A Theme of Unconscious in the Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka and the Scream by Edvard Munch
“Each individual in the world lives in three worlds: the world that is, the world that is perceived and the world that is dreamt. Each world is both separate on its own, as well as conjoined and interlinked with the other two (Hudson, 2013). ”
During sleep, the mind is disconnected from the external world but remains instinctual. The psychoanalytic take on dreaming is better understood in terms of Freud’s overall picture of the mind, which he split into id, ego and super-ego. The id is an entirely unconscious part of the mind, something we cannot gain control of, but is rather only systematically suppressed. It is present at birth, does not understand the differences between opposites and seeks to satisfy its continually generated libidinal instinctual impulses (Storr, 1989: p. 61). Freud believed that suffering threatens a from 3 sides, our body, the external world, and our relations with others. Munch and Kafka’s story both demonstrates these sides.
In “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka the character Gregor experienced pain, not only because his body changed on him but eventually his family did too. This short story shows how Gregor was feeling and what was going on around him. Kafka’s childhood experience with his father motivated him to write, the battle to free himself from his domineering dad discovered articulation in his fiction as the bashful, detached, delicate injured individual who endures and battles against tyrant powers and powers. Kafka uses this theme throughout his life and in many stories. Gregor life was not fulfilling, he hated his boss and his job as a salesman. From working everyday to catching different trains, he had no opportunities to form relationships with others, he wasn’t able to enjoy his life and do things that made him happy. Before Gregor’s physical transformation, his mental transformation had already been made.
Gregor’s life contributed to giving to others, he works to support his family, becoming an inset set him free from his repressive lifestyle. He has freedom now. His transformation eventually pushed his family away more. “ at the time Gregor sole desire was to do his utmost to help his family to forget as soon as possible the catastrophe that had overwhelmed the business and thrown them all into a state of complete despair. ” Gregor overheard his family talking about their financial situation and feels that it’s his fault because he was the source of income and there is nothing he can do about it. In the short story “The Scream” by Edvard Munch is based on inner feelings, his most terrifying feelings, and emotions.
Expressing agony of the obliteration of human personality by an unifying force. Edvard suffered several traumas early in his life. His mother and older sister died of tuberculosis before he turned 15, one of his younger sisters was diagnosed with mental illness, and his brother died as a young man. A sickly child himself, Edvard took to art to occupy time spent indoors. Munch’s most famous painting, The Scream, has been taken as an illustration of helplessness and anxiety in World War II-era Existentialist thought. But it communicates the experience of fear and dread. Munch responded to nature and culture around him, most of his paintings used the same themes, love illnesses and death. As also seen in the painting the frieze of life. “Munch experienced a moment of existential crisis. In what sounds like a panic attack, Munch describes feelings of exhaustion while overwhelmed by an almost violent wave of anxiety. Like most panic attacks, Munch’s experience by the fjord was a lonely internal struggle, as his two friends walk on without him, completely unaware of the artist’s upset (Shabi, 2013). ”
However, Munch and Kafka’s short stories reflects an artist’s conscious efforts to capture unconscious experience. The unconscious mind and memory shape reality as much as reason does, Human reason must come to terms with the irruption of uncontrollable, violent forces from the unconscious mind. how we perceive, understand, experience, interpret and respond to reality has concrete and practical repercussions in both our intrapersonal and interpersonal relationships. reality is something both subjective and objective. What I mean is that objective reality, say the existence of the physical universe, does not necessarily depend on subjectivity to be real. But then, subjective reality, say the experience of an emotion, impulse or dream, doesn’t necessarily depend on objective reality for its existence. The subjective world is as real as the objective world. Both have their own reality.
For example, Munch uses bright colorful imagery to express his chaotic emotional state in that moment, both in his poem and in his painting. Munch draws attention to the momentary intensity of the landscape with brightly saturated, contrasting colors as the “red” sky ignites above the “bluish black” water. Munch also states that he colors reminded him of blood.
So on, The Metamorphosis is without a doubt a very surrealist short story. At the point when Gregor Samsa gets up one morning to find that he has changed into a bug, the surrealists thought that “one could join inside a similar casing, components not regularly discovered together to deliver outlandish and startling impacts” is presented, as this Goliath and extremely odd human-turned-bug stays in the plain ordinary setting of a condo. I think it is additionally important that the plain clench hand sentence specifies that Gregor rises and shines from “agitating dreams”; the surrealists painters frequently sought their fantasies for motivation and they support the oddness they had always wanted and attempted to convey that to their works of art. To incorporate, the room is by all accounts little however it was only the ideal size before he changed.
Religion’s Role in Dictating Criminal Laws as Shown in the Penal Colony
Because essentially all faiths propose a set of moral and behavioral laws upon which one is expected to base one’s life decisions, religion and criminality are inexorably linked. While today in our society we aim to separate the two controversial subjects as much as possible, it cannot be denied that religion puts forth rules and regulations that align with those of the government, and that a moral compass and spirituality play a role in dealing with criminal cases. No matter how prevalent the separation of church and state in the contemporary movement towards secularism, people still swear on a Bible in court and talk of justice and repentance in church. Religion, particularly Christianity, has a subtle way of seeping into criminal sentencing and punishment because in the past laws originated from religious doctrines and were enforced by religious leaders who were often one and the same with government leaders. While the juxtaposition of the judgment of faith and of the court system has certainly decreased today, its past presence leaves its mark in many aspects of human culture, especially in arts like literature. For instance, this occurrence can be seen in Franz Kafka’s In the Penal Colony, which tells the chilling tale of a foreigner’s visit to an isolated and primitive land in the tropics to which prisoners are brought to be sentenced and punished. Although the system carried out in the story does not blatantly reflect religious beliefs, many aspects and objects within its plot are heavily symbolic of the ways of a world overseen by a merciless god. Kafka’s In the Penal Colony employs religious symbolism in a way that demonstrates the cruel incompetence of a justice system based in blind faith in a higher being, whether that being is a god or a government.
First of all, the setting and the apparatus, if one were to include the apparatus as an integral part of the setting, strongly symbolize many parts of the Christian faith. The penal colony itself is reminiscent of a kind of purgatory; the land is described as “a small, deep, sandy valley, closed in on all sides by barren slopes” (1) in which “the sun was excessively strong, trapped in the shadowless valley, and one could hardly collect one’s thoughts” (2). The penal colony is encompassed by a sweltering heat and an inescapable glaring sun which appears similar to how one imagines the fiery tortures of purgatory. It is only inhabited by the punished who got here to be slowly and torturously executed and the punishers who work there to keep the community functioning. If the colony is a purgatory that keeps its people contained in their barbaric acts and experiences, the dark pit below the apparatus represents hell into which the tortured and bleeding body is finally tossed. The apparatus itself is uncannily like a crucifix in that its shape corresponds to that of the body of the condemned and also pierces it with a series of long needles similar to the nails on the cross; since “everyone can see through the glass” (6) the punishment used to be a huge public spectacle where “the entire valley was overflowing with people…they came merely to watch” (10). The whole image of the naked condemned man laid out on the bed of the apparatus getting stuck by needles while a crowd looks on in excitement is a striking comparison to the crucifixion of Christ.
Additionally, many of the characters in Kafka’s story align with prominent figures of religion. The Officer himself propels this biblical imagery even further. He is a devout follower of the original commandant, the Old Commandant, who created the penal colony and its apparatus of justice as “soldier, judge, engineer, chemist, and draftsman” (4). The Old Commandant displays the merciless punishment sentiments of the Old Testament; he is the god-figure and creator, given all his roles in the establishment of the colony and the propagation of the rules and sentencing, similar to the commandments. The Officer plays the role of an almost Christ-like figure, “the single advocate for the legacy of the Old Commandant” (10). He is preaching and praising to the Traveller the system set in place by the Old Commandant in pure and boundless faith, as we see by his ultimate sacrifice. The Officer also has a noticeable fascination with cleanliness, both of himself and of his machine of gruesome penalty. He repeatedly washes his hands in a bucket of water before handling any of his sacred machinery, and is also greatly upset when the Condemned Man vomits on the machine, making it “filthy as a pigsty” (9). This reminds the reader of holy water or baptism in a way; the Officer only allows himself to touch the property of the Old Commandant, his god, if he has been purified by washing his hands prior to contact. Ultimately, he is most accurately represented as a Christ figure by his end – when the Traveller declines to help support his faith in the penal system, the Officer commits suicide by letting the apparatus, the object of his faith, destroy him rather than exist in a world where his idea of justice is not supported. In his final image, the Officer even has a symbolic crown of thorns, as “the tip of a large iron needle had gone through his forehead” (18). His perfect faith in the system brought him to his end, and with his death the penal colony is essentially obsolete because he was the last supporter of the Old Commandant, its creator. In contrast, the Traveller is the non-believer, and he survives because he is critical of the system and does not accept it without question.
In Franz Kafka’s In the Penal Colony, the justice system of this peculiar land in the tropics designed for torturing and punishing contains elements that resemble the Christian religion. In the end, this cruel and primitive system collapses upon itself because its ethics and justness were never questioned, its followers diminished and disinterested in its existence. The penal colony is a terrifying image of what a justice system could become with a charismatic leader and an accepting populace. While we no longer integrate religion and justice in our country today, there are similarities between the two societal pillars in the way that people can adhere to a system of great consequence without critically examining its ethics and humanity.
Kafka, Franz. In the Penal Colony. New York: Limited Editions Club, 1987. Print.
An Insight into the Nature of Man When Facing Injustices
When faced with injustices, it is far easier to say one would act against them than actually physically or verbally doing so. In Franz Kafka’s “In The Penal Colony,” when invited, an explorer is subjected to observe an inhumane execution where defendants are mercilessly murdered with inscriptions of their crimes. The officer, the procedure’s lone, surviving supporter, hopes that the explorer will agree with these methods; however, when he does not, the officer elects he himself to be put to death by the unjust machine. The explorer’s response, the lack of any remote notion of stopping the officer, reveals his internal conflict of acting or not acting, his strong sense of self-preservation, and his small sense of sympathy.
As the officer strips in order to be placed in the machine, “The explorer bit his lips and said nothing” (220) as if stopping himself from utilizing his power to stop the officer. It reveals an internal conflict within the explorer, in which he is hesitant to act but is aware that he should. Even when merely discussing the procedure itself, the explorer says, “I was already wondering whether it would be my duty to intervene and whether my intervention would have the slightest chance of success” (216). This doubt is, therefore, a combination of both his ability to succeed and if he should make the attempt to begin with. The explorer’s doubt is made apparent through his action biting his lips as if in order to keep from saying something and as result, not acting. This hesitation reveals a somewhat cowardice aspect of the explorer’s character, as well as an insecurity of his power to influence. This internal conflict and cowardice also appears when the narrator states that “If the judicial procedure which the officer cherished were really so near its end – possibly as a result of [the explorer’s] own intervention to which he felt himself pledged…” (221), questioning himself about if he is to blame or not for the officer’s choice by merely being there. The explorer seems to be aware that he has influenced the officer, despite having previously saying, “I can neither help nor hinder you” (213). His conflict between believing he has no influence but also seeing his impact to an extent, but not acting to purposely influence the officer and acting to save his life, then leans more towards a selfish motive.
The psychological struggle and selfishness that the explorer endures is, however, quickly shadowed by his instinct to preserve himself, especially when the situation does not directly affect him. The narrator describes that, “[The explorer] knew very well what was going to happen, but he had no right to obstruct the officer in anything” (220-221). In knowing the consequences of allowing the officer to proceed in putting himself in the machine, the explorer rationalizes not saving the man’s life by saying it was not his choice to make, and it will not impact him in any way. In this way, he is far more invested in his own well being saying that he is “…going away early tomorrow morning, or at least embarking on [his] ship” (217) because he is able to escape the root of the issue and be free of the sight of it, it no longer will exist to him, proven when he “…quitted the teahouse and made for the harbor” (226) at the first opportunity to escape the colony. The explorer even convinces himself that “…the officer was doing the right thing; in his place the explorer would not have acted otherwise” (221). He realizes that the execution system is immoral with his very clear statement of “I do not approve of your procedure” (216) but justifies that the officer is taking the right course of action by killing himself and taking his own action rather than someone acting against him. Because the explorer believes that the officer is correct, his decision not to stop him is therefore right as well. Tied directly with selfishness, the explorer’s need to rationalize clearly wrong and morbid choices to make himself feel better is evidence of his strong sense of self-preservation. His detachment and disregard through this rationalization and believing it is not his “right” to intervene illustrates an instinctual response to save oneself first.
Rivaled by other notions of selfishness, self-preservation, and cowardice, in the final lines describing his choice to not act to save the officer, the explorer is also revealed to have some sense of sympathy. Saying that “…in his place the explorer would not have acted otherwise” (221) reveals that the explorer, in some way, admires the officer for his commitment to his beliefs because he believes he would act the same way that the officer does if it were him. Before this outright declaration that the officer is willing to die for his cause, the explorer, though he disagrees with the procedure, tells the officer, “I shall tell the Commandment what I think of the procedures, certainly, but not at a public conference, only in private” (217). The explorer seems to sympathize with the officer, electing to avoid shaming him by only discussing his disagreement in private. While mainly negative aspects are revealed in his contemplation, the explorer shows he is capable of understanding another perspective through these sympathetic and almost admiring comments.
In summation, inaction proves far more substantial to the characterization of the explorer, ironically, through the use action. The explorer’s inaction to prevent the officer’s suicide reveals parts of his character such as cowardice, insecurity, selfishness, self-preservation, and even some bits of sympathy through what he does do and his rationalizations for those actions. Rather than just saying he would act against these injustices and take the easy way out, though still acknowledging its existence, the explorer recognizes the injustice, yet allows it to fester by ignoring it and fabricating reasons for his decision to do as much.
The Causes Of Gregor’s Transformation In Metamorphosis By Franz Kafka
The Novel Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is describing a fate that befell a young man by the name Gregor Samsa who experience complete change both external and mental. Gregor before becoming a gigantic insect was a dedicated person and a committed worker despite the anxiety and hatred that he had. When he turned to an insect, he finds himself in a farcical surrounding him but, unluckily, tried to survive in the like human beings and ended up dying in sorrow. He witnessed his father, mother and sister that he once dedicated himself, changing also. Gregor was trapped into the cocoon that the society, family, traveling salesman work and was also a victim of self-imprisonment. This prison that he was in turned him inhuman even prior to the physical change. What are problems or instances caused him to transform?
I believe Gregor Samsa was the architect of the transformation he was to experience. He created circumstances that gradually but eventually led to his mysterious transformation leading to his death in despair. My essay is based on the following instances as illustrated in the set text, Metamorphosis by Frank Kafka.
The first instance is when Gregor he installed himself as the sole breadwinner for his family. He had pocketed enough cash to purchase a high-end apartment for his whole family. Inside the apartment, he sets aside a tiny room smaller than her sister’s. He employed maids, a cook, lived a costly lifestyle with the parents and sister. With time, Samsa could not manage the lifestyle due to registering low returns in the business he was in while his parents still owed Gregor’s boss huge amounts of cash. He speaks to himself saying, “As soon as I’ve saved enough money to pay back my parents’ debts — that should take another five or six years — I’ll does it for sure.” Speculating such a number of years remaining yet he had served half a decade without a single break. It strained Gregor and forced him to change. He turned himself into a working machine that does not need to rest or have time for others. The demands by the lavish lifestyle pushed him to his transformation.
Secondly, a problem that pushed him to transform was the father. The person he called the father was egocentric, bully, approaching him was hard. Once Gregor secured work in one of the people, he owed money, and was making good money, he stopped working. He added weight and become lazier in the five years that his son was working hard. Often, he lied in his room or on armchair while his son was around or at work place. The only thing his father did was consuming time while perusing different dailies. His father was not a happy father and perceived negatively the way Gregor planned perfectly for them prior his transformation and he did not sense the change that was coming to his son. He became cruel, treating Samsa grossly always pushing him back into the room when Samsa had become an insect. He was ashamed of him. Without revealing to his son, he had saved enough cash to repay the debt he owed. I see him irrational doing that to his son as his son is laboring. The instant Samsa changed to an insect, he started going to work, dressed formally, stood firmly as illustrated, “now, however, he holds himself very erect.” To demonstrate that he cares, he would support his son to fend family needs and settled what he owed. In this way, Samsa would not have ended being a robot. If he had helped Gregor would have been relieved and felt the need to be in touch with others, build social connections, experience the fullness while living but because the father did not care, he forced his son to change.
Another circumstance that drove Gregor to transformation is evident by ingratitude displayed by his parents and sister. Initially, they were amazed and jovial when Gregor brought home the money and put them on the table; and within no time, they got used to the pampering, their reception became plain and expressionless when Samsa came with cash. That sense of gratitude and warm reception would melt Gregor’s heart and could have made Samsa so much alive. Expressionless reception transformed him internally, he felt lonely and withdrawn. Samsa’s mum states that Samsa was not some kind who would hang out in the evenings rather while back at home, he would sit reading, studying the travel timetables, at times doing his own creativity. This indicates the way Samsa lacked friends around while before he transformed. The opportunity to make friends is missing in his schedule and this makes him green when it comes to socializing with people. At the time he changed, parents and sister were not in for the idea of having a bug as one their own blood. He was referred to as ‘’it’’ and they are looking for a way of eliminating ‘’it’’. If family cared, if the mother, father or sister cared, they would have appreciated him and help him transition nicely in society. They would have given him a sense of a family and belonging. He would have been self-fulfilled and eliminate the tendency of him accumulating pride, alienating himself. Lack of which forced him to transform.
The nature of Gregor’s job and the company he is working for also contributed to the transformation that Samsa experienced. It was exhausting. “With the constant travel, the nuisance of making your train connections, the wretched meals are eaten at odd hours, and the casual acquaintances you meet only in passing, never to see again, never to become intimate friends. To hell with it all”. As much as the job involves more travel that might have impacted him negatively, it reveals a weakness that Samsa had. He fails to keep customers and thus the strain in pursuing new customers that might have clutched him at the change point. It would have been normal straining first one or two years before he builds a fleet of regular customers but his weakness of not building strong customer relations is preparing him for transformation that he experienced. He is up early; closed leads faster and went to his room in the restaurant while fellow salespersons were not yet done with their breakfast. He is treated with malice in the workplace and forced to be present every single day. “The insignificant failure to appear instantly provoked the deepest suspicion!”. The way his boss assumed his position in the high office chair and requiring them to speak louder is a thorn in the toe for Gregor. The picture created by the author is of Samsa hating on his work. He could not leave his job because he had bills to pay and a debt to repay. He feared his dad also who appeared like a general to him. His pride would not let him. This made him a slave in his own skin. He detested in his own blood doing something he did not like doing. This clinging to a stressful work environment and an exhausting nature of the job might have culminated to the change that Gregor experienced.
Gregor Samsa triggered the unfolding scenarios that lead to the shocking change. The parents, sister, the job aided change by speeding it up. The rigid nature he possessed made it hard for him to seek help, adopt changes or become aware of the sickness that was before him. If he cared less about the money or the rank, the sad predicament would have been avoided.
- Franz Kafka. “The Metamorphosis” Literature an Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama- ninth edition. Kennedy, X. J., and Gioia, Dana. Pearson Longman, 2005.
- Hai-zhu, Qiao. ‘The unique perspective, true feelings — Multiple perspectives to interpret Kafka’ Metamorphosis’.’ Journal of Nanchang College of Education 5 (2013): 11-19
- McMichael, Anthony J. ‘Prisoners of the proximate: loosening the constraints on epidemiology in an age of change.’ American journal of epidemiology 149.10 (2009): 887-897.
Representation Of Social Group In The Metamorphosis By Franz Kafka
Metamorphosis is a short story written by Franz Kafka in 1912 about a man called Gregory Samsa, who one day wakes up as a giant insect. This short story is considered as the most ‘Kafkaesque’ piece of literature.
Gregory works as a door-to-door salesman, and has a huge responsibility as the family’s only financial pillar. Due to a debt, he is compelled to work for his employers until he has fully paid it off. Being the only financial support for a family of four, himself, his sister and parents, they don’t have a lot of money to spare or live anywhere near lavish. Gregory’s mediocre job and the family’s dependency makes them belong to middle class who live in an average apartment that is according to the family a huge upgrade. They also had a maid that does the daily chores while Gregory was working, but any details about her salary, if any, are not specified. Although, we do get a feeling that she is working there without a salary or very little because she owes them and is compelled to work there as she begs Gregory’s father to let her go, after Gregory’s metamorphosis as she is terrified by his sight and cannot work knowing what lives under the same roof. Thus Kafka made it very clear that the Samsa’s belonged to the middle class.
Gregory Samsa is so fit into his daily job and responsibility that he doesn’t have a life of his own. His mother and sister consider it very weird that he does not come out of his room one morning. This is so unlikely of him that his supervisor comes to check up on him. During that morning, Gregory is definitely concerned with his metamorphosis and cannot take in the whole situation at once, but what is strange is that he is more concerned about getting to work on time and getting up for it. Kafka represents Gregory and his social group, ’regular job – middle class’ people as a very monotonous, uneventful and repetitive group.
Many have noted that a typical feature of something being Kafkaesque is how the ‘mundane and absurd aspects deal with modern day bureaucracy’. Critics use historical biographical approach and blame his writing style on his past of working for a year as an insurance clerk in Prague in 1907. We see a common social group in his writings. A lot of his stories’ protagonists are middle class workers who have a fixed work schedule and a fixed pay, like office workers or a salesman in this case. They have to work extensively for an average pay and spend most of their lives with one goal, working. We take his work about an underwater god ‘Poseidon’. The god is an executive so swamped with paperwork that he doesn’t even get a chance to explore the boundaries of his own kingdom.
Another central theme is the comparison to the disabled, mentally or physically, who become nothing but obligation after the sympathy phase, due to their inability to contribute and are eventually left for ‘alienation’. Gregory’s sister eventually gives up on him and admits that she is disgusted by him. The father can be compared to a short-tempered intolerant selfish family member who is quick to give up. He often throws tantrums and repeatedly tries to physically hurt Gregory to take out his frustration. The sister, although started out by being sympathetic for some time but eventually gave up as Gregory did not seem to heal or become normal again. Gregory’s father is furious on him, as he goes berserk on him numerous time from his metamorphosis until his death as Gregory is now nothing but a horrifying “beast” who causes trouble repeatedly. He causes his mother to faint twice, he occupies a whole room while not contributing to the family at all, he causes the Boarders to leave the apartment and gives them an excuse to not the pay the rent too.
Kafka also represents Gregory’s group as the typical bread-winners, and how replaceable they are. He also demonstrates how selfish people who are dependent on that group can be. Gregory’s father had some savings who no one knew about until it became absolutely necessary to use it. The father also got a job which shows that he was fully capable of being another source of income and take some burden off his son. The savings and his father’s job could partially fulfill Gregory’s wish which we learn in the beginning, to quit his job and be free of the family obligations, maybe not for ever but for a little while at least. Post Gregory’s death, the family takes a day off and goes for a trip to the countryside as if nothing had happened, in fact the sunny beautiful weather acts as a pathetic fallacy reflects a bad time coming to an end and good times were on their way, as Mr. and Mrs. Samsa discuss their daughter’s future. This gives a very negative image and portrays that social group as something you don’t want to be a part of.
To conclude the essay, Kafka’s works have a dark tone and ending. Using again the historical biographical approach, be possibly related to his past about his troubled relationship with his father and his loneliness due to the busy family business. Kafka, despite of writing Metamorphosis more than a century ago, still represents the society and how Gregory’s group it in a way that is very relevant to today’s working class. Everything is perfectly fine and running smoothly until the providers wake up every morning to leave for work and bring home the food but as soon as the income flow ceases, the provider receives initial sympathy and then is alienated as he is nothing but a liability. It’s always amazing to see how Kafka’s works are still relevant till the date and that merely proves his point again that humans are stuck in a repetitive system.
The Author’s Internal Distress Present in The Metamorphosis
Franz Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis is as a disturbing look at the absurdity of life-and is literature at its most unsettling and most introspective. Throughout much of his life, Kafka suffered from insecurity and internal torment. An overweening, aggressive father with highly unattainable expectations exacerbated Kafka’s feelings of self-loathing and misery. In examining The Metamorphosis, much inspiration for the actual text seems to have come from the dysfunctional relationship between Kafka and his father.
A preliminary and rather obvious parallel between Kafka and Gregor Samsa seems to lie in the very name of the protagonist. Indeed, much speculation has arisen regarding the possibility that Samsa is a crude cryptogram for the name Kafka. Each word consists of five letters, and the letters of both names occupy corresponding positions in the two titles. Although Kafka denied that this congruence was intentional, and even went further to deny any connection between his experiences and Samsa’s, the text of The Metamorphosis exhibits certain similarities that are too blatant to be ignored.
If The Metamorphosis is truly an allegory for the life of Franz Kafka, then it is a profoundly meditative journey into the distorted mind and experience of the author. In a lengthy and revealing confession, which has since been published under the title Letter to His Father, Kafka described his feelings regarding their estrangement. Kafka proclaimed himself to be timid, feeble, hesitant, restless, and a humiliating failure. On the other hand, he perceived his father to be bold, impressive, and physically strong, and the contrast bothered him deeply. Kafka felt an overwhelming amount of guilt for the apparent disappointment that he had caused his father. Herr Kafka, although not entirely responsible for Kafka’s mental state, intensified his feelings of regret and shame. Kafka felt as if “a feeling of nothing dominated [him].” This state of continual disgrace and shame is one that is evident in Gregor Samsa’s character. Ensnared in a stagnant job as a traveling salesman, Gregor detests his occupation yet feels bound by an inescapable duty to satisfy his father’s expectations to retain the work. Gregor awakes one morning to find himself changed into the form of a grotesque vermin, and at once all of his self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy have been manifested in physical form. Such an obvious metamorphosis is indicative of the extreme trauma and self-disgust present in Gregor’s psyche. If The Metamorphosis is a commentary on the life of the author, then the idea of self-hatred and alienation is one that has haunted Kafka in the same way it haunts Samsa. Through the protagonist, Kafka has conveyed his inner demons as physical form-as a weak, substandard, and self-proclaimed inadequate individual.
As further proof of his father’s mistreatment of him, Kafka includes in Letter to His Father examples of instances when his father addressed him or his friends as “vermin.” This instance of cruelty is as obvious as and as similar to Gregor’s condition that it hardly needs further discussion. Most notable is Kafka’s use of the very word “vermin”-so descriptive and so disquieting that the author denotes in a single word the demented, abused state of both himself and Gregor. Kafka recalls similar instances when his father addresses him in ways that are bestial and dehumanizing: he calls Kafka “a pig,” and he speaks to his wife about Kafka as if his son were not present. In The Metamorphosis, there is a comparable conflict between father and son-Herr Samsa speaks to Gregor as if he were nothing more than a repulsive beast, and he begins to address his son as “it.” Herr Samsa has difficulty believing that Gregor is still mentally a human being (if not physically), and he treats his son with a detached, cavalier manner.
One of the many harms that Kafka endures as a result of his relationship with his father is that he “loses the capacity to talk.” This phenomenon is present in Gregor’s situation. Both author and protagonist suffer from an inability to articulate their inner emotions. Kafka’s loss of communication is figurative; Gregor’s loss is literal. For Kafka, the loss stems from his father’s reproach and his own terror of failure. He is forbidden to hold opinions that are contradictory to his father’s, and he is assaulted each time he raises his own beliefs. For Gregor, loss of speech attends his physical transformation, yet the implications are much deeper than their external surface. Gregor suffers horribly from the fact that his family can no longer understand him, and it is with a sickening dread that he realizes he is unable to fully comprehend his father’s speech. From Herr Samsa’s mouth spews a garbled, animalistic “hissing.” Both Gregor and Kafka endure excruciating periods of silence and retreat into an insular world that is completely lonely and devoid of understanding.
Like many great writers of similar caliber and genius, Kafka suffered an agonizing tendency to analyze the dark recesses of his inner psyche. He was a man filled with torment and sorrow over his own dysfunctional relationship with his father. Whether consciously or not, his life experiences shaped The Metamorphosis and came to form the strained relationship between Gregor and Herr Samsa.
Distorted Literature: Metamorphosis
Looking at literature in a general sense, it can be seen that some pieces which use a distorted literary style, instead of the straightforward directness of realism, can, when written effectively, be very useful and highly informative, if for no other reason than the higher level of thought required and inspired by their unnaturalness. Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis is an obvious case of effective distorted literature, where several important factors of the story are altered in some way to exaggerate the gravity of the protagonist’s actual position in life. In the story, Kafka uses abstract symbols, like Gregor’s family members and his relationship with them, combined with, or more likely caused by Gregor’s physiological metamorphosis to reflect the real degree of Gregor’s social and familial worth, and moreover allegorically highlight the shortcomings of society and the nuclear family.
At first glance, this story really appears to be about very little and superficially offers its readers minimal information from which to draw conclusions about Kafka’s purpose. The story seems too difficult to an uninvolved reader to be effective, because it exists in a world with which we are not presently accustomed. Kafka creates a world where a person can change overnight into an oversized insect and worry less about the metamorphosis than the work they are missing. Because the story is written in this manner, because it is distorted, it requires a more in-depth approach than reading something written in the style of realism. With realism, certain details are afforded the reader and much more is explained; everything, generally, can be taken at face value, but distortion asks more of its readers. It requires the story to be read on a higher level and prompts more questions than can be easily answered. For these reasons, the conclusions drawn from reading a distorted story, as opposed to a realistic piece, will be more profound, more important and longer-lasting.
The first and most obvious case of distortion in The Metamorphosis is Gregor’s actual physical transformation from man to bug. The importance and effectiveness of this story hinges on this occurrence and the reader’s ability to accept it as fact. By making the protagonist of the piece an insect, Kafka is trying to raise questions about the significance of the physiology, but is at the same time trying to avoid hang-ups over the feasibility of the metamorphosis. At no point in the story does Kafka allude to the idea Gregor may not be an insect, but actually dreaming or hallucinating; instead, he uses vantage point and point of view to limit the audience’s area of concentration and force them to focus on the ideas which occupy Gregor’s mind. For instance, in the beginning of the story, Gregor bounces back and forth between noticing the changes of his body and thinking about how he loathes his job. Because these are the focuses of Gregor, so do they become the focuses of the reader, and we are likely to regard his physical change with as much passiveness as is in Gregor’s nature. Also, because Gregor never questions the possibility of this change, the reader also will not question its possibility, and we can move forward, using this metamorphosis as a fact and a hub from which all other distortions vein and the overarching truth may be realized.
The physical metamorphosis itself is indispensable, but at the same time we must remember it is an abstraction of truth and a distortion of reality, which is more likely represented in this world by withdrawal and depression. Gregor, throughout the story, thinks often about his life prior to his change, namely how he hated his job and responsibility. He resented the obligations he had to support and protect his otherwise incapable family. So he gave up, essentially, and began to withdraw from his family and society. In this case, it becomes possible that he actually wanted this physical change to relieve him of his burdens, and it’s also likely he subconsciously willed this state into being. This sort of will power is an obvious deviation from reality, but helps the reader better understand the degree to which Gregor abhorred his responsibility. Giving this event its due consideration, the reader may also notice Kafka’s existentialist ideas floating to the surface.
Following Gregor’s metamorphosis, this existentialist idea is given credence and the audience is made to realize in which ways Gregor will be held responsible for his own actions. Because this story takes place within a very confined area and with a limited number of characters, these relationships are highlighted and become glaringly important. Only by distorting Gregor’s physical nature is the audience able to gain any perspective on the truth behind the facade and understand what’s real in Gregor’s life. The first morning following Gregor’s metamorphosis, his chief clerk shows up at his home with questions and accusations, not worries or concerns which would be more characteristic. Through the chief clerk’s dialogue, and Gregor’s previous thoughts and feeling about his job, we realize his relative unimportance at work. The only reason the clerk showed up is because he suspected Gregor may have tried to make away with some money with which he had been entrusted. The clerk represents the business world where time equates money, and Gregor, with his slipping performance and recent absence has now physically become what his boss viewed him as; he is the vile loathsome insect who would dare break conduct and be late to work. The rest of his relations deteriorate in a similar manner. Gregor’s mother is content to believe her son is well in his new form as long as she doesn’t have to see him in the flesh, or whatever his new body is covered with. His sister is initially content to take care of him, but it is obvious because of the way she lays out his food and water that she views him as no more than an insect. Gregor’s father, who had been physically incapable of work was now forced to support the family once again. He changed from being passive, a nearly etheral presence in the household to a forceful, mock-important man in a doorman’s uniform. He lashes out violently at Gregor several times, because he is unhappy with this new situation. All of these events must remind the reader Gregor wished to be relieved of his responsibility, and now he was, but at a certain price. His mother deteriorates mentally, his sister lords herself over him, his father is vile and ruthless and his boss reveals his negative feelings for Gregor. Because this is what Gregor wanted, we do not pity him, but, in this sense begin to hold him responsible for his own actions and understand the negative happenings of his acquaintances to be his fault.
The Metamorphosis serves well to illustrate the misgivings of the family and society, and highlights Kafka’s existentialist ideals. This is a story where the primary interest of the characters is self, and not a higher power. It shows how the selfishness of one person carries negative repercussions which are revisited upon the offender tenfold. Kafka distorts reality to toggle the degree of backlash, and provoke thought which will guide his readers to be more careful about the events for which they wish.
A Look at Gregor and General Sash’s Dehumanisation as Illustrated in the Metamorphosis and a Late Encounter with the Enemy Respectively
Dehumanization of the protagonist is a common thematic element in both Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and O’Connor’s “A Late Encounter of the Enemy,” although the various aspects of dehumanization differ between the two works. Dehumanization plays a role in the deaths of both Gregor and General Sash; both authors describe the tremendous pressure exerted on the characters by society, especially through the lens of each character’s view of his own dehumanization. This degradation comes with consequences, both positive and negative, that affect the families of each character. The full extent of the dehumanization of Gregor and General Sash is revealed slowly through the exposition and rising action of both stories until, in a moment of climax, their deaths resolve their struggles and bring peace to their ailing spirits. Tragically, this corruption of their moral and even physical selves comes not only from their society, but also from their families; in fact, in both cases, the families benefit from their dehumanization and cause it to happen. The differing attitudes of Gregor and General Sash toward their impending deaths is another point of contrast: General Sash is so corrupted that he accepts his dehumanization and even yearns for it, while Gregor, a young man, still sees his dehumanization as a prison from which he cannot escape.
Gregor’s dehumanization in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is apparent from the first sentence of the novel: “When Gregor Samsa awoke in his bed one morning from unquiet dreams, he found himself transformed into an enormous insect” (612). This transformation, from a human into an insect, creates the tension of the story, as Gregor is literally dehumanized from the very beginning. The fact that Gregor is transformed into an insect is also significant, as this creature symbolizes Gregor’s spiritual transformation. Gregor’s spiritual degradation is revealed in the exposition of The Metamorphosis through Gregor’s views of his job as a traveling salesman and his boss, the Director. The Director acts as dictator over Gregor’s life, and Gregor despises his job: “‘Oh, God,’ he thought, ‘what a strenuous profession I’ve chosen — traveling day in, day out! The demands of business are far greater on the road than they are at the home office, and I’m burdened with the annoyances of travel besides: the worry about train connections; the irregular, bad meals; a social life limited to passing acquaintances who never become real friends. To hell with it!’” (612). Gregor’s focus on his job security is prevalent even after his transformation into an insect; he only seems to care about whether he will be fired. This fear is significant in the exposition of Gregor’s situation because it shows the grip that society’s expectations have on his life. Gregor, like an insect, has a specific job to accomplish, and if he cannot accomplish that job, he will be replaced. He abhors his situation and questions the merits of his occupation after his transformation: “Why was Gregor condemned to work at a company where the least infraction immediately attracted the greatest suspicion? Were all employees then without exception scoundrels; were there among them no loyal, devoted individuals?” (615). The significant word in this passage is “individuals”; no individuals exist in Gregor’s company, and thus he, as an individual and as a human being, does not exist.
Gregor’s dehumanization is augmented through his relationship with his family. His family’s initial reaction is one of shock and horror; however, Grete, his sister, chooses to help Gregor survive. Although Gregor must sequester himself in his bedroom, Grete still treats him like a human being, and her actions — for example, giving him a selection of food to eat — show her concern for him (623). Gregor also cares about his family very much, and he attempts to make his existence more bearable for them: “[He was] consumed by worries and by vague hopes that all led to the same conclusion: that for the time being he should keep calm and, by exercising patience and the greatest consideration for his family, try to make bearable the unpleasantness that he would in his present condition inevitably cause them” (622). Unfortunately, Gregor’s transformation leaves his family trapped, both financially and physically; they are left with barely enough money to survive and have no way of moving apartments with Gregor. Furthermore, their efforts to please Gregor and treat him like a human being are detrimental to both Gregor and themselves. The food they give him leaves less food for themselves; and the removal of the furniture from his room, intended to allow Gregor freedom of movement, simply furthers Gregor’s alienation. Gregor, in an expression of the tension between his humanity and his bestial nature, finally decides that he must keep his humanity alive: “Granted, he would be able to crawl undisturbed in all directions, but he would at the same time forget, quickly and completely, his human past” (628). This tension heightens until Grete, Gregor’s last human connection, denies him and convinces her parents that the insect is not a human being. “‘You must simply try to rid yourself of the thought that it’s Gregor. Our real misfortune is that we believed it for so long. But how can it be Gregor? If it were Gregor, he would have seen long ago that such an animal cannot live with people and he would have left voluntarily” (638). The tragic irony in this moment is that Gregor is able to hear his sister’s debasement of him. Gregor, in his love of his family, is convinced that he must die: “His conviction that he had to disappear was even more definite than his sister’s” (639). Gregor’s dehumanization creates problems for both his family and himself that are an indirect cause of his death, but as he lies dying, he finds himself in a state of “empty and peaceful contemplation,” suggesting that, through death, he is finally freed.
Like Kafka, Flannery O’Connor uses the dehumanization of General Sash in “A Late Encounter with the Enemy” to show a man corrupted by modern Southern values. The social expectations for General Sash are very high: he is put on display at various events for the public to see him in his general’s uniform and sword. For example, every year “he was bundled up and lent to the Capitol City Museum where he was displayed in a musty room full of old photographs, old uniforms, old artillery, and historic documents. All these were carefully preserved in glass cases so that children would not put their hands on them” (139). The word ‘all’ in this passage is purposefully ambiguous to include both the documents and General Sash himself, significantly showing that the General is merely an object of history to display in a glass case. The passage continues to say that “there was nothing about him to indicate that he was alive” (139), and in this statement General Sash’s dehumanization becomes apparent. However, unlike Gregor, General Sash desires his dehumanization. The only significant memory in his mind is “the premiere” in Atlanta, when he received his general’s uniform. General Sash likes to sit “on any stage,” and living “had got to be such a habit with him that he couldn’t conceive of any other condition” (134-35). His life is monotonous and dull, centered on appearances at premieres and other events; possibly because he has been alive for over a century, he does not enjoy life. Every aspect of his humanity has been drawn out of him, and all that is left is his general’s uniform and his sword.
The General’s dehumanization contributes to his death because society’s expectations put unbearable pressure on him, and he can do nothing but die. However, society is not the only source of General Sash’s dehumanization; more importantly, it comes from his own granddaughter. General Sash’s granddaughter, Sally Poker, brings him to her graduation so that she could “hold her head very high as if she were saying, ‘See him! See him! My kin, all you upstarts! Glorious upright old man standing for the old traditions!’” (135). Much like Gregor’s family in The Metamorphosis, Sally Poker creates her grandfather’s condition when she puts him on the stage at the end. The final death scene is described as a battle between the General and his past, as if the General is finally trying to escape the expectations of the past that have been thrust upon him. “Then suddenly he saw that the black procession was almost on him. He recognized it, for it had been dogging all his days. He made such a desperate effort to see over it and find out what comes after the past that his hand clenched the sword until the blade touched bone” (143). The “black procession” is the procession of graduates upon the stage, but it also represents the procession of history that kills General Sash. The procession is a symbol of his dehumanization that has been “dogging all his days,” and in the climax of the story, he suddenly understands his plight. He confronts his own humanity and, in doing so, is killed.
Both The Metamorphosis and “A Late Encounter with the Enemy” use dehumanization to express the tension that exists in human beings between individualism and social obligation, and also the metaphorical prison inside of which the protagonists exist. Gregor, in his job as a traveling salesman, feels trapped by his obligations to his family and to the Director. He is dehumanized by the lack of self-expression in his work, which is symbolized by his transformation into the ultimate mindless worker: an insect. The pressures exerted on him build until his family finally rejects him and he dies. Similarly, in “A Late Encounter with the Enemy,” General Sash is living but not truly alive, in the sense that he is only living to represent the past. History is thrust upon him at all times, and he begins to enjoy, in an unfulfilling way, his state of constant exhibition. He is finally confronted in the climax of the story with his own humanity, and in this battle he loses. General Sash, like Gregor Samsa, is unable to escape the expectations of society and his own family, ultimately choosing death in his last attempt at freedom.
Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. Trans. Alexis Walker. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007.
O’Connor, Flannery. The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1971.
A Study of the Theme of Self-sacrifice in the Metamorphosis
In Franz Kafka’s stories “The Metamorphosis”, “In The Penal Colony”, and “The Fasting-Artist”, the protagonists, Gregor Samsa, the officer, and the fasting-artist, each make apparent sacrifices. These characters give their lives for others, but their deeds are unacknowledged by those they should benefit, who neither enjoy nor even understand the sacrifices made for them. The only one who can truly appreciate a sacrifice is the victim himself.
The most prominent example of this tendency appears in “The Fasting-Artist”. The artist fasts for public admiration, so that ladies can have the place of honor holding his body and crowds can come to look at him. He thinks that fasting is not a sacrifice at all; “he knew…how easy fasting was” (212) but his ability to eat the food supplied to him by watchmen who cannot understand “the honor of his art” (210) shows that it costs him at least some effort when his audience does not appreciate his sacrifice. He feels that his true sacrifice is “lying in bed almost at his last gasp…the consequence of the premature ending of his fast” (215) which he does, again, because after “about forty days…the audience fell away” (212). So great is his dedication to sacrifice and to his art that, when business worsens, he is willing to join a circus and understands that “he should not…be placed…in the middle of the ring as a star attraction” (216). But while at the circus he leans that people are not interested in seeing him; they merely pass his cage on their way to see the animals. Eventually the circus keepers stop keeping track of the days the artist has fasted, and his sacrifice is no longer for his audience, but for himself and for his art. The curious aspect of the fasting-artist’s performance is that his sacrifice for art is indistinguishable from the art itself. As the only one aware of his fasting, the Artist is the only one able to appreciate it, and he even tells his overseer that he “shouldn’t admire” (218) the fast. The artist’s plea shows that even those who try to admire his work do not understand it. “Just try to explain to someone what the art of fasting is. No one who does not feel it can be made to understand what it means” (218) the narrator tells us, and indeed the ludicrousness of public exhibition fasting, the appeal of which display no reader can comprehend, underscores the private nature of the artist’s performance. The artist’s fasting is an end in itself. No one but himself is around to appreciate his death from starvation, a sacrifice for an ignored art, as “the world was cheating him of his reward” (218).
Gregor Samsa’s sacrifice somewhat resembles the fasting-artist’s; it is just as unappreciated, but more beneficial to others. Gregor hates his job as a traveling salesman; “if [he] didn’t have to hold back for the sake of [his] parents [he’d] have handed in [his] notice long since” (77), but he works to support his parents and sister, none of whom work. He keeps only “a few odd coins for himself” (98), giving most of his salary to his parents. He also plans to raise the money to send his sister to a conservatory to practice the violin. Gregor’s work to help his family and pay off their debt is more easily appreciated by the reader than the artist’s fasting is, but Gregor’s family is less appreciative than the artist’s audience. “They had simply got used to [Gregor’s giving his family his salary], both the family and Gregor…it no longer gave rise to any special warmth of feeling” (97). Gregor’s family does nothing to help him pay off the debt, all the while concealing from him the fact that they have been saving money he earned, instead of using it to pay off the debt to Gregor’s employer and thus let him change jobs sooner.
Gregor’s sacrifice, great as it already is, becomes even heavier when he turns into a giant insect. At first both he and his family are in denial; Gregor attempts to go to work, having “no intention at all of deserting his family” (83), and his mother speaks of the time “when Gregor returns to us” (103), as though he will recover. His sister Grete brings him food and cares for him; “milk had always been his favorite drink, and that was surely why his sister had put it down for him” (92). But his father, who never mentions any hope that Gregor will change, drives him back to his room “threaten[ing] to deal him a deadly blow” (91). Gregor’s family is only willing to help him as long as they believe that he may recover, and when he persists in his insect state, they neglect him. As soon as the money they have saved runs out, Gregor’s parents and sister are forced to work and find that they have no taste for sacrifice. Herr Samsa becomes prone to saying “‘What a life this is. Such is the peace of my old age’” (110). Grete neglects to clean Gregor’s room; “streaks of dirt ran the length of the walls” (112). Eventually she gives up on him completely, saying of Gregor, “‘we must try and get rid of it’” (119).
Though Grete claims that the family has done “everything humanly possible to look after it [Gregor(!)]” (119), it is ironically Gregor who remains more human than his family, who now refer to him as “it”. He never stops wanting to sacrifice himself for them in whatever way he can. He does his best to spare them the sight of him; after realizing that his sister hates to see him, “he transport[s] a sheet to the sofa on his back–the task took him four hours–and arrange[s] it in such a way that…his sister would not be able to see him” (100). He continues to try to take financial responsibility for his family. “Whenever the conversation turned to the necessity of earning money…Gregor…felt hot all over with shame and grief” (99). He fantasizes of “tak[ing] the family’s affairs in hand again” (111). Even his death appears to be in response to his sister’s wish that he would vanish; his dying thought is that “his own opinion that he must disappear was…firmer than his sister’s” (122). Yet by this point, Gregor’s family has ceased to think of him as human. Though they appreciate his death, using it as an excuse to take a day off from work and to evict their detestable lodgers, they cannot appreciate Gregor’s motives. “‘If it were Gregor…he would have gone away of his own accord’” (120) Grete claims in Gregor’s hearing before his death, but never realizes that he does, as she believes that he cannot understand human speech. Indeed, Gregor’s family completely forgets him after his death; they are content to let the charwoman deal with his corpse, and Herr Samsa even “check[s] her [story of its disposal] firmly with an outstretched hand” (125). They flee the apartment “which Gregor had picked out for them” (125), leaving all traces of his memory behind. Gregor’s family refuses to acknowledge any of his sacrifices, perhaps out of guilt for ignoring him, perhaps for license to ignore him. As soon as they have established that the insect in their house is not Gregor, they have no obligation to care for it. Yet Gregor never doubts his family’s identity, though he has changed merely in shape while they have changed their entire attitude towards him. Though much of his sacrifice is externally imposed–Gregor hardly requests his family to neglect him–his death is ultimately a selfless and human act, all the more so because his family does not acknowledge it; Gregor’s sacrifice is his tie to both humans and humanity.
The officer’s sacrifice, on the other hand, can hardly be considered humane, though it is just as self-directed. The penal colony’s officer, who tries, prosecutes, sentences, and executes prisoners convicted of crimes such as insubordination, shows a voyager the colony’s method of execution: death by a machine that carves the commandment violated on the condemned man’s flesh. According to the officer, “enlightenment dawns” (137) on the condemned man’s face as he understands the gravity of his crime, and justice triumphs. The voyager, understandably upset by the process of justice in the colony, is resolved to condemn the means of execution, which the colony’s new commandant opposes; this will mean the end of the practice. Upon learning of this, the officer kills himself with the machine, inscribing “Be Just!” into his own flesh. If he is reacting to the voyager’s condemnation, the officer has given his life for justice, or at least what he considers justice. But although he is the only remaining vocal supporter of this justice, the only one who would consider it just, he fails to benefit from his sacrifice. In his dead face, “no sign of the promised deliverance could be detected; what all the others had found in the machine, the officer had not found” (152). Similarly, the voyager irrationally finds that if the procedure “was really on the point of being abolished–possibly as a result of the voyager’s own intervention, to which he felt himself committed–then the officer was now acting perfectly rightly” (149). The victim of the sacrifice suffers and the beneficiary gains; this is the way a sacrifice is supposed to work. But nothing about the officer’s punishment makes logical sense.
The officer’s and voyager’s reactions are a reversal of our expectations, just as the officer’s suicide is; after all, it makes no more sense for the officer to punish himself for injustice by means of injustice. If, however, the officer is executing himself (a just act, according to his morality) for executing himself (an unjust act, according to the voyager), the situation makes more sense; the officer finds no enlightenment because his punishment was unjust, while the voyager believes it to be right because the officer’s crime was judged by the voyager’s standards. By this logic, neither the officer nor the voyager is making a sacrifice. A true sacrifice for the officer would have been for him to abandon his beloved machine, while for the voyager it would have been not to object to the condemned man’s execution. The only sacrifice the officer makes, giving up any future administration of justice, is imposed on him.
While the lack of appreciation of all three protagonists contributes to their deaths, the officer’s death is appreciated. The role-reversal of his self-condemnation reveals why his death is not a sacrifice; it is a sentence. The fasting-artist starves out of dedication to his art, Gregor out of devotion to his family, but the officer’s death literally destroys his precious apparatus, ending and not furthering his cause. Satisfaction from sacrifice is limited to those who die neglected, for they care far more about their causes than those they die for do.
Relationship Between Georg Bendemann and His Father
The relationship shared between Georg Bendemann and his father had always been unstable and toxic. Georg’s father had total control over him both psychologically and professionally up until the passing of the mother. As a result of the power held over Georg by his father, he had been a pitiful, compliant, lonesome person most of his life. While speaking of Georg, the narrator mentions, “Perhaps during his mother’s lifetime his father’s insistence on having everything his own way in the business had hindered him from developing any real activity of his own”
Because of the fathers dominance and controlling behavior, he made all of the business decisions and had no time for Georg’s input on anything. His lack of practice held him back from becoming a strong, independent business man. However, once the mother passed away a dramatic shift occurred between Georg and his father’s relationship.After the death of his mother, Georg begins to call the shots, while his father seems to have lost all power. We can see that the father’s power has dissolved when he says, “I’m not equal to things any longer, my memory’s failing, I haven’t an eye for so many things any longer”
During his father’s decline, Georg takes the initiative to become the self-assertive individual that he has always longed to be. In addition to that, Georg takes full control of his father’s business and goes as far as to getting engaged to relieve his non-existent social life. It is obvious that Georg’s life seems to take a turn for the better. However, it is this same turn-around that becomes problematic for Georg. Due to Georg’s rough past he finds it very difficult to adjust to a new lifestyle and continues to look for his father’s approval. He specifically wants his father’s advice on whether or not to mail a letter to his friend in St.Petersburg about his new engagement. Georg says to his father, “But before I posted the letter I wanted to let you know”
However, Georg doesn’t receive the parental approval he wished for during his discussion with his father and mentally falls apart. Georg continues to run his father’s business, and continues to be successful while roles continue to reverse, Georg assumes a parental or authoritative role over his father. He treats him like a child and undresses him and gets him ready for bed. However, his father reacts to the child-like treatment and lashes out. He “threw the blankets off with a strength that sent them all flying in a moment… And He accuses Georg of betraying his friend and disgracing the memory of his mother. Additionally, in the story the father talks about Georg’s friend as follows: “He would have been a son after my own heart”. Father prefers Georg’s double to be his son because he cannot challenge his authority, as he is the weaker one. Georg’s friend is the powerless double of Georg, possessing all the weak, negative attributes unlike Georg. Besides, Georg’s father states that “the death of our dear mother hit me harder than it did you”.
In Freudian sense, for Georg, Frieda Brandenfeld was a substitute for his mother, as a sexual object. On the other hand, father had no sexual substitutions like Georg’s, so the rivalry between Georg and his father heightened. We can also say that Georg, by finding a sexual object, had successfully ended up his mourning of his mother, while the father still faces struggle, and is mourning. The father then becomes so engulfed in anger and sentences Georg to death. This encounter leads to the reversal of the father-son roles. In the end, this lifelong battle that had been fought between Georg and his father leads him to fight an even greater battle with himself. Ultimately, Georg loses by letting go of his newly found life and independence. His father’s influence over him was so great that he commits suicide and allows external forces to decide his fatal outcome.
Freudian psychoanalysis would say his father represents his super-ego and that it was his super-ego that sentenced him to death. Georg commits suicide due to the order of his super ego, which usually orders irrational, unexplainable actions in the psyche. Since Georg projects the image of his father to his own psyche as the super ego, he obeys to the order of his father. Ultimately, Georg loses by letting go of his newly found independence and instead, letting external forces decide his fatal outcome.