“One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug”. This sentence reverberates in Kafka literature in the same way as the opening lines in Albert Camus’ The Stranger. All of Kafka’s literature is replete with modernistic themes that delve on the preservation of the abstruse that man is, under the mountain of exploitative social conditions.
The cleft stick in which Gregor Samsa, Kafka’s hero finds himself is brought to the foreground almost throughout the book, from the initial struggle to get out of the bed with his numerous legs and at the same time answer the people calling him from outside his room. “Metamorphosis” is an apt title for this novella as it resounds all through the book; from the initial transformation of Samsa into a bug to the transformed behaviour of Samsa’s family towards him and finally the cardinal transformation as he traverses from the visible into the solitude of the death.
Gregor Samsa is a travelling salesman who for five years has been working hard for his indifferent employer, in the hope of saving enough money to settle the debts; his parents had taken from him. As Samsa wakes, he is unable to come to terms with the transformation he has undergone, as most new things are, until they become an inseparable part of us. The reader along with Samsa stops griping about the transformation and accepts it as an unavoidable predicament of the exploitative and indifferent society, as evinced from his habit of hiding under the couch at his sister’s entering the room for daily cares, or leaning against the door to listen to the talk going between his parents and sister. Samsa, as a human and as a gigantic vermin, is longing for; a breath of freedom from the cares of the world and at the same time it crosses Samsa’s mind, whether the manager had gone through this transformation, to ascertain himself that it was an ephemeral change of a fleeting nature.
What is a vermin? Who is the vermin? The employer who keeps vigil over Samsa with the help of the idiotic errand boy and the ingrate manager or the parents who live on Samsa like parasites and show apathy and indifference when Samsa has nowhere and nothing to lean on to. On the larger scale the conditions Samsa faces are that of most of the Europe in early twentieth century, in the wake of the mechanisation of the productive processes which showed utter disdain for the slavish labor community. The process was more important than the human element it entailed, or laconically mechanization for humanization became a chimera. Kafka here is comparable to Dostoyevsky in the portrayal of humanity facing dead ends. The tavern scene in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, between Raskolnikov and Marmeladov is akin to the conditions Samsa finds himself in: “…can you understand what it means to have absolutely nowhere to turn to?”