Narrator: Benedict Cumberbatch
Length: 2 hours and 15 minutes
Genres: Classics, Literary Fiction, Philosophy
Source: BBC Radio 4 Extra
"One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug."
With this startling, bizarre, yet surprisingly funny first sentence, Kafka begins his masterpiece, The Metamorphosis. It is the story of a young traveling salesman who, transformed overnight into a giant, beetle-like insect, becomes an object of disgrace to his family, an outsider in his own home, a quintessentially alienated man. Rather than being surprised at the transformation, the members of his family despise it as an impending burden upon themselves.
A harrowing–though absurdly comic–meditation on human feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and isolation, The Metamorphosis has taken its place as one of the most widely read and influential works of twentieth-century fiction. As W. H. Auden wrote, ”Kafka is important to us because his predicament is the predicament of modern man.”
‘I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.’
Imagine you go to bed one night with nothing out of the ordinary occurring only to wake up to find you have transformed into a monstrous insect overnight. Your family can no longer communicate with you, they no longer can even stand to look at you. You’ve become repulsive and abhorrent for seemingly no apparent reason. What do you do?
Everyone has heard of The Metamorphosis, Kafka’s literary masterpiece, a book that is obviously more than meets the eye. The story possessed a dream-like quality where nothing is ever considered appropriately, as Gregor accepted his transformation into insect form a lot more readily than one might normally. Many have attempted to form their own interpretations of the story but I personally can’t see it being anything other than a metaphor. While there are bound to be several different opinions on this, this is what I came up with:
Up until that life altering morning Gregor led an uneventful life where he worked constantly to support his family and in turn they steadily grew unproductive the more they began to depend on him. Gregor travels so often for work that communication between him and his family begins to cease and most importantly his family stops being appreciative of all he does for them and instead begins to simply expect it. That fateful morning he woke and began to contemplate his job and how terrible he finds it and if he didn’t have his parents to worry about he would have “given in my notice a long time ago, I’d have gone up to the boss and told him just what I think, tell him everything I would, let him know just what I feel.” The more and more he dwells on this the more he realizes what he does for them, what they don’t do and how his work ethic in order to support his family has in turn alienated them from him. By becoming the sole breadwinner of the family he transformed himself into an outsider, the transformation only becoming a physical interpretation when he realizes that himself.
I’ve never read Kafka before having always found myself intimidated by his works. When I discovered that the BBC Radio had produced a recording of this being read by Benedict Cumberbatch I jumped on the opportunity and I am so glad I did. I had listened to a clip of the audiobook that was released by Blackstone Audio and narrated by Ralph Cosham… that audiobook sat on my phone for so long I forgot about it because it sounded dreadfully dull. Benedict Cumberbatch truly brought this story to life and made this a real treat for me.