Sticking with lit., I decided to read for Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. In the novella, a young salesman supporting his parents and sister becomes an insect.
What is The Metamorphosis an allegory for? and what does it say about Kafka himself?
The card I pulled was The Hierophant 5 I Confess
On a very basic level, The Metamorphosis could be said to be a confession of sorts. In the film I Confess, the priest played by Montgomery Clift is unable to repeat what he has been told in confession and, as a result, he is implicated in a murder. Clift has taken a religious vow to keep what is said in confession confidential, but he also refuses to tell the police details about his own life that could violate the confidence and privacy of a woman he knew before becoming a priest. Kafka famously had difficulties with women, carrying on relationships through letters but never marrying. In I Confess, Clift and the woman carry on a correspondence which, when Clift stops writing, prompts the woman to marry another man. Kafka felt ugly and was ashamed of his body, which not only echoes the priest’s celibacy in I Confess but also Clift’s shame and insecurity about his own sexuality. In I Confess, many of the central characters – the murderer, the murderer’s wife, the priest, the woman, even the detective! – feel guilt, a prevailing theme in Kafka’s writing and life. The fingers pointing at Clift on The Hierophant card suggest Kafka’s own paranoia and self-recrimination.
Roman Catholic priests are commonly called “father”, and Kafka, as most people know, had a crippling and dysfunctional relationship with his own father. Interestingly, Max Brod, the man who saved Kafka’s entire oeuvre from destruction, considered Kafka’s writing to be religious in nature. Certainly, Kafka’s earnestness, his tenacity concerning matters of ethics, his use of allegory and parable, and his innate affinity with mysticism, make him more properly religious than many priests. Kafka managed to write late into the night, after work and in his free time, and he considered writing “a form of prayer”.
While the metaphor of The Metamorphosis‘ Gregor Samsa turning into an insect suggests on one level that Kafka felt himself to be mentally and physically repulsive, I Confess further suggests that he had become a figure outside of normal human society – a priest, of sorts, for whom writing was a devotion, a vocation, and a solemn pact with the creator.