By Rali Chorbadzhiyska
What is weirder than waking up in a bug’s body and gradually turning into a believable insect? Actually waking up as Gregor Samsa and gradually making your way to become a complete human being!
Haruki Murakami takes care of the reader’s curiosity about what happens to Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’ protagonist and what becomes of his life after he turns into a hateful cockroach that his own family avoids. The Japanese author reverses the process of alienation to reinvent the message of this peculiar story and, potentially, adapt it to the needs of his readers in the 21st century.
Originally, Kafka writes about Gregor Samsa’s unfortunate fate who wakes up one morning to find he has become a hateful bug. The author imagines the story from a personal place of someone who was estranged from his own family. The difficult relationship Kafka had with his family can be seen as reflected in ‘The Metamorphosis’ where Gregor’s parents lock their now hideous child away to their best efforts. Murakami refers to this fact since in his story Gregor’s love object comes upon the parents request to fix a lock that the reader learns is from Gregor’s door. In a way, due to unfortunate circumstances, the parents are unable to control their freakish son no longer. And interestingly, the author has done away with them as they don’t figure as active characters in Murakami’s story for he chooses to focus on Gregor’s return to the human race.
‘The Metamorphosis’ describes in a literal sense a very symbolic and deeply psychological issue. Kafka had weak health and many insecurities. He might have had body dysmorphic disorder that manifests in one not feeling comfortable with their body to the extent of desiring a physical change. This resonates in the short story of Gregor Samsa who uncomfortably turns into an insect and everybody is thus disgusted with him.
In Murakami’s story, however, Gregor wakes up as a human being without any memories of his unfortunate time as a cockroach. In a way the author gives him a second chance, Gregor becomes an image of Adam – with purified origin and a blank mind, put on earth (or inside this literary reality) to explore anew what it is to be human.
And to be human is to feel love. It is somewhat linked to being attracted to the opposite sex as Murakami presents it in this story that interrupts the lives of two outcasts to transform them into Adam and Eve, the chance for a new humanity. Amidst turbulent war times, a hunchback girl comes to Gregor’s house to fix the lock to his room as his parents, who have now disappeared, had asked of the landlord. The lady causes an unusual, for Gregor who recently returned to his human form, disturbance in his body. His genitals react positively to the appearance of a female despite her obvious physical abnormality. Murakami thus shows the animalistic instinct in a human being. The hunchback girl is even offended by Gregor’s urges but he convinces her he is unaware of his body’s ways and would love to see her again just so they can talk.
Hooray! Here is the new human Murakami decides to stress upon. Those animalistic urges present, he chooses to explore another aspect of humanity and connect on a higher level. The basic instincts of being an animal, being an insect, are forgotten and Gregor is given an opportunity for a different life, which he takes readily.
There is another bittersweet detail to the story and it is the fact that the two protagonists are also outcasts in their society, a young man left alone in his house after being hated for a transformation beyond his power and a young lady who is mocked by her family for having a physical defect. It is as if Murakami comforts Kafka before any of his readers. Franz Kafka never married any of his love interests and his famous ‘Letters to Milena’ are prevalent with his feelings of inferiority and sound sometimes even stalkary.
By giving Kafka’s protagonist a second chance, Murakami gives humanity a second chance with his much more positive read of the story as situated a century later. Thus, the cycle of Gregor’s life concludes with a happy ending, which informs an optimistic view of a humanity that lowers the importance of animalistic urges and focuses on the spiritual rather than the physical, showing faith in humanity’s ability to reinvent itself.