by Benjamin Davis ’26
The Metamorphosis, a novella published in 1915 by Franz Kafka, immediately thrusts the reader into the eyes of a hardworking man who finds himself in a perilous and extraordinary situation without any sort of explainable cause. Forced to adapt to his unfortunate circumstances rapidly, the victim of this sudden absurdity endures an onslaught of trauma, anxiety, pressure, and fear. Kafka’s tale, though fantastical on the surface, perfectly describes a multitude of issues today upon further inspection. These struggles circumscribe one common concern: mental health and how it affects a person and those surrounding them.
Kafka begins The Metamorphosis by introducing Gregor Samsa, a young man who provides the entirety of the income for his lower-class family. Required to work tirelessly at a tedious job each day, the protagonist’s consistent labor is not only underappreciated but also expected. This is why, when he awakes to find himself transformed into a grossly enlarged insect (usually interpreted as a beetle or cockroach), his parents and sister aren’t just horrified but even more impoverished than before. Furthermore, Gregor retains the ability to understand but not communicate with them. The Samsas are faced with an impending dilemma as their belongings slowly trickle away: continue caring for Gregor, whose humanity is very much in question, or leave him to die and live semi-comfortably without him. Throughout the ordeal, Gregor exists in a state of paranoia and pain as each member of the Samsa home must balance their reality with what is right.
While outside of the fictional world, no one truly does “metamorph” into a bug, Gregor’s emotions and feelings are very much non-fictitious. His verminous body can clearly be interpreted as a pessimistic outlook as opposed to an actual form. Kafka subtly indicates that Gregor is wildly disconnected from his surroundings throughout the book; for example, while his size is only described as “monstrous,” his physical appearance must distort to make various events make sense, as his inferred dimensions can’t be the same. One such contrast is how Gregor is small enough to crawl under a sheet to hide, but later an entire apple lodges in a chink on his back. His delusory illness and his overwhelming sense of being trapped and vulnerable directly compare to symptoms of increasingly present problems currently, especially in those with mental disorders. In a literal sense, the son of the Samsas is experiencing a serious cognitive plight in an unsupportive, hostile environment.
As science advances and hidden troubles come to light, the pertinence of mental health is evermore important. The Metamorphosis is a crystal-clear allegory of why proper aid to stressed individuals is not a thing to be ignored, despite the obstacles that come with it. Perniciously, read cites how much it means to be there for someone simply; initially, his household is there to succor, and Gregor, though confused, is relatively grounded and content. When these buttresses to his fortress of sanity slip away, and a dangerous solitude transpires, Gregor loses all stability, commencing his delirious collapse. This “help them help themselves” concept is not merely Kafkaesque, however, so many people live without a prosperity of the psyche, and the walls to their personal fortress remaining intact is critical to their happiness – well-being, even. They need assistance because they’re human, no matter how much of an “insect” they are.