The Metamorphosis by F. Kafka

Published 21 Jun 2017

Franz Kafka belongs to those writers of the twentieth century whose fiction express sorrow over the fracturing of the human community. His well-developed, modernist parables often do not have any fixed meaning, yet they reflect the insecurities of age when faith in old-established beliefs has crumbled. Kafka masterfully combines within one framework the knowable and mysterious, an exact portrayal of the actual world with a dreamlike and magical dissolution of it. The analysis of one of his works will allow seeing in what way Kafka attains that profound quality of his expression of the experience of human loss, estrangement, and guilt – an experience increasingly dominant in the modern age. Kafka’s best-known story The Metamorphosis is the illustrative work in which the realism of commonplace detail clashes with not improbable but absurd turns of events.

The inner world of Kafka’s character passes through the imaginable world into actual one. Gregor Samsa in The Metamorphosis transforms into an insect as the only way to manifest his insect-like relationship to the world, where he lives. The Metamorphosis is peculiar as a narrative in having its climax in the very first sentence: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” (Kafka, 19) The rest of the story drifts down from this high point of astonishment as one great revelation of truth. This form of narrative, which contradicts all conventional concepts of presenting the discourse, violates the rules just the same as the people’s faith in particular ancient beliefs had been violated in the twentieth century. His story is about death, but death is not dénouement of the story, as it is not the most horrible event in the life of the character. The first sentence of The Metamorphosis announces Gregor Samsa’s death, and the rest of the story is his slow death. For a moment, near the end of his long dead, while listening to his sister play the violin, he feels “as if the way were opening before him to the unknown nourishment he craved” (Kafka, 76); but he could not get out of his room-cell, and he expires.

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What Gregor awakens to on the morning of his metamorphosis is the truth of his life. That dreadful dream, which he got into, reveals, in fact, reality, which he could not have understood before – he is a vermin, a disgusting creature shut out from “the human circle.” (Kafka, 33) Kafka prefers to use a metaphor so that Gregor Samsa is not like a vermin, but he is vermin. This metamorphosis is indeed no dream but a revelation of the truth. In giving up all hope of reentering the human circle, Gregor finally understands the truth about his life; and as he accepts this truth, he begins to sense a possibility that exists for him only in his outcast state. He is hungry enough, he realizes, but not for the world’s stuff, “not for that kind of food.” (Kafka, 74) This truth is composed of an array of facts.

First of all, he grasps the deteriorative effect of his job upon his soul, the position that materially supports him but cuts him off from the possibility of real human associations. He has been sacrificing himself by working at his meaningless, degrading job to pay off an old debt of his parents’ to his employer. Otherwise “I’d have given notice long ago, I’d have gone to the chief and told him exactly what I think of him.” (Kafka, 21) Another truth revealed through metamorphosis is the situation in the Samsa family: on the surface, the official sentiments of the parents and the sister toward Gregor, and of Gregor toward them and himself; underneath, the horror and disgust, and self-disgust: “… family duty required the suppression of disgust and the exercise of patience, nothing but patience.” (Kafka, 65) His metamorphosis is a judgment on himself from the standpoint of his defeated humanity.

Creating in The Metamorphosis a character who is real and unreal, that contains specific meaning but is deprived of self, Kafka encourages his readers to fill in the void that exists at the center of the insect-Gregor’s self. Thus, as a reader, one can conclude that Gregor’s metamorphosis is a symbol of his alienation from the human state, of his “awakening” to the full horror of his dull, spiritless existence, and of the desperate self-disgust of his unconscious life.

Works Cited List:

  • Kafka, Franz (1952) Selected Short Stories of Franz Kafka. Translators Edwin Muir, Willa Muir New York: Modern Library, 1952
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