The Metamorphosis [Die Verwandlung](1915) By: Franz Kafka, Translated by: David Wyllie
A man awakens to find himself transformed into a giant insect. He is late for work and his father, mother and sister all try to get him to come from the room. After losing the ability to speak and having someone from his work come by; he finally lets them in. Soon his family must care for him as he deals with his dwindling humanity.
This is a dark tale made all the more difficult to read by the realistic atmosphere. The idea of a man transforming into a bug is horrifying enough, but the situation it creates with his family is the most interesting and disturbing part. The more they cling to the hope of his being returned to normal, the worse their lives get.
Gregor Samsa is a traveling salesman turned monstrous bug. He must deal with his fall from breadwinner to rotten bread eater. His decline is alarming, punctuated perfectly with incidents to make him realize how far he has fallen. He comforts himself with how much he used to do, but must come to grips with how his condition has undone all that he's worked for.
Grete Samsa is Gregor's sister. Her hopes are the highest for Gregor to return to normal. Sadly, the bigger things are, the harder they fall.
Mrs. Samsa is Gregor's mother. She has the most even reaction to Gregor's transformation. He's her baby and that create a strange dynamic as Grete must protect Mrs. Samsa from herself.
Mr. Samsa is Gregor's father. He is the most shaken by his transformation and nearly kills gregor in a fit of rage during their second encounter.
The Samsa house is the entire setting with its decline paralleling the family's. Gregor's room especially shows how his family feels about him over the course of the novella. There is also an excellent scene where Gregor notices how much difficulty he has seeing things from his bedroom window. This story makes tremedous use of a limited setting.
In the End
A happy ending, kind of? The ending is certainly bittersweet and a great relief after the depressing atmosphere that pervades the novella. Though the more one begins to think on it, the sadder it becomes.
This novella is not usually considered horror, but it speaks to one of the things that really gets to me. Transformation, especially into something disgusting or pathetic, is behind many of horror's greatest creatures; from vampires to zombies, the idea of changing into something that will destroy everything you love is among mankind's most deeply rooted fears. Read this one.
There's no excuse: Project Gutenberg has it!
*Thank you, Merica Teng for pointing out that I mistakenly called it a novel rather than a novella thrice in my review. This error has been fixed.