Published:  12:00 AM, 08 January 2017

The Metamorphosis

Dehumanizing effects of mechanized modernity

The Metamorphosis The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, publisher - Kurt Wolff Verlag, Leipzig, December 1915
Muhammad Mukit elaborates consequences of plutocracy that evolved in the novel

The Metamorphosis is Franz Kafka's (1883-1924) fictional masterpiece. Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman, wakes up one morning to find out that he has been transformed into a gigantic insect. From his bed, he looks around his room, adjusting physically and mentally to his new body and wondering whether it is a nightmare. But, when he tries to turn over onto his right side and can't, he figures out that it is a reality, that indeed he is a vermin with a hard shell for a back, wriggling legs and feelers. He intends to return to sleep, but he remembers that he has to get up for work and is already delayed. He worries about his job. He hates his job and he dislikes his boss. Five years earlier, Gregor's father's business had failed and Gregor has been supporting his parents and his sister since then. He has also been paying back his parents' personal debts to his boss, and he hopes one day to quit his job, clear up all dues and get his sister admitted in a music school.  While his parents are trying to find out why Gregor hasn't come out of his room, the chief clerk arrives to inquire about Gregor's delay. When Gregor still doesn't emerge from his room, his parents get worried and send Grete and Anna to get a doctor and a locksmith. The chief clerk threatens Gregor with the loss of his job if he doesn't come out and report for work. Gregor responds by saying that he hasn't been feeling well, but promises to report for work anyway.

When Gregor finally unlocks the door to his room and shows his face, the chief clerk, who is the first to see him, reacts with shock and panic and retreats to the stairway. Mrs. Samsa collapses to the floor at the sight of her son and Mr. Samsa is shattered with woe and he started crying.

The chief clerk meanwhile is about to escape. Gregor tries to speak to him in order to give him some explanation for what has happened to him, but the clerk runs away from the house. Gregor's father picks up the chief clerk's walking stick, which he left behind, and a rolled newspaper and drives Gregor back into his room. While moving away from his father's sight, Gregor gets severely hurt while crawling back through his room's doors. Terrified and bleeding, Gregor lies motionless on the floor of his room. Gregor's disfigured appearance causes horror and disgust to everyone in the house, even to his parents. His parents hardly come to his room as they are too afraid to look at his distorted shape.

Unable to take food, Gregor gets weaker day by day. His eyesight blurs and because of his injuries he almost cannot move. His family is now working: Mr. Samsa as a bank messenger, Mrs. Samsa as a seamstress and Grete as a salesgirl. As Gregor's condition continues to deteriorate, Grete loses willingness to look after her brother. Finally, Gregor comes to realize that the only way to save his family from the disgrace of his weird transmutation is his death and next morning he is found dead. The new housemaid finds Gregor's corpse. Gregor's dead body is removed and dumped away from the house. His parents seem to have forgotten everything about him and look forward to the future placing hope on Grete who, despite the pathos caused by Gregor's death, has grown up into a pretty and prospective bride.

This book illustrates the dehumanizing effects of capitalism on ordinary people who are represented by Gregor Samsa. Lack of compassion from society, while someone is in trouble is another remarkable point of this story. Exasperating jobs like working as salesmen are capitalistic tools for the bourgeois industrialists to torment their workers for making profits and maximizing prices. The horrendous transformation of Gregor Samsa from a human being into an insect is the reflection of the subhuman life working people in many places have to undergo with endless sufferings. On the other hand, continuous hardship and deprivations make people insensitive as found in Gregor Samsa's family members who gradually forgot about him. People who are doing tough jobs without conspicuous remunerations all the time go through immense hazards and distress. At one point the insurmountable amount of stress, monetary insolvency and the augmentation of mechanized lifestyle take away people's humanitarian features and virtually turn them into social nonentities. This is another significant message from Franz Kafka's masterpiece.

We have been living in a world where emotional feelings, kindness, mercy and sympathy are fast diminishing among people. Franz Kafka was a far-sighted author. He could visualize the disastrous outcome of so-called modern professions in the unkind, merciless and materialistic world order where humanity is always undermined. Only price and profits are the most important things, not human life. We come across this reflection in a devastatingly allegorical way in the life of Gregor Samsa.

The reviewer teaches English at  Sadrunnessa High School, Sylhet

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