In my earlier blog entry, “Requiescat in Pace,” (November 18) I remembered some of my own dear dead, including my husband, Professor Morton Klass. I alluded to a lifelong argument we’d had that started the very first night we met and was never resolved: Why did Franz Kafka choose the roach in “Metamorphosis”? Mia, a reader, has written to ask about the argument.
There I was, newly out of graduate school, the proud possessor of a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Writing from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. In my own eyes I was thus officially licensed!
Mort edited pulp magazines at the time. He was attending college at night while supporting a widowed mother and a sister. I ALREADY KNEW EVERYTHING THERE WAS TO KNOW ABOUT LITERATURE! YOU HAD ONLY TO ASK ME!
I was absolutely convinced that Kafka carefully chose the roach because it was disgusting, symbolic of the lowest form of life. You see a roach; you say, “Uggh!” It disgusts you.
Mort laughed at me. “That’s not the way it works. Kafka was living in a middle European tenement much like this. He needed a symbol. He looked up at the wall and there it stood poised perfectly – a huge stupid disgusting roach! ‘Voila!’ he said.”
This argument was NEVER resolved. Thinking about it all again makes me terribly nostalgic. But also makes me grateful. I had Mort. How lucky I was. Even if he was wrong!