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I read The Metamorphosis eagerly as I cared about Gregor from the start. The first scene reminded me of Monday mornings when you just can’t quite get out of bed. With his family and employers all taking him for granted; no wonder he is too tired to move.

Although my sympathy for Gregor never waned, beyond Kafka’s power to make me care about a bug, I found the story lacking. Right until the last page, I was waiting for some deeper meaning to be revealed, but the moral message never came.

The analogy that springs to mind is that of a man waking up to find he’s had a stroke or been in an accident. His family are ripped apart by the burden of having to care for someone who can no longer interact on a human level, and their own shame and guilt at always having taken him for granted and not rising to the new challenges. The only peace is in death.

My problem is that we learn nothing because none of the characters do. Gregor becomes resigned to his fate, but since he has never sought to change it, this resignation is no achievement. The family get jobs and survive, but they never really deal with what has happened to Gregor. The mother is eaten up with grief but she rarely turns this into anything positive that might relieve Gregor. The sister never tries to hide her revulsion and the father seems only motivated by anger.

Have I missed some deeper meaning, or is Kafka’s only point “if your body fails, death is the only release”?

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