Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis written in 1915 has forever been a classic, recommended by English teachers for over one hundred years. In the cyclic nature of events, TikTok has discovered the Czech author's oeuvre and is turning #kafka into its latest phenomenon. The hashtag has amassed over 130 million views on the platform with that number growing by the day. It's not just TikTok either. Head over to Twitter to see endless memes or to Tumblr (yes that's coming back too) to read Kafka's sultry and morbid diary entries. So why is everyone obsessing over this author and his most celebrated novella?
What happens in Kafka's The Metamorphosis?
The story of The Metamorphosis, for those of us who haven't picked it up since English class, is as follows. A salesman Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning to find that he's been inexplicably transformed into a huge insect. Subsequently, he struggles to adjust to his new condition.
The dark and cynical tone used in Kafka's The Metamorphosis hits at something specific with TikTok. We've seen this before with the likes of Donna Tart's The Secret History, as the novel delves into some deep philosophical meanderings and touches on similar themes to The Metamorphosis. Isolation from the world, and from others around you feature prominently in Tart's 1992 novel which runs through Kafka's work in a similar vein. Gregor is alone in his bedroom for most of the novella. This tracks Gen Z who have been deemed the 'loneliest living generation.'
The accessibility of Kafka's writing is a further reason for its widespread appeal. His most prominent work is able to be read in a single sitting garnering a readership of people who (let's face it, have shorter attention spans) yet want to read classic works of fiction.
People are also pining over the way the author writes about love. TikTok has been quoting his deep and amorous lines, pondering over the fact that people these days don't wax lyrical like Kafka can. One TikTok reads, "when he says "ily" but kafka said, "you are the knife I turn inside myself." Following the thread, another reads, "he's a ten but he hasn't read any of Kafka's books." Some are just plain surprised, tweeting "I hate how much I connect with Franz Kafka."
When it comes down to it, in the current zeitgeist Kafka's writing unpacks the feelings we are all experiencing during the last few years. From the pandemic, impending climate crisis and the alienation of modern life you can see how a story about a man waking up as a giant insect would feel somewhat comforting to readers of today.