survive since they rely on Gregor for their expenses. These uncertainties drive the family insane and they antagonize each other but they ultimately come to the conclusion that Gregor is to blame.
Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, deals with alienation. Gregor is isolated from his family who shows sympathy at the beginning but later want to get rid of Gregor as they see him as a nuisance rather than a family member. However, he is also isolated from himself. Gregor loses his sense of identity and place in the world because of his lack of form as a human. He slowly embraces his newfound body, not because he is contemptuous but rather because there is no one to reassure Gregor that everything is going to be okay. He fully accepts that he is alone and hopeless.
This story filled me with a sense of existential dread. The absurdity of the plot point, which is the main character waking up as an insect, has turned into a kind of horror I’ve never experienced before. A unique horror that did not make my heart sink but made my skin itch. The kind of fear that even the strongest men have, is losing the sympathy of their loved ones and being alone. Kafka encapsulates the kind of fear and agony that I have related to through many new experiences as a first-year student. The fear of not finding a community outside of family or being looked down upon by others. It is a fear that anyone faces at any point in their life, only conquerable by taking that leap of faith.
Though Metamorphosis is a tragedy with no sense of optimism, its grim nature helped paint my nihilistic perception of social relationships into an optimistic one. The existentialist influence of this story helped me pursue other existentialist writers such as Albert Camus or Freidrich Nietzsche, eventually making me fall in love with philosophy. It is the force that pushed me to take that leap of uncertainty, knowing that it probably will not matter if it does not work out. Metamorphosis is a classic that triggers angst and leaves anyone finishing with a sense of dread, questioning their place in this world. 【ぷろめ】