A Biographical Analysis of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis
Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis contains direct biographical references to Kafka and his family’s lives. Gregor’s father’s dishonest actions stem from Kafka’s hatred against own his father for his relentless disapproval of Kafka’s writing. Kafka depicts Gregor as a lonely, insignificant failure, because that is how Kafka sees himself. Franz’s inability to settle down with a woman is silently noted in Gregor Samsa’s character, as is Kafka’s low self esteem. While not easily noticed, Kafka’s relationship with his youngest sister is mirrored in The Metamorphosis between Gregor and Grete as well. They get along very well for the majority of the story, but eventually Gregor feels betrayed. Kafka used the characters in The Metamorphosis to form a literary model of his own twisted relationships with his family members and himself.
Franz Kafka’s dark literary style is unmistakably original, and has earned him his reputation as one of the greatest 20th century writers. His odd works were fueled by staggering amounts of family stress and self hate. Much of this stress came from his father, Hermann Kafka, who disapproved of Franz’s writing, lifestyle, and physique. Kafka’s father overshadowed him so much, that Franz developed a stutter only when speaking to his father. In The Metamorphosis Gregor Samsa’s father treats his son with comparable disrespect. When Gregor’s father sees Gregor in insect form outside of his room, he brutally throws an apple at his son, almost killing him. Earlier in The Metamorphosis it was revealed that Gregor had been the only working member of his family, providing for his mother, father, and sister. During this wealthy time, Gregor’s father had been saving up money but not telling Gregor anything about it. While this money was available, Gregor had been working relentlessly at a job which he hated, to pay off his father’s debt. The connection between the twisted father-son relationships in both Kafka’s life and The Metamorphosis is undeniable and clearly points to biographical elements in The Metamorphosis.
The most depressing thing about Franz Kafka’s life was his utter isolation from everyone and everything around him. As Jews, the entire Kafka family was isolated from the majority of the population of their home city, Prague. Furthermore, Franz personally found himself more intellectually inclined than most of his ancestors. This prevented Franz from attaching to his heritage among other things. Kafka even proclaimed that he felt isolated from God Himself, whom he referred to as “the True Indestructible Being”. If we project Kafka onto Gregor Samsa’s character again, more similarities can be seen. Both were plenty old enough, but were not married and were forced to live with their parents. Gregor’s habit of locking all of his doors (even at home) serves to further isolate himself from the rest of the world, including his family.
Further similarities can be found in even the most minute details of Kafka’s writing. At the beginning of The Metamorphosis when Gregor finds that he is an insect he says that he is in “a real room” meant for human habitation. The use of the word “human” isolates Gregor from the rest of his original species in only the second paragraph of the entire story. In Gregor’s room is a picture of a woman in furs which he has become attached to over time. He climbs the wall to prevent his mother and sister from taking it out of his room. Gregor’s attachment to this picture symbolizes his lack of contact with women other than his mother and sister. Kafka himself was very similar, in that he wanted the companionship of a woman very badly but never achieved a marriage through either of his two engagements.
Samsa’s relationship with his sister, Grete, is another clear biographical reference to Kafka’s life. Samsa’s sister is the only one in Gregor’s house who can stand the sight of him, and takes the time to figure out what he can eat. For Kafka, his youngest sister, Ottla, allowed him to move in with her temporarily when he was particularly ill. At one point in Kafka’s life he felt that he should quit working in the afternoons to do more writing, but his parents disagreed. In an unexpected change of sides, Ottla agreed with her parents, and Franz was forced to remain at work for full days. This event made Franz feel as if he was betrayed by his own sister whom he had trusted more than anyone else in the family. Within two weeks, Kafka included a similar incident at the end of The Metamorphosis in which Grete abandons all hope for Gregor’s recovery.
Of all the animals that Samsa could have been changed into, an insect made the most sense when applied to both the story and Kafka’s life. People tend to view insects as dirty, insignificant creatures. Kafka’s negative views of himself painted a picture of himself as an insignificant failure, much like an insect. As soon as Gregor is unable to earn the family money, he becomes an insignificant failure, again like an insect. Samsa’s self esteem slowly spirals downward until he discovers that he is better off dead than alive to his family. This may be another biographical reference to the numerous times that Kafka contemplated suicide due to his low self esteem.
Kafka’s father’s disapproval and emotional abuse ground down Kafka’s psyche until he felt inferior to the rest of the world. This psychological abuse forced Kafka to write in his own dark, realistic style and turn to writing as his primary source of expression. Because he felt inferior, the only way that Kafka could fight back at his father was to do so in his writing. In The Metamorphosis, Kafka portrays himself as Gregor, his father as Gregor’s father, and his sister as Gregor’s sister. Franz makes negative statements about his father through Gregor’s father’s thoughts and actions, and reenacts his relationship with his sister between Gregor and Grete. Kafka uses Gregor’s insect form to show his own isolation and inability to interact with the rest of the world. Doubtlessly, The Metamorphosis was written as a direct biographical reference to Kafka’s life, isolation, and constant family conflict.
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