It has been six years since I graduated as a Lit major, yet it has only been now that I have finished Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. But, maybe that’s a good thing. If I finished it then, I will not be able to understand Gregor Samsa’s dilemma as I can now.
“When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin” (Kafka 3).
The novel opens with this sentence; bizarre, straightforward, and direct-into-the-climax of the story. However, The Metamorphosis is not about how Gregor Samsa metamorphosed from a normal, responsible human being into a monstrous, useless animal. Rather, it is about the fact of metamorphosis and its horrible and crippling aftermath. Gregor has always been the provider and pillar of strength of his family as well as his company’s money-making salesperson. But, with his metamorphosis, he loses all of that. His company manager, who checks up on him on that unusual day when he isn’t able to fulfill his function, bolted out terrified when he sees him. His parents and sister, repulsed and in despair at the sight of him, scuffle to salvage the family’s financial situation as they lose Gregor’s income. They try their best to take care of him. Yet in Gregor’s changed state, taking care of him is an act of duty rather than an act of love.
Soon, the family, overworked and stretched beyond limit, decides that “it has to go…It’s the only way” (Kafka 49). Perhaps tired of being useless and a burden, Gregor scuttles toward his room and takes his last breath. With him dead, the Samsa family can now regain a semblance of their sense of self and start living again.
Life and Death
It is easy to assume that Gregor’s company and family have been cruel, abandoning him when he needs them the most. But then, doing so means we have yet to comprehend the depth of misery that the family has experienced. They experience a deep sense of misery that slice through their every waking day, leaving them exhausted and devoid of joy.
We cling so much to life that we could never face the idea of death. But what is death, anyway? Isn’t it simply the end of life? Gregor “takes his last breath” and that’s it, he’s gone.
However, what causes grief is not the end of life. Rather, it is the end of a body that used to be a productive member of the world. In Gregor’s case, death comes early. It comes when he can no longer contribute to his company and when he can no longer feed his family. It comes when he can no longer take care of his aging parents and protect his little sister. It comes when he can no longer tell his sister how beautiful she plays the violin and when he is no longer human. After all, life is not about the reverse of death. Life is about the many things that a person can do and the many moments that a person can make. Those are that ones that we will lose when a body dies.
The Culture of Rush and More
Despite the many decades that separate Kafka’s time and 2016, his society is the same as our society. Like Gregor, most of us are workers who travel from place to place, selling our wares. We are employees, employers, actors, writers, managers, janitors, call center agents, government workers. We rush from one place to another, finishing this quota, that project, this responsibility.
No doubt, we have reasons to do so. We have families to feed or new gadgets to buy. Others have bills to pay while some have frenemies to surpass. Not one of us is willing to entertain the inkling that we can metamorphose, too.
But it can happen, anytime. Metamorphosis and death, they come like a thief in the night. It came to a 64-year old father after battling a year-long disease and an even longer years of despair from an unfulfilled life. It came to a loving father and a righteous leader whose plane plunged into the deep waters of Masbate. It came into a well-off grandmother and a warm mentor who dreams of becoming a congressman to serve her constituents after mere months of battling cancer. It came to a 29-year old mother after giving birth to twins.
So, I learned the cruel truth that metamorphosis and death will come to everyone. And I never really recovered from the unbearable pain of losing people.
Gregor, before his death, is the picture of a perfect modern man. He is successful in his career and responsible of his family. Yet, the awesome results of his relentless pursuit of the rush, the first salesman to arrive at the office, and the more , the first salesman to reach the quota, turn to dust when he metamorphose.
Like Gregor, we are conditioned to think that way, too. We think that if we get more, we are richer and we will be more happy. If we move fast, we can do more. If we do more of this and fast, we will be able to take home a pay that will allow us to fulfill whatever it is that we want to fulfill. But life doesn’t move in a static and linear way. No matter how many projects we finish, debts never seem to run off, needs never seem to stop, and wants never seem to dwindle. And so because of that, we work more and we work fast.
Yet, are we as foolish as Gregor? Are we wasting the best years of our life, the years before metamorphosis has yet to render us as useless and repulsive?
A refusal to rush
Just like most of us, I am a slave of the culture of rush and more. But, working more and working fast are now taking its toll on me. It is taking me into a tailspin of depression.
Just like Gregor, I have always been thrust into a situation of responsibility and of duty. I thought working more and working fast was the only way to go. I used to eat my lunch in front of my computer, my mouth munched while my eyes pored over essays. My mind whirred as it tried to spot holes in the development of contents or misplaced commas. To me, that made sense. It would save me time and I would be able to earn more. Except I never really had the time to savor the food or to enjoy the cold drink beside it. As I focused on work and responsibility, I lost sense of what’s enjoyable about life. I lost my sense of self.
With this rude awakening, I realize that I shouldn’t be like Gregor.
Unfortunately, metamorphosis is something that we can’t predict nor stop. Events will come in our life that will change us, maybe drastically and horribly. We will have to deal with the aftermath of metamorphosis. However, the time before metamorphosis is the time of freedom and endless possibilities. Maybe, these are the times that shouldn’t be wasted.
Two days ago, I bought the most beautiful sets of porcelain plates and teacups. They’re not that expensive but I felt wonderful at my acquisitions. Before, I preferred to buy the melaware and plastic sets because they’re cheaper and durable. With kids around the house, porcelain sets would never last a day. Yet, I forego the practical and decided to buy the set because they’re beautiful and I like them. I laid the food in these dainty porcelain with great pleasure. I drunk the 3-in-1 coffee leisurely. The food, that had been bought from the same carinderia, tasted so much better.
I realize that I may not have the option to let go of “working”, but I could have the option to manage the rush and the more. If I do so, maybe I wouldn’t be depressed and I won’t pre-maturely metamorphose.
Maybe, I can let go of “working fast”, replacing it with “working at my own pace”. Refusing to rush saves adrenaline. Adrenaline releases energy that allow us to do amazing deeds in short amount of time. But, it leaves us exhausted as it depletes our stored energy. Refusing to rush means using the right amount of energy to accomplish our deeds. It might not be as fast as the ones done with the aid of adrenaline, but it isn’t as exhausting. If we aren’t exhausted, we will have the energy to notice the beauty and marvels of the world.
Working at our own pace also means a refusal to let society make us feel inadequate simply because we aren’t as successful, as well-traveled, or as famous as this other friend. Working at our own pace is a conscious inventory of our strengths, zeroing on it and honing it until it is ready to blossom. It is also an acknowledgement of our limitations because we don’t needlessly overexert ourselves.
Working at our own pace also means doing things that matter based on our definition. It may not be the ones defined by our society. Society also has a limitation. Because society tries to reflect the sentiment of most people, it cannot reflect the sentiment of all people. Thus, if the society doesn’t think what we do matters, then just let the society thinks what it wants. After all, the people that this society represent aren’t the ones who will be full of regrets if we live an unfulfilled life before our metamorphosis. As long as it does not impinge on someone else’s freedom, let us do what we want to do. Let us not do what we don’t want to do.
To me, my freedom is my refusal to rush. It is my refusal to become a mere tool and my attempt to regain my humanity.
Indeed, metamorphosis is both sad and scary. But, let’s cross that bridge when we get there. Meanwhile, let’s not hasten the process of decay and let’s live, leisurely.