Alienation Theme in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis Research Paper
Society today can learn a lot from the story of Gregor Samsa, as the theme of alienation is deeply disclosed in this work. Kafka wrote the book at the time when society was just adjusting to new era of industrialization. People had to modify social relationships in order to conform to the new workplace order. A large number of these individuals failed to balance the two worlds and became disillusioned. It may thus be said that Gregor’s alienation was a dramatic result of the unsustainable socio-economic structure of the industrial revolution.
Karl Marx stated that one of the worst consequences of the economic system in his era was depersonalization of work. Capitalists treat individuals as cogs in a money-making machine. They are only worth something if they add value to the controller’s wealth. Furthermore, for the elite to maintain their positions, they must extract as much out of their workers as possible. This often manifests as exploitation through low wages, hazardous conditions and long working hours.
On the other hand, workers must keep at it because they need to earn a living to feed their families. Attempts to demand for more from their employers were often met with resistance and sometimes redundancy from work. The masses thus felt enslaved at their workplaces. Their bosses controlled when they could leave, enter, eat or even spend time with their families.
The industrial revolution thus dehumanized employees by only seeing them through a utilitarian lens. It is for this reason that when Gregor woke up as a bug, his number one concern was work. The bug worried about potential excuses he could use to explain away his tardiness. This only shows that others dehumanized him before he literally became non human. Samsa’s physical appearance was inconsequential to that feeling; he had always been lifeless even as a real man.
Bloom argues that jobs in Karl Marx’s world disillusioned employees because workers did what was alien to them (107). These individuals did not control wealth, so they could not even purchase what they created.
Marx argued that, aside from the owners, all individuals in the capitalist economic system lack mental and physical energy because they do not exercise their ingenuity. Gregor Samsa underwent all these experiences and was a man who epitomized the dilemma. The transformation into a bug was mostly a physical one because mentally he was already in an isolated and dehumanized state.
Humanity has the ability to dream and aim for greater things. It is likely people will become alienated if a system takes away these elements. Gregor wanted to do work on his own terms; he needed to have ambitions and reach out for them at his workplace. However, there were no opportunities for leadership there.
His family obligations prevented him from really doing what he wanted to do. These unmet desires are also what explain the source of alienation of Gregor in his family. The transformation into an insect was a form of revelation to the protagonist about his real position in society. He found out that he was only a small portion of the grand scheme of things just like an insect (DeNicola 54).
One should also note that Gregor’s alienation took the literal form of being isolated from his family. Not only was he unable to perform the breadwinning role that he took pride in, but now he became a burden to his family. The quality of Gregor’s family relationship had already deteriorated long before his physical transformation. According to his family, Samsa’s worth stemmed from his ability to contribute to their income. Therefore, when he was no longer able to do this due to the physical challenges, he lost value to his family.
One can argue that the value systems perpetuated in the capitalist world had already trickled down to the family-level. In the same way as Gregor’s employers, his family only valued his humanity because of his economic value. Initially, Gregor’s sister appeared to sympathize with her brother. She was the only one who fed him twice a day, or bothered to find out what he liked to eat.
However, the caregiver role eventually created resentment in his sister’s mind as she changed her behavior later. This indicates that Gregor’s alienation after the transformation was not a result of his appearance; it was his inability to contribute economically to the family. Mercy in this society is only predicated on one’s ability to provide.
Alienation in the story may also emanate from weak self identity and self perception. Gregor seemed to lack a factual understanding of his real self. He did not really understand who he was because of the economic relationships he had in the past. Therefore, he looked to others to define his identity. The rest of society only understood him through the things he could do or put together. However, when the transformation occurred, and he could no longer do these things, it shattered his identity.
The change damaged Gregor because it disrupted what he initially could do. Others’ reaction to it augmented this matter. His family was unwilling to accept the change or even give comfort following the alteration (Bloom 59). Alienation was a product of damaged identity in the eyes of the protagonist, as well as the stigmatization and rejection of others. These negative reactions all stemmed from the social structures and definitions of human identity.
Kohzadi, Azizmohammadi and Mahboubeh explain that Gregor’s feeling of disillusionment came from a delineation of his inner and his impersonal self (1603). It first started as a dream and eventually became reality. Kohzadi and others analyze Gregor’s isolation using a psychological lens.
They explain that Gregor constantly oscillated between worlds: his work and his true, inner self. It is for this reason that he prompts himself to get back to work at first as his rational mind was telling him. However, his inner mind also told him a totally different thing. In one instance he was mused: “How about going back to sleep and forgetting this foolishness … the problems of travelling” (Kafka 4).
Familial obligations put a strain on Samsa’s life. He always wanted to quit his job and give his employers a piece of his mind while at it. However, his parents had accumulated massive debt that could only be paid after four to five years of work at the firm. Gregor wanted to be independent and free to do as he was pleased.
However, his obligation to his family caused a sharp division between his freed self and the self that was impersonal and acceptable to others. Gregor’s state of affairs was oblivious to him because he was very firmly enmeshed in the socio-economic values of the day. Capitalism caused people to rationalize and plan their lives.
They did not care about feelings or unmet desires; they only focused on what had to be done. If the industrial revolution did not exist, it is likely that Samsa would have given his inner self greater priority than he did. Rational thoughts and plans were the order of the day in that society even though they could never bring satisfaction. Overall, the capitalist system made people’s inner being alien to them (Kohzadi et. al. 1604).
Alienation in the book is also a direct result of self disillusionment that had occurred in the protagonist’s mind. Because of the socio-economic system in this country, it became necessary to only focus on the necessities of life. Gregor concealed and distorted his personal needs in order to provide his family with a comfortable and secure life.
The protagonist was even immune to the fact that he was conflicted and needed to do what he really loved. This distortion of reality estranged him from his sister and parents, especially when they failed to appreciate the sacrifices he made for them.
On a superficial level, it appears that alienation in the book stemmed from a broken family relationships and distorted sense of identity. However, principles that defined family values and personal identity emanated from the socio-economic system of the era. Capitalism had reduced people’s worth to their economic contributions.
This prevented Gregor from realizing his inner ambition and developing his true identity. It also caused his family to think of him only as a source of material input in the family. These capitalist values alienated workers from their friends and family as well as their places of work.
Bloom, Harold. Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. NY: Infobase Publishing, 2007. Print.
DeNicola, Paul. Literature as pure mediality: Kafka and the scene of writing. Saas-Fee: European Graduate School press. 2007. Print.
Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis: Norton Anthology of World Literature. NY: Norton and Company, 2003. Print.
Kohzadi, Hamedreza, Fatemeh Azizmohammadi and Mahboubeh Bouri. “ A study of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.” Journal of Basic Applied Scientific Research 2.2(2012): 1600-1607. Print.
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