Let’s Read: The Metamorphosis
Gregor as anti-hero
Reading The Metamorphosis under the assumption that Samsa is an anti-hero results in a completely different story than reading it under the default assumption that Samsa is a traditional hero.
While Gregor had good intentions, the role he took up as his family’s primary, and only, source of income has made them all dependent on him, to the extent that the family’s finances collapse once Gregor becomes unable to work.
Hints of pre-metamorphosis-Gregor being an anti-hero can be found in the conclusion of the story where we learn (immediately after Gregor dies) that his family has been forced to grow as individuals — and also physically, in the case of Grete — and become more independent.
The symbol of the insect
In the 2014 translated version of the story (pictured above), David Cronenberg discusses Kafka’s wish that an image of the insect Samsa turns into be depicted under no circumstances.
An interesting question to ask is: why this beetle-like insect and not any other insect or creature? One might say a non-flying insect was chosen in order to make the story more grounded (excuse the pun) and believable (as believable turning into an insect can be), but it’s not certain that the insect Gregor morphs into is without wings.
It’s very hard to find somebody who loves insects. Most people find them to be an annoyance, at best. I think Kafka knows this, I think this has something to do with his choice, and I think this decision has a purpose and also hints at the above-mentioned point of Gregor being an anti-hero.
What is the story really about?
Gregor wakes up one morning and finds that while his body appears to have changed, he has not. He then maneuvers through the struggles of his families new-found perception of him as an inconvenient burden.
The story focuses on the reactions of Gregor’s family, rather than the metamorphosis itself, which hints more at the perception of transformation, rather than the transformation itself. Sometimes we just wake up one day, and although we have not changed, others think that we have, and view that change to be as drastic as a human turning into an insect, as well as burdensome to them. Sometimes we haven’t really changed, but others think that we have, and sometimes their perception of our change is really just a projection of their own change.