In this modern age of iPads and HD screens, the last thing that many high schoolers want to do is flip through the pages of an old, outdated book. You have Netflix shows to watch, high scores to beat and statuses to update. In fact, the word “reading” probably leaves a sour taste in the mouths of most teens; it does for me, anyway, as all I can think of when I see a book is piles of grammar worksheets and reading quizzes.
However, I was recently bored enough in one of my classes to download a short story titled The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka on my iPad. Judge me all you want, but I had heard of Kafka before, and I had already unlocked all achievements and playable characters in Random Heroes 2, so I couldn’t think of anything better to do.
And to my surprise, although the book was pretty short, simple and unbelievably depressing, it was pretty enjoyable to read and managed to leave a pretty big impression on me.
Only 50 pages or so, The Metamorphosis is considered to be not only one of Franz Kafka’s greatest works, but one of the greatest pieces of literature written in the 20th century. Known for his morbid and bleak storylines, Kafka does not stray from his usual style in The Metamorphosis and manages to examine themes such as the meaning of life, death, love, and family in this classic novella.
The Metamorphosis follows the story of Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman who, in the first sentence of the story, woke to find that he had transformed into a large, insect-like creature. The reason for this transformation is never revealed, and the rest of the book deals with Samsa’s efforts to adjust to his new condition.
The plot’s premise is absurd, and in fact, at first glance, the entire story seems to be somewhat comical. Upon realizing that he had transformed into a giant beetle, Samsa’s first reaction is not despair or confusion, but rather worry about whether he will be able to ride the train to go to work. Throughout the novella, Samsa never questions or even attempts to discover the reason for his transformation, and is more interested in climbing walls and hanging upside down.
However, beneath the ridiculous surface lies a thoughtful, dark story about the meaning of family and the ultimate pointlessness of life. Samsa struggles to adapt to his new condition without providing a burden for his parents who he has spent his life supporting and view their son as little more than a commodity to be exploited, or his younger sister, who Samsa cares for deeply.
But for his efforts to not bother society with his new insect identity, Gregor is both shunned and eventually destroyed by that same society, which now view him as not a son but a burden and has little use for him.
In the end, The Metamorphosis is a short, profound story with various messages that could leave a distinct impression on anyone who reads it. So if you’ve already responded to all your texts, beaten your high score in Flappy Bird, and think you’ve been smiling a little too much lately, give Kafka’s novella a try.