Franz Kafka’s novella, The Metamorphosis, introduces the reader to the utterly absurd experiences of Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman, who awakens from the spell of horrid dreams only to realize that he has been transformed into a monstrous vermin. Although a realization of this caliber would induce, in any ordinary individual, sentiments of agony and terror- Samsa is perplexingly unaffected and altogether disinterested in his present condition. Strangely enough, he is only afflicted by the inconvenience it’d be to stand erect and head out to work. His deranged perception of his circumstances, and serene acceptance of his vermin-like form then highlight the psychotic likeness of his present mental state.
Plausibly, Samsa’s transformation is but a metaphorical representation of his embrace of a state of self-helplessness. He, who for several years toiled to support his family only to be repaid with a sense of ingratitude from the latter, had perhaps already become accustomed to the sense of inappropriateness and feelings of worthlessness his family elicited in him. The absurdity inherent in his tranquil reaction to the transfiguration then conveys the idea that perhaps Samsa failed to be surprised by his odious new appearance simply because he always felt as if he were a lowly insect- undeserving of familial love.
Samsa’s perception of the self is clearly perturbed, displaying the abnormal qualities of hallucinations and the experience of a psychotic break. As the story progresses the manifestations of psychosis in Samsa’s behaviors become quite clear as he displays an increased detachment from reality, preference for isolation and drastic change in eating habits. After the ‘transformation’ Samsa also becomes incapable of communicating with the members of his family, and humans in general, a sort of speech derangement which is often recognized by the Psychiatric field as a product of psychosis.
As an individual, Franz Kafka was someone who perhaps never truly experienced a lasting feeling of acceptance by those surrounding him. His father, a raging alcoholic, physically and psychologically abused Franz all throughout his childhood, serving to instill in the child feelings of useless and inappropriateness. As a German-speaking Czech Jew, Kafka never felt at home within his own native country as the Czech displayed a growing dislike for German speakers, while the Germans, despised Jews. Kafka then led his life plagued by mental illness and died at the early age of 42, from a severe case of tuberculosis. In his works he channeled the depressive moods and feelings of anxiety he often experienced, thus resulting in the creation of insightful stories illustrating the essence of the human condition. Kafka once said “A book should serve as an axe for the frozen sea within us”, and his works do just that, marvelously tapping into the darkest depths of humanity and demonstrating that within all of us resides aspects of absurdity awaiting to be awakened.