Saturday, April 14, 2012

M is for The Metamorphosis

I was going to write about The Minority Report for the letter “M”, but since I’ve already written a post about that (see here), I decided to talk about Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis instead. ***Note to readers, this post has a fair amount of spoilers, so please read with caution.

My first attempt to read the novella was somewhat underwhelming. It seemed dull and depressing, and I couldn’t help but wonder what all the fuss was about. But I read it for the second time earlier this year, right on the heels of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, and what Kafka was attempting to say finally hit home for me.

For those of you who aren't familiar with The Metamorphosis, the protagonist, Gregor Samsa, wakes up one morning to find that he’s been transformed into a giant insect. Personally I still wish Kafka explained how this happened, but that’s not really the point of the story. The 1986 film The Fly, however, is more than happy to make up the difference.

Anyway, The Metamorphosis focuses on the more poignant plight of a human being who, because of his new physical form and subsequent inability to communicate with his family, becomes alienated from human society. The alienation doesn’t happen immediately; for the first two sections of the novella, Gregor’s sister is very attentive. She assists his adjustment to life as an insect by moving around the furniture in his room and offering him different meal options as he no longer can tolerate eating the food he favored previously. However, as time passes she becomes more and more detached from him, to the point where she no longer believes her brother's mind exists within the beastly form. By story’s end she rejects him completely and tells their parents, “You’ve got to get rid of the idea that that’s Gregor. We’ve only harmed ourselves by believing it for so long.”

As you can see, Gregor’s story is a tragic one. The reader, who knows his thoughts even when his family does not, has to watch as he slowly becomes more and more insect-like in his habits while still trying to maintain some hold on his former life. At first he’s pleased when his sister moved things out of his room in order to free up more climbing space, but quickly becomes distressed at losing all of his former humanly possession. I find the scene where he tries desperately to save a single painting hung on the wall utterly heartbreaking. And as his family slowly becomes more and more repulsed by him, he longs to talk to them, to tell them he’s still there beneath the exterior. But he cannot, and his inability to communicate with them leads to his ultimate demise.

This concept of alienation through lack of communication is one of the things that struck me most about Ender’s Game. Humans and the alien Formics wage war against one another not because of duel need for natural resources, or hate, or attempted domination, but because they simply cannot understand one another. After Ender has defeated them in battle and then comes across an unborn Formic queen, she tells him, “We thought we were the only thinking beings in the universe, until we met you, but never did we dream that thought could arise from the lonely animals that cannot dream each other’s dreams. How were we to know? We could live with you in peace . . . If only we could have talked to you . . . Instead we killed each other.” Her speech - the first real correspondence between the the two races, emphasizes just how detrimental their communication barriers have been to their lives. 

Major Spoilers: Unlike Gregor, the Formics at least find one person they can connect with in Ender. He becomes the Speaker for the Dead, and their hope to one day live again. He tells the Formic queen, “I’ll carry you. I’ll go from world to world until I find a time and place where you can come awake in safety. And I’ll tell your story to my people, so that perhaps in time they can forgive you, too. The way that you’ve forgiven me.” Thus he assures the Formics, and the reader, that perhaps there is hope for both societies to one day flourish side by side. 

Though these two stories have decidedly different outcomes in the end, they each ask the same question: Are “aliens” really so different from us? Or is it our inability to communicate with them that alienates the species from one another? The question is not one simply born of science fiction, but relevant to the world outside literature. Culture clashes are a significant aspect of modern politics, and I sometimes wonder if all this conflict might not be a product of an inability to communicate.
This post is part of the Blogging A through Z Challenge 2012. My theme is (in case you didn’t already guess) science fiction. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you’d like to check in on the rest of the participants, simply click here.


  1. Love Metamorphosis. One of my favorites.

  2. I haven't read Metamorphosis and plan to now (despite the fact that it sounds incredibly sad). But I couldn't put Ender's Game down. Putting the two together in a blog was inspired!

  3. Two of my favorite things in one post. Amazing!

  4. I tried to read Metamorphosis once, but lost the book mid-way and never replaced it!

  5. I tried to read Metamorphosis once and also found it to be dull and depressing. Maybe I should try paring it with Ender's Game like you did.

  6. Kafka... The Metamorphosis it's been a long, long, time. I've never read Ender's Game. I'm going to have to look into it as I like Orson Scott Card.

  7. Oh gosh, I've gotta pull out Ender's Game now. Having major withdrawals.

    PS: Minority Report is one of my FAVORITE movies. But Metamorphosis will have to do for M. ;)

  8. Two great stories, indeed. I also love the way everyone just accepts the metamorphosis as a fact and gets on with things. Darkly funny, too, I think.

  9. I loved The Metamorphosis from the moment I read it in high school. I loved it so much that I read it twice that year. I never read Ender's Game, but that sounds pretty awesome, too.

  10. When it comes to the politics/foreign affairs that take place between other countries, I don't think lack of understanding or communication is the issue; leaders understand one another and whats on the table.

    As long as leaders of governments consider themselves as rulers and have hopes of being the most dominate powerful force in the world - alienation is going to always be a factor and propaganda will promote it - there will always be countries that will be considered the underdogs; and especially if they don't get with the program of more powerful leaders/countries.

    Take for example chat site; blogs, etc; people of all nationalities communicate; just human beings being human.

    Communication isn't a difficult thing to accomplish - its power, control,fear, propaganda and possession/being on top- that are the alienation factors; always has been since the beginning of time; when those things exist- people are going to be alienated.

    Human beings in general have come a long ways regarding the race factor (some, not everybody)however, color in America is still a factor as far as being the dominate race on top; until that changes completely, alienation will be around.

    Democracy all over the world is what this government is pushing for and ultimately, will be a plus in a lot of ways; however any country apposed to it will eventually be not only alienated but eliminated - there's no lack of communication there or lack of understanding; it's just a matter of getting with the program and we can all get alone.

    Barriers come down when people can see the truth and don't have to fear things, positions, etc. being taking from them by another race. If everyone has equality then there's no reason for alienation - inequality alienates.

    There's no doubt that metamorphosis is gradually taking place all over the world; and it's taking place because people are 'seeing" becoming consciously aware of the blinders and barriers that have kept and keep humanity in a cocoon stage.

    Haven't read either book- both sound like great reads.

  11. I loved Metamorphosis. Yes, it was depressing, but in a morbid way, I also thought it was funny.

  12. LOL
    I have a post back in the dark about Metamorphosis, too! Not quite the same take as you, but still...

  13. Believe it or not, I've not read either of those. (And I need to read Ender's Game since so many say my first book reminds them of it.)

  14. I haven't read Metamorphosis, but I've heard so much about it over the years, I feel as if I have!

  15. That's why I like scifi so much. It's able to explore issues that are easier to dissect and digest in fictional form.
    Loved Ender's Game.

  16. I haven't read Ender's Game OR this book... I need to work on that! I did finally add Ender's Game etc. to my to-read list on Goodreads recently.

  17. Jade Oak March – Thank you. I learned from the best.

    Joshua – Mine too. Great taste :)

    MJ – It really makes it much more interesting and I felt a lot more sympathy for Gregor after reading about Ender.

    Cassie – In that case, check out my N (slash second M) post…

    Simon – Me too. It’s so bizarre, but in the best possible way.

    Andrew – We seem to keep doing that. Apparently (apart from Hunger Games), we love all the same things. Going to check out your post now.

    Alex – Good lord. Go to a bookstore immediately!

    Lynda – That’s exactly why I love it as well.

  18. I have to read metamorphosis someday... Only skimmed a bit bc I don't want spoilers ;)

  19. Yeah, it seems that way... Did you look at my Significance tab? It has other important works on it.
    Replied to your comment, by the way.