I had penned a short story a long time ago, based on the Kafkaesque theme, named 'Lair, Lair, Claps for hire'. That still didn’t prepare me well enough for the twisted brilliance of the master storyteller.
When one reads Kafka, one is mentally prepared for the surreal, the disturbing and the unacceptable. Kakfa takes us on a journey where the willing suspension of disbelief acquires new meaning, goes a few steps further and leaves us feeling moved, frustrated and helpless. At the risk of revealing the spoiler, I must add that this is not a happy fantasy story, with the denouement of all’s well that ends well.
One must always expect the unexpected from Kafka. The theme of existentialism is not new to readers of today. Samuel Becket ensured that we got a good dose of absurdity while ‘Waiting’ for Godot, so much so, that we are almost oxymoronically comfortable with the idea of existentialist woes. This was perhaps owing to the shock factor that Kafka had already provided to readers with his earlier works.
A man turning into a giant insect may be hard to fathom, until Kafka sucks the reader right in, from the word go. The detailed descriptions makes the reader glad that he wasn’t born as an insect. The heart aches when the good old insect converses with his family with perfectly logical arguments, only to have them scoff and detest him without comprehension of his language of beetle communication.
What really caught my attention was the fact that Gregor Samsa is actualy worried about missing his train and tries to plan catching the next one. He worries about the debts that need to be paid off to his employer, the samples of cloth that need to be delivered, etc. And all the reader thinks is: For God’s sake man, you are an insect now! Can’t you see that you have bigger problems to worry about?
Samsa’s immediate train of thoughts after turning into a beetle, are a symbolic reflection of modern minds that are so intensely tuned into mindless routines that they fail to realize that all is lost, even after the apocalypse has already occurred!
What can be more reflective of this irony that the current times, where the world is practically locked down by the Corona scare?
The brilliance of the story lies in showcasing the wastefulness of the kind of lives we lead today. Chasing the wrong dreams founded in materialism, with existences that are dreadfully clocked to the last second.
Perhaps the most painful part of the novella is when the brutal reality of human lives is revealed towards the end. Man, being the incredible social creature that he is, finds it incredibly easy to move on, when he is forced to encounter the pressing hardships of livelihood. Kafka unapologetically exposes us to the shocking truth: A family member rendered useless, or worse, a disgusting embarrassment is easier to be rid of than a dead loved one. This reality is brought out so seamlessly and with such effectiveness that one may not even realize it until one mulls on the deep hypocrisy of human nature.
The effect is more pronounced because the language is simple, the narrative unassuming and incredibly, the bizarre story is convincing.
What made it worse for me as the eternally positive reader was that I waited and waited for things to change for the better, for things to get back to normal. I was convinced till the end that Gregor Samsa would just wake up from a bad dream. All’s well that ends well? Not with Kafka.
A tip: Do not read the book if you are going through a bad phase in life. It might just make you feel worse.
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Happy reading, stay safe!