Franz Kafka’s absurdist short story ” The Metapmorphosis” opens with Gregor Samsa waking up to discover he has been transformed into a monstrously sized cock roach. The scene that ensues is a comedy of errors where Gregor struggles to get out of his room while his family attempt to placate his office manager and reassure him that Gregor will be at work. When his transformation is discovered, Gregor frantically looks to stops his officer manager from fleeing, knowing that his position as travelling salesman would be lost.
Now Kafka drops the reader right into the midst of his story, with Gregor’s transformation – why it happens – left an unexplained mystery. Rather, what Kafka chooses to focus on is Gregor’s contemplating his life as a salesman: ” ‘Oh God,’ he thought, ‘what a hard job I picked for myself!'” Gregor laments the isolation, the weariness, and the anxiety that comes with his work. What keeps Gregor in this job is his family’s financial dependence on him: we learn that his father had been out of work for five years, while his mother and sister have become reliant on their maid for much of the household chores. With his transformation, Gregor no longer is able to support his family.
Gregor’s transformation into a cock roach leads to his existential crisis. Here’s a very basic understanding of existentialism. Does a dog ever wonder what it means to be a dog? Or how to be a dog? A dog just knows he is a dog. A dog does not question his “doggi-ness.” Humans, on the other hand, are constantly faced with these questions. We wonder what is our purpose, how are to act as humans, what is our role, etc. For some, the presence of a Divine entity supplies these answers, yet, in a secular world, these existential questions persist. Humanity is plagued or, from different perspective, has the freedom to search for meaning, which may or may not exist.
To return to Gregor’s situation, we are given no reason for this transformation, no meaning behind his becoming a cockroach. In his new condition, he struggles to act as a human and to find what his role in the family. However, there is no place in the world for him. His family confines Gregor to his room, while at one point, his father nearly kills him. In the absence of Gregor’s financially taking care of his family, they have all take on work outside the house. Finally, the family decides they no longer can care for Gregor. He no longer has a role in their world and and is rejected by his family. His family, too, has gone through a metamorphosis, particularly his sister, Grete, who has “blossomed into a good-looking and well-developed girl.”