QuirkCore

readingjournal

What is this book about?

There’s such a focus on the main character’s inability to work and provide for his parents and sister once he has transformed into a gigantic, hideous beetle. Interestingly, he does not support a family of his own making – a wife and kids – but rather the family he’s born into, his Mom & Dad, and his sister. Is this an important distinction?

I glanced and saw a footnote that suggested a meaning inherit in the novel has to do with authority within the family. In this light, what happens to Gregor suggests a failing of character & the loss of masculinity, insofar as he is unable to financially provide for those that depend on him.

His family loathes this insectile being that has replaced their son & brother, and only one can even stand to see only the slightest bit of his body as she goes on to take care of him.

As they get jobs and provide food and shelter for him, he becomes dependent on his family to take care of him – an interesting role reversal. That he cannot speak in a language they understand (“That was the voice of an animal”) is also interesting and emphasizes how outside of the circle he has become. He is very much “other”.

The family never once suggests that this repugnant insect is actually him, Gregor. The only time he was ever personally addressed by anyone, his sister did so in a moment of chaos.

The story ends with Gregor weakened, unwittingly taking his last breathe, and discovered dead by a jubilant housekeeper. This occurs in conjunction with the family having decided they must rid of him, this bastard version of the person that went missing that isn’t even the real Gregor in the first place.

I’m not entirely sure what to think of this novel. I have to think Kafka is playing with themes surrounding the exploited worker, the degrading nature of work and its effects on workers and their families, along with the loss of the (male) workers humanity/masculinity & role as the bread-winner and financial provider for the family.

Fun & grotesque, the latter being a little shocking (I have to imagine so for its time). And last but not least, super short, read in its entirely in one sitting while I listened to Between the Buried & Me’s Alaska on vinyl for the first time in awhile.

Stray observations:

– Does the rotting apple stuck to his back suggest moral decay?
– The emphasis at the end with the parents noticing how their daughter has changed was odd to me. Another metamorphosis?

I was wandering through Liz’s bookshelf late last night Friday, flipping through her various Albert Camus books. The name “CAMUS” sits visibly on our living room shelf at all times, backed by a bold, all caps font. I see these books all the time from our couch, and something about the design, the name, and the little bit of romanticism I have associated with Albert Camus, pulls me, entices me – particularly so when I saw how short The Stranger is.

This is not a proper review so I will simply jot down my thoughts.

Our main character – it took me a moment to realize what a lack of empathy he has. That he almost has no feelings, coupled with very little attention span. That while he has some intentions (he enjoys lying his head on a pretty woman, for instance), the naivety he displays in regards to the feelings of others is almost passive aggressive if it weren’t so sincere. Those feelings just aren’t there, along with the inability to reflect on why or feel any sense of shame or guilt.

He’s not particularly ill-willed or good-willed though. He just is. He is very simple.

And he floats along through different situations like the wind is blowing him. It blows him either here, or there. To him it might as well be the same.

And then:

He murders a knife-wielding man on the beach, shooting him several times.

He goes to trial & is condemned to death.

While it’s happening, he barely understands the gravity of what’s going on around him, and has almost no foresight into what this means for his future.

During the year long trial, he passes the time in his cell using his memory, playing games in his head with his thoughts. He exists like a bit of a Buddha, not holding onto things, not fretting about the past or the future. He remembers that his Mother has told him you can always make something good with a situation.

But once he is condemned to die, his thoughts race: if only I can find an exception to the rule, some hope that a man condemned to die in the past had found a way out, I can hold on to that as my hope. He is obsessed with finding something to latch onto that gives him hope of beating the guillotine.

This is where the book gets particularly interesting as we are privy to his anxious thoughts, grappling with death as it stares him in the face. What is Camus trying to say? That there is some kind of consent between those who condemn a human being to die, the person doing the dying? That death meets everyone eventually, either here, or there, and to him it’s all the same anyway? That life is so absurd – that a person could find themselves burying their Mother, psuedo-engaged, a murderer, a prisoner, a death row inmate, and throughout nearly all of it not have much of a care of what’s happening, even a disconnect to what’s happening either through ignorance, selfishness, or emotional blockage?

I know little of Camus beyond that he is in with the existentialist camp and he is associated with ideas of the “absurd.” Our character here is in a hopelessly absurd situation – swept along with life until he finds himself sentenced to death by society – and now grappling with his impending death, trying to make sense of it, and trying to justify that what does it matter if it happens now or later, because we all die anyway. The answer seems to me to be the crux of this book.

A very enjoyable read, and a super quick one too.

As of yet, I’ve not let myself read any analysis of the book as I wanted to simmer on it and just let it brew.