The Metamorphosis: Alienation from Society and Yourself
Gregor’s family are only human and their disdain for him germinates. “‘Gregor, you!’ yelled the sister, glaring fiercely and raising her fist. These were her first direct words to him since the metamorphosis” (Kafka). Subsequent to their mother fainting, Grete screams at Gregor when she sees him on the wall. He realizes that there has been zero verbal interaction with him since he had transformed, although his eavesdropping has proved that his family converses about him. Grete’s outburst, vocalized in aversion and outrage, illustrates Gregor’s initial verbal connection with a member of the family since his metamorphosis, exposing the burgeoning absence of human connection with him.
After Gregor’s father injures him with an apple, he is granted some respite from his lack of human connection. “Toward evening every day the living room door…was opened, so that lying in the darkness of his room and unseen from the living room, he could view the whole family at the brightly lit table and could listen to their conversation more or less with their consent, completely unlike his prior eavesdropping” (Kafka). Gregor appreciates this remuneration for his father’s previous abuse. Although the reward is hardly adequate compensation for the attempt on his life, Gregor’s satisfaction with being able to observe his family from the shadows exposes his impression of alienation from society in general and, specifically, his family, in addition to his inclination to safeguard his relationships.
As the story progresses, the reader learns that Gregor’s feeling of disaffection was manifest prior to his transformation. “The alienation caused by Gregor’s metamorphosis can be viewed as an extension of the alienation he already felt as a person” (Zainab). At the beginning of the story, when Gregor first awoke and realized he had become a bug, he contemplates his life and job, realizing that the relationships he can claim are cursory and ephemeral as a side effect of his traveling often. Later on, Gregor remembers how the honor he felt at being able to provide for his family had diminished and the emotional intimacy he had with them along with it. Especially in the end, when the concern he had for his family totally disappeared. “The story also instructs about the paradox of catastrophe: Gregor is treated no less respectfully after his metamorphosis than he was before it” (Gans). Gregor provided everything for his family, even when his father, unbeknownst to Gregor, had money saved. Gregor intended to send his sister to school, and he worked assiduously without any regard for his own well-being. However, he was forsaken and uncherished. This remained unwaveringly true following his transformation.
At the close of The Metamorphosis, Gregor, who up until that point had been resolved on returning to his normal life, retires to his bare-walled room and into himself. “He gives himself up to death by which he liberates not only the world from himself, but himself from the world” (Sokel). Gregor, seemingly involuntary, executes the death that his sister had sentenced. “I won’t pronounce the name of my brother in front of this monster, so all I say is: we have to try and get rid of it. We’ve done everything humanly possible to take care of it and to put up with it” (Kafka). Grete could foresee Gregor’s continued presence as instigating their parents’ deaths. Indeed, it was Gregor’s death that was pivotal to the whole family’s freedom. Gregor’s freedom from the burden of his obligations and the alienation that those obligations served, and his family’s freedom from the visual torment of the vermin that he had become. But also, their freedom to enjoy a life of prosperity that they would begin to provide for themselves
The Desire for Freedom and Fulfillment in The Metamorphosis
The Metamorphosis is about a man’s obligation to his family. He hates his job of being a traveling salesman, but does anyway so he can support his family’s debt. Gregor wishes that he could be free of his dreadful job with an odious employer. He also has to make the agonizing decision of either his filial duty to his father, or his desire to emancipate himself from such obligations and dependence. The absurdity of life is a recurring theme in this story because The Metamorphosis is based on an irrational event and operates in a random and/or chaotic universe.
One morning, Gregor wakes up as a bug. This is the absurd event that takes place in this story. Not only is it unlikely something like this could happen, but it is physically impossible. There are no implications as to why Gregor turned into a bug. As a matter of fact, all evidence leads to believe he doesn’t even deserve this fate. Gregor is a good son who takes on a job he dislikes for the sake of his parents–or more so his father’s–debt. He also had planned to pay for his sister’s education on music at the conservatory. So the reader has to infer beyond that of which is given.
Gregor’s family treats this sort of as a random occurrence, like catching a cold. Which adds to the absurdity of the story. Everyone is also unusually calm and aren’t surprised with the situation. Although there is the exception of the maid, who had begged to be fired. Gregor is more concerned about the commonplace problems like getting in trouble at work. The other characters of the story see this as something gross and unlikely when it is in fact something that is impossible and pretty horrifying. They focus on adapting rather than trying to find a cure to bring their ‘beloved’ family member back. Gregor’s family has a limit to their sympathy. As soon as Gregor is no longer able to provide for his family, the devolution begins right away. The family gets more stressed as the family progresses. One of the sources of the stress is Gregor’s appearance. Grete is so repelled by the way Gregor looks that she can hardly stand being in the same room as him. Even Gregor’s mother is so horrified by the way Gregor turned out, she fainted at the sight of him. Gregor’s presence is never forgotten and it makes the family feel eerie and uncomfortable that they are living with him, while keeping an arm’s length away from Gregor. Ultimately, it is Grete, who showed the most sympathy for Gregor, who decides that they must rid of him.
Gregor’s life can be applied to real world scenarios as well. Sort of how when you throw away toys kids had when they were just infants or when you have old newspaper lying around that no longer serves a purpose because it has been outdated. Once you become useless to someone in their life or maybe even society itself, you are tossed aside and deemed worthless while everyone still co-exists with said person. Gregor provided income for his family and helped his father pay off debts he had while also planning to fund his sister’s study in music. Although he desired freedom and emancipation, he decided to do it for his family’s sake. But when he had turned into a bug, those desires were fulfilled but, now he was of no use to his family as he could not work in the physical state he was in. Finally, his own family decides to purge of Gregor’s existence. Not only for the fact that he had no use but also for the fact that even the sight of him disgusted anyone he came in contact with, thus embarrassment also came with Gregor’s presence.
Gregor did everything in his power to help out his family, even at the cost of his own wants. He wished for freedom and in fact got his wish, but in the worst way possible. In an irrational turn of events, Gregor turned into a bug and was rid of all his responsibilities. But eventually, his own family turns on him. The preposterousness of his transformation doesn’t even beg the question of “How do we turn him back?” or “Why did this happen?” in his family’s mind. Although Kafka’s art is so immensely ambivalent, that no single analysis can thoroughly comprehend it, this is one of the many point of views that comes to mind when having to analyze this text. Gregor’s physical manifestation composes a translation of his interior self to the external world, The Metamorphosis is a superb accomplishment of expressionism.
The Discrepancy of Power in Characters of The Metamorphosis
The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka expertly utilizes the power of language to demonstrate an inconsistency in the level of assigned power amongst the individual characters. In The Metamorphosis, the characters have varying levels of power in part due to their predicated societal gender roles. This is dictated through the great disparity between the language that is used to describe Grete and the actions she takes towards Gregor throughout the novella. Gregor’s relegated state is signified by the language that signifies him as Other.
The narrator’s word choice exemplifies how Gregor’s isolation crowns his metamorphosis. The descriptive words imply the subject is reduced to an object. The narrator states, “One Morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug” (Kafka 3). Gregor is separated from society even further due to the use of strong words such as monstrous, which help depict Gregor’s appearance as fear inducing, thereby further separating him from society. The subsequent word verminous implies Gregor’s despicable state. Towards the beginning of the sentence Gregor the reader is lead to believe Gregor Samsa was a person, however by the end he was relegated to a detestable, lowly bug. Gregor is introduced with a proper noun, giving him value as a human being; but his transition into a bug marginalizes him and reduces him to a worthless object. The narrator’s descriptive character introduction affirms Gregor’s disparate identity as Other. The narrator states, “All right, people did not understand his words any more, although they seemed clear enough to him, clearer than previously, perhaps because his ears had gotten used to them” (Kafka 17). This quote is effective in portraying Gregor as other and having him finally complete his transformation. It shows that Gregor had gotten used to the words that he speaks. Gregor is introduced as a bug out of nowhere but now he is quickly adapting to his new body. His ears have gotten used to his beetle words. The language used in these quotes help describe Gregor as other and bring attention to fundamental story elements.
Gregor finds difficulty in characterizing himself, he is not sure what to feel. The words used to describe Gregor often attribute him with inhuman traits further outlawing him. But Gregor is incapable of fully grasping what his transformation was entailing to him. The narrator states, “Was he an animal that music so seized him? For him it was as if the way to the unknown nourishment he craved was revealing itself to him” (Kafka 64). The word animal is used to further question what his current state of being was. Revealing to himself, helps portray how Gregor had been in constant search of himself throughout the text, trying to find purpose. He doesn’t know how he is supposed to feel in the novella and is having trouble characterizing himself. Gregor was questioning if he could possibly be an animal when music had still seemed to somehow captivate him. He was not familiar before with if music influenced animals. Grete playing the violin gained all of Gregor’s attention and distracted him from the frail state that he had been In.
Gregor’s work life was integral to his character and his inability to work greatly affected changed the direction and purpose of his life. Prior to his transformation Gregor was very happy with his accomplishments, especially his ability to provide entirely for his family, through honest man’s work. The narrator states, “he felt a great pride that he had been able to provide such a life in a beautiful apartment like this for his parents and his sister. But how would things go if now all tranquility, all prosperity, all contentment should come to a horrible end?” (Kafka 28). When Gregor underwent his transformation into a bug, he is initially concern with his inability to earn money and go to, this is because prior to his transformation Gregor was the sole bread winner for his family. Through Gregor’s job alone he was capable of providing an upper middle-class lifestyle for his family. However, now that Gregor was a bug, that was no longer an option and it is apparent that he feels bad he can no longer provide for him in the same capacity that he once had. This is significant because it is a clear indication of Gregor’s changing role in his familial hierarchy as a direct result of his transformation. He is no longer of providing such a life for his family, his role changes, and it quickly translates to being treated drastically different. The narrator states, “He was the boss’s minion, without backbone or intelligence” (Kafka 5). This quote is effective in describing part of Gregor’s assigned role in his work life and how he was never of any significance or held in a high regard. His boss saw him as no more than a stooge who of which would carry out any task until his death. Gregor was being worked to the bone and now that he could no longer work he was seen as little use to the characters of the story. His mere existence was taxing on his family emotionally and physically. The language in these quotes helps exemplify Gregor’s change in role in regards to how he could no longer work how he once had.
Grete changes more than any other character in the story, and in some ways is seen to undergo her own sense of metamorphosis. Though she is not seen to literally metamorphosize into a beetle as Gregor had, Grete’s role throughout the text, her attitude towards her brother, and her state of affairs all change over the course of the novella. The narrator’s choice in genders of the characters applies to their roles in the novella, however their roles are swapped from how they once had been. Though Gregor was once seen to be the caretaker of the family, upon his metamorphosis he could no longer even take care for himself. It is because of this that Grete feels greatly obligated to take care of her brother. Regardless of how much Gregor has once done to provide for everyone, Grete’s pity for Gregor slowly diminishes throughout the text. “‘Gregor, you …,’ cried out his sister with a raised fist and an urgent glare.” (Kafka 47). This was the first time someone was referencing Gregor directly since his transformation, and of great importance, especially because it was in a state of discontent. The phrase raised fist and an urgent glare helps set the tone of the quote and shows Grete’s growing resentment towards Gregor. This resentment grew to the point in which Grete, who once seemed to be the only one to care for Gregor, turned on him. “I will not utter my brother’s name in front of this monster, and thus I say only that we must try to get rid of it” (Kafka 67). This Quote is Integral to the story in the sense that it signifies when Grete had reached her breaking point and finally had enough of taking care of Gregor. His health had no sign of immediate improvement and he was draining the family of their sanity. Grete finally had enough of taking care of the ill Gregor and was ready to get rid of him in some capacity.
Gregor eventually seems to acknowledge that he is no longer thought of dearly by his family. With his final breath he makes his decision to leave them. The Narrator states “ In this business, his own thought that he had to disappear was, if possible, even more decisive than his sister’s” (Kafka 71). This is the end of Gregor, he had finally made the decision that it was best for him to leave his family. His family’s growing resentment was clear to Gregor and he was no longer interested in troubling them. Gregor’s use to his family had diminished, and now not only was he a bug, but a crippled one at that. He was too much a burden for his family to take up and had exhausted all the courtesy afforded to him from his sole caretaker, Grete. Once Grete was no longer interested in caring for Gregor it is as if Gregor felt obligated to leave in an attempt to restore balance to his family. “Then without willing it, his head sank all the way down, and from his nostrils flowed out weakly out his last breath “ (Kafka 71). Though not willing it directly, Gregor had generally accepted his fate up to this point. The phrase from his nostrils flowed out weakly out his last breath. Illustrates how ill Gregor had become. Gregor with time had eventually became very weak and was beyond saving. With realizing this, his last gift to his family was the gift of his death. His death was of great relief to his family, and they even seemed to quickly forget about it.
There is a great disparity between the language that is used to describe Grete and the actions she takes towards Gregor throughout the novella. It is due to many of the implications stated, such as Grete’s portrayal as a frail girl as well as her Inverted gender roles and her growing resentment towards Gregor. Grete’s futile rebellion reduces her to a sum of parts and is the primary focus throughout the novella. Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis reinforces the oppression of women in the household by highlighting the transformation of Grete, Gregor’s sister, from a generally passive domestic caretaker to a more masculine, controlling one. She is forced to break out of her previously assigned role in the household and with it becomes more assertive in nature. Gregor’s illness helps build Grete’s character and prepare her for taking up the role Gregor once had occupied. With Gregor’s metamorphosis and death her character shifts as well as her familial role. She Has taken up new responsibility and growth.
The Theme Of Family And Duty in The Metamorphosis
Life is not just a routine pathway to the next offer or decision that awaits a person. Each morning, people wake up thinking about how predictable their life may be. They can brush their teeth, get their hair done, put clothes on and get out of the house all by the same time every day, to get to the same place, every day. However, Franz Kafka, author of novella, “The Metamorphosis” and Peter Kuper, author of graphic novel, “The Metamorphosis”, gave a different view on life, as they developed the storyline of a person, Gregor Samsa, missing out on his daily routine one morning due to a strange bodily change of him becoming a cockroach. This threw off his every day routine of getting out of bed, cleaning up, and getting to work on time, as it was his obligation to do so. This in turn, upset him very much, and it shows his parents concern, as well. The theme of family and duty is a key way, to notice the apprehension the characters’ face, within the text and the graphic novel.
Family and duty goes a long way, in a household. The relationship between a family strengthens the cause of the family’s love. Kafka wrote, “If I didn’t have my parents to think about I’d have given in my notice a long time ago…” In comparison, Kuper stated, “Once I’ve gotten the money to pay off my parents’ debt to him- in five or six years at most- then I’ll cut myself free!” Both of the statements have the same meaning and hold the same value to the accompanying text. To add to that, both quotes stated the importance of paying off his parents’ debt. This can create a sense of duty towards Gregor specifically, because he seems to be the only one in the family with a stable job. With Gregor turning into such an awkward insect, it makes it harder for Gregor to work through his duties that withhold him. His family, too, depend on him to fulfill each request given through his job, so he can eventually finish the payments due from his family members. The insect Gregor morphed into, symbolizes his importance of life. Just as a cockroach, Gregor has jobs to keep up with family members to care for, but the realistic perception of a roach’s life is of little value to the rest of the world. Roaches are able to endure through millions of years of natural and nuclear causes, yet can die at the foot of a human. Similar to a roach, Gregor was able to uphold all of his problems and still he lost his meaning within his family, only because he was unable to succeed at fulfilling his families’ duties. At the foot of his boss, he figuratively died, by him being stepped on from someone superior to him, just as roaches to humans.
As aforementioned, Gregor was used to his routine of work, whether he enjoyed it or not. Noticed by many, the structure of both written and pictured sources correspond with the timing of the story. The focus of the articles given, were on Gregor trying to make it to his job on time to maintain his duty in his household and support his family, yet the authors allow the audience to grasp the idea that these minor events are happening over a long period of time. To clarify, each event within the text talks about something anybody could do within minutes. For instance, it took Gregor most of the story to get out of bed. In reality, this would take a person a minimal amount of minutes to do. The exaggeration of each event relates to both of the authors use of Kafkaesque writing. The amount of time used to depict the story through the graphic novel seemed to have gone by much faster, then when reading the novella. This only may be, due to the fact that the novella included more words. Because of this, reading it may have taken a longer time to comprehend, while the pictorial view may have been easier to process. Time is a big key point in this entire story. Gregor mentions multiple times throughout the novella and graphic novel, how he would have already been at work, had he not been morphed into a cockroach. When reading the stories, if the audience is not fully aware of the time of day it is, then it may seem like it is taking him extremely long periods of time to explain one thing, while in reality, trying to express a thought through an image or piece of writing can be difficult. Both Kafka and Kuper, do an excellent job at managing chronology of the story.
In conclusion, these different styles in writing impact the theme in multiple ways. Kuper’s use of the modernized text allows the audience to understand the meaning more easily, which also allows the reader to make thorough connections to the theme of both stories. His language is effective in expressing the same points as Kafka, while being able to have visuals along with the writings. The graphic novel, although not using all information from the original story, held a sufficient amount of text to support each depiction within the story. When Kafka states, “However hard he threw himself onto his right, he always rolled back to where he was. He must have tried it a hundred times, shut his eyes so that he wouldn’t have to look at the floundering legs, and only stopped when he began to feel a mild, dull pain there that he had never felt before.” In comparison, Kuper, within eight frames of the graphic novel, was able to depict Gregor tossing and turning to get on his right side. So, the two ways being shown allow the audience to receive the same emotion, but with more efficient evidence to maintain the same understanding. Family and duty are two parts of the theme of the story and were the most important topics of the story for the authors to address. Gregor’s duty in his family was to get to his job every day, but he is unable to succeed, one time. This just goes to show that, no matter how hard one may try to pursue goals in and outside of family matters, they may not always gain success. Both authors did an excellent job at expressing the theme of the text, through their different styles of writings.
Gregor Samsa Death: Was There Another Option?
I hate the summer. The heat, the sweat, the smells, and especially the bugs. You know what I’m talking about; you’re sitting around a bonfire with your friends, but you can’t enjoy it because of all the bugs flying around your face, biting at your ankles or crawling down your shirt. It honestly sucks, and it’s such an inconvenience when you’re trying to live your life and have fun. Though, what if, you knew one of those bugs personally? Perhaps, as personally as your brother? It’s quite a strange thought, am I right? Well, Franz Kafka actually tackles this what-if in his short story called Metamorphosis.
The story begins with traveling salesman and breadwinning, Gregor Samsa, waking up in bed to find that he has turned into a huge bug. After realizing he can’t hide it, his boss discovers him right before his family does. Instead of contacting authorities or seeking help like a mentally healthy family would, Gregor’s family dismisses him and doesn’t even speak to him. Initially, his sister Grete brings him scraps to eat, but eventually passes the job onto the cleaning lady. Though Gregor ultimately learns to accept his new body, his family can’t seem to accept him. His father starts to take Gregor’s place as head of the house, before the family is put into a severe financial situation. Along with his newfound manhood, Gregor’s father asserts himself by hitting Gregor, keeping Gregor’s mother from him, and throwing an apple into his shell, severely injuring him. On top of the abuse, after some time Gregor hears his sister say that they would be better without him, so he does what he thinks would be best for his family. The story ends with Gregor ending his life, and his family moving and talking about marrying Grete off. I believe that Gregor wouldn’t have killed himself if it wasn’t for his father, and that his family could have helped or prevented his death.
I will begin with Grete, because though I believe she pulled the final straw before Gregor decided to kill himself, I don’t believe she is at much fault as their father. After Gregor first metamorphizes, Grete begins to bring him dinner and milk. After realizing Gregor doesn’t like regular food anymore and would prefer to have scraps, she brings them to him and talks at him. In the beginning Grete didn’t want to cut her brother off, but the influence from her parents drove her to the point that she believed the family would be better off without him.
One reason I firmly believe that Gregor’s suicide could be blamed on his father is because he never even tried to help him. Shortly after learning about what Gregor has transformed into, instead of looking for help, he physically forced him back into his room. Gregor initially frightens his mother, and in response his father beings to threaten and chase him with a cane and rolled newspaper to his bedroom door, where he then has troubles fitting through it. Instead of helping Gregor, his father shoves him so hard he’s bleeding, and then “the door was banged to with the stick, and at last there was silence” (Kafka, 1404). As stated before, Gregor was the breadwinner, meaning that he was the man of the house. I believe that his father was disappointed in his son for failing the family, and he just wanted to shove him aside and forget that this had happened. I think that his father shoving him in isolation is a good metaphor for trying to forget about crappy things that happen, or just not dealing with them at all. The blood that is coming from Gregor can also represent the consequences of putting shitty things aside. Not only is this repulsive, this is such a cruel way to treat your child, regardless of whether or not he has turned into a giant bug overnight. I wish I could say this is the only example, but sadly for poor Gregor, there’s plenty more.
Gregor’s father seems to have a masculinity that he depends on, and he can’t have damaged. The reason I say this is because we’ve all met guys who have strong egos, and can’t have those egos hurt or it means they are, “less of a man”. This is the type of person I think of when I read about Gregor’s father. Example one of this would be when he keeps Gregor’s mother and sister from seeing Gregor, even though they want to. He is trying to take back control of his house, and he doesn’t want Gregor to get in the way of that or slowing him down. Another great example would have to be at the end of the story, when Gregor’s life starts to come to an end. Gregor’s father chased him down, and started to throw apples at him, until one became lodged up inside of him, nearly making him paralyzed. His family didn’t care, and his father seemed to be amused by Gregor’s pain and immobilization. I feel like as Gregor became more weak and disliked, the family loved and depended on the father more, which he soaked up like water.
In conclusion, I believe that Gregor Samsa didn’t deserve to die, and he definitely didn’t deserve all the terrible things that he had to go through. His family could have stopped his fate, but instead they encouraged and participated in it. I believe what Franz Kafka was trying to get us to understand in this story is that everyone has feelings, and everyone wants to be treated nicely. I believe he wanted us to walk away with the thought of to not judge a book by its cover, and to think before we act.
The Rapid Metamorphosis of the Mexican Government
The Mexican Revolution was a period in Mexico’s history where the entire political, economic, and social fabric of Mexico was thrust into rapid transformation. During this period, the principles that founded Mexico—the role of Amerindians in society, the power of the Church, isolation versus foreign imperialism, the role of heavy bureaucracies and hierarchies—were called into question by the Mexican people. Ideologies such as nationalism, neoliberalism, socialism, and anarchism seeped into the collective consciousness of the Mexican people, causing the push for political reform. Radicals and reformists like Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata, Venustiano Carranza, and Álvaro Obregón rose from the ashes of Porfirio Diaz’s and Victoriano Huerta’s rule.
Mexico’s volatile history of colonization, foreign occupation, imperialist domination, and revolution still affect its present. However, the three most influential developments that resulted from the revolution itself were the inclusion of Article 3 in the Constitution of 1917, the connection of Mexico to the United States, and formation of the National Revolutionary Party in 1929.
The inclusion of Article 3 in the Constitution of 1917 was one of the most influential developments that resulted from the Mexican revolution. The Constitution of 1917, specifically Article 3, mandated that education must be compulsory. Pre-school, primary, and secondary education were included in the compulsory education. In order to satisfy the Constitution of 1917 the Mexican government had to dedicate the single largest part of its budget to building schools for rural municipalities and hiring teachers.
The inclusion of this article allowed for José Vasconcelos, the head of the Department of Education from 1920-1924, to implement Communist Russian policies and practices in the Mexican education system. Within this period, 1000 rural schools were opened. Before 1900, less than 15% of the Mexican population was literate. As a result of Article 3, by 1940 50% of the population was literate.
The rise in literacy in Mexico, and in any country for that matter, is an important development because literacy is a good measure of education for a country. As the population becomes more literate, more people will pursue higher education and advanced careers, allowing Mexico to have a larger pool of professionals to pull from. The advancement of an educated populace in Mexico meant a larger democratic base and a more robust economic system.
The second most influential development that resulted from the Mexican Revolution was the rekindling of a relationship between Mexico and the United States. Since the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and skirmishes along the Mexico-U.S. border to the occupation of Veracruz, the relationship between Mexico and the United States has always been strained. Franklin Roosevelt implemented his Good Neighbor policy in which he pledged not to intervene in the affairs of Latin American countries.
Out of this newfound relationship came NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. The North American Free Trade Agreement, though there are contentions over the imperialist nature of the agreement, brought Mexico into the global trade market by linking it to the two largest powers in the Western Hemisphere, the United Sates and Canada. Many scholars have linked NAFTA with increasing the flow of illicit drugs from Mexico to the United States. Nonetheless, NAFT encouraged free and open economic between these two bordering states.
Finally, the formation of the National Revolutionary Party (PNR) in 1929 by Plutarco Elías Calles was one of the most influential developments that resulted from the Mexican Revolution. Prior to the formation of PNR, political parties did not have much political influence. They functioned more like clubs and interests groups than political parties. Take the Anti-Reelectionist Party formed by Francisco I. Madero as an example. This party was formed in strict opposition to Porfirio’s Díaz’s policies and his three decades of political control that, for some, constituted an authoritarian dictatorship. In contrast, PRN (now renamed the Institutional Revolutionary Party) was able to secure Mexico’s economic position after the Great Depression and the collapse of the banks by modeling this party after the Communist Party in Russia and the National Fascist Party in Italy. The formation of PRN allowed Mexico to execute a higher level of democratic freedom promised to the Mexican people in the Constitution of 1857 and 1917.
From the American perspective, Mexico’s history was more rich and complex than one can imagine and this was only a cursory course. Classes like this should be followed up the following semester with an investigation of the countries modern history. It was thought provoking to trace the beginning of Mexico from its colonization to how Mexico is faring today with issues like domestic security, economic stability, and social justice issues like reproductive rights and rural education. When studying the events in Mexico’s history, the question arises: what causes one nation to succeed while others fail? Adam Smith relates this gap to causes such as the division of labor and the early development of free markets. Jared Diamond chalks it up to guns, germs, and steel. After taking this class, it is obvious that there are too many variables that contribute to a nation’s success or failure.
The Meaning of the Metamorphosis from the Existentialist’s Point of View
The Oxford Advanced Learner’s dictionary defines existentialism, in part, as “a philosophical theory that…emphasizes the existence of the individual person… determining their own development through acts of the will.” Existentialist work stresses the importance of the individual often denying the “existence of objective values.” Existentialism is focused on choice, as well as the idea that people must exist before they can have any values. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka uses Gregor Samsa’s struggle against existentialist principles, as well as the consequences surrounding Gregor’s actions against the existentialist principles to exhibit a chiefly existentialist theme.
Jean-Paul Sartre was the pioneering philosopher in the existentialist movement who claimed that “existence preceded essence” and rejected the ideas of older philosophers that humans had a set nature. Human essence refers to “…ideas that [are] eternal and unchanging,” such as those a person could obtain from following a religion. Aristotle believed the essence of humanity was reason, and that reason was what separated humans from animals (Fiero, 70). Sartre argued that humans have no predisposition to any sort of being, and existence in a purely physical manner comes first in human priorities. In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow theorized that humans have a need-based set of priorities, this theory is commonly referred to as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This hierarchy described physiological needs, such as those for food, water and basic bodily functions as being the most important. The theory also states that needs further up in the hierarchy, for example friendships and familial relationships, cannot be met until the levels in the hierarchy below these needs are met (Noltemeyer, 1). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is existentialist in nature because humans must meet physical needs in order to exist, before being able to have any sort of philosophy, like a religion, or essence. In The Metamorphosis, Gregor violates Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs after his transformation, therefore violating existentialist principles.
Gregor Samsa’s attitude about going to work after his transformation is an example of existentialism because of the consequences that result when he fights the “existence before essence” concept of existentialism. When confronted with his transformation, Gregor immediately attempts to go back to work, despite being transformed into a “monstrous vermin” (Kafka, 1). Instead of trusting his nature and ensuring his needs as a living being, which are now different from the needs Gregor had before his transformation, are met; Gregor attempts to go to work out of obligation to his family member’s needs. Gregor is violating Maslow’s theory of the hierarchy of needs, and attempting to fulfill the love and belonging needs that are satisfied when he supports his family before filling his own physiological needs. These actions go directly against the nature of existentialism, and therefore cause Gregor physical harm and emotional distress (18, 19). Due to the consequences of violating the nature of existentialism, The Metamorphosis can be classified as existentialist because when Gregor’s actions violate the principles of existentialism, the consequences are negative.
Existentialism focuses on choice as one of the defining aspects of human existence. The “freedom to choose” was at the heart of human existence and was what made people different from other animals. Humans alone are responsible for their choices, as well as the consequences surrounding these choices. Sartre believed that almost all choices have more than one option and always have more than one outcome to a situation. He also claimed that man’s choices always led to negativity because hindsight gives humans the ability to see the possible outcomes from choices they did not make. Sartre believed that to blame an outside source for a negative consequence from one’s actions, or to claim the choice made was the only choice available is to act in “bad faith” and is “a form of self-deception and inauthenticity” Sartre also claimed that humans natural anxiety about these choices and that every choice made was reflection of humanity as a whole (Fiero, 70). The existentialist principles of choice and “existence before essence” coincide with each other in that the choices made by humans begin to give way to the essences that humans do not have intrinsically. These choices not only give way to the essence of a person, but define what essence they possess. In The Metamorposis, Gregor attempts to violate the coupling of these existentialist principals and have an “essence” before choosing to act one way or another.
Gregor’s situation before his transformation in The Metamorphosis is an example of existentialism because Gregor’s choice to support his family instead of doing what he wishes results in negative consequences he can only see after his choice has been made. Gregor’s family does not work and relies solely on him to pay the family debt (Kafka, 4). The other members of Gregor’s family have the potential to work, yet none do and Gregor elects to work to support his family members (Cite). Only obligation to fulfill his family’s needs, and therefore his interpersonal needs, compel Gregor to work. Although the argument may be made that Gregor supports his family because he has to, Gregor actually supports his family because he chooses to. This choice leads to Gregor’s pain. Not only is Gregor in physical pain from the abuse done unto him by his family, his physiology is in pain as well. Gregor stops leaving his room, does not eat and spends his days in agony (43). The Metamorphosis is existentialist because Gregor’s choice to support to his family ultimately leads to negative consequences, and while a traditional manner of thinking would call Gregor’s support of his family something he must do, it is actually something he chooses to do, therefore suffering from the outcome. When Gregor goes against another existentialist principle, the consequences are negative.
Existentialism places the most power in the individual, and The Metamorphosis is an existentialist work because it exhibits how lack of individualism leads to demise. Gregor loses his individuality after his transformation. He is no longer able to do the things he loves to do, or support his family. At the beginning of the story, Gregor has framed a picture of an advertisement with a pretty girl in a home-made frame, something he enjoys doing (1). Gregor does not get to do much, but his wood cutting hobby is something he enjoys. Gregor’s sole purpose in life is to make enough money to support his family and pay off their debt (4). This compulsion makes Gregor an individual and gives his life meaning. When Gregor is unable to work or do any of the activities he could do before his transformation, he loses what makes him a person. Upon discovering Gregor’s dead body, the Samsa’s maid exclaims “Come and have a look! It’s croaked; it’s lying there dead as a doornail” (52). She does not refer to Gregor as “he,” but rather as “it,” fully robbing Gregor of his humanity. Gregor dies due to the loss of his individuality. He is no longer a human being in a psychological sense, as well as physical. Once his former passions and purpose are lost, Gregor is not an individual, and therefore dies after being reduced to something less than human. The events that lead to Gregor’s loss of individuality and subsequent death are existentialist in nature. Gregor dies when he loses the chief idea of existentialism, individuality.
Jo Bogaerts once wrote “French existentialism was among the first intellectual movements to bring Kafka critical renown as well as widespread popularity…” (Bogarets, 69). It can be concluded that Kafka’s popularity with French existentialists is due to his work, The Metamorphosis, an example of existentialist literature. Jean-Paul Sartre credited Kafka as wanting to “describe the human condition” (70). Kafka achieves an existentialist this existentialist description of the human condition in The Metamorphosis. By showing how the rejection of existentialist principles, including the focus on the individual, choices, and the idea that one must exists before one can have true values, lead to negative consequences, Kafka champions an existentialist cause.
Gregor’s Transitions Described in Metamorphosis
Metamorphosis begins with Gregor, a travelling salesman, waking up one morning before he has to report to his miserable job, as a beetle. Throughout the short story, Franz Kafka, the author, showcases the many changes that occur from the day Gregor wakes up as a bug, to his unfortunate deterioration, and eventually his somber death. His family, which includes Grete, his sister, and his mother and father, Mr. and Mrs. Samsa, all go through immense transformations, not only individually, but with their relationships with one another. The title of Metamorphosis is the titular word for the changes which occur in not only the most obvious of them all, Gregor, but of all the underlying layers of the rest of the family.
“One morning, upon awakening from agitated dreams, Gregor Samsa found himself, in his bed, transformed into a monstrous vermin,” (1999). With this genuinely powerful opening line, Kafka lays out the entire premise of the short story. Gregor wakes up turned into a bug. There is no backstory, nor anything about Gregor and his life in real time before this transformation occurs. Other than what is told throughout the remainder of the story, we know nothing of how Gregor, or his family, lived.
The most obvious connection with the title of Metamorphosis is Gregor’s change from human to bug. Of course, turning into a bug is something that is implausible to ever happen in real life. This results in him having human like thoughts in an insect body. “True, the others no longer understood what he said even though it sounded clear enough to him, clearer than before, perhaps because his ears had gotten used to it,” (2005). Upon turning into a bug, he is now no longer able to communicate with anyone. What sounds fine to him, in his head, cannot be understood by his family, or any human for that matter. He also, has trouble getting out of bed and getting to the door, once his supervisor comes to check up on why he missed his train for work. “…‘I absolutely must be out of bed completely before the clock strikes seven-fifteen,’” (2002) Gregor says. He doesn’t even think about his current state as a bug, but is more worried about his absence from work, and trying to catch the next train. That would be entirely impossible in his new body, and anyway in normal circumstances, if someone was to turn into a bug, their reaction should be a lot different than what Gregor’s was. He has trouble adjusting to his new physical state, with his little legs and his broad appearance. It is never noted exactly just how big Gregor is, because normally bug’s are quite small. But, having turned from human into bug, it makes sense for him to be large and in proportion to his previous state. This can also be proved when he gets stuck between a doorway and his father shoves him in.
In addition to the physical change that Gregor goes through, he goes through a mental change as well. Gregor’s physical metamorphosis is a metaphor for his mental metamorphosis of a man who is alienated from his family and society. There is the change of Gregor during the time he started the job as the travelling salesman and became enslaved to his family, about 5 years prior to his metamorphosis, to the glimpse we see of his time in the army as a young man. “On the wall directly opposite hung a photograph of Gregor from his army days in a lieutenant’s uniform, his hand on his sword, a carefree smile on his lips, demanding respect for his bearing and rank,” (2007). This one line shows how Gregor was at one time free from his dismal existence, brandishing a carefree smile, instead. Also he was not just a colonel, but a lieutenant, and demanded respect for the rank he held. The choice of words Kafka uses are very deliberately picked, I believe, because they do a fantastic job of showing a complete juxtaposition of Gregor as we now know him. He no longer demands respect, instead he is indebted to his parents and sister, by providing monetarily. He no longer wears a carefree smile, instead miserable and enslaved by his job that he has not had a day off of in five years. Everything Gregor once was, from this one description of a picture hanging on his wall, is everything Gregor no longer is. He supported his family because his parents were old and his sister young, but really when given the need, they were perfectly able of supporting themselves, and even happier that way. “… their jobs were all exceedingly advantageous and also promising” (2030). Did the family really need Gregor to squander his life away for them, or were they just using him as their crutch, to not have to work. But, when he turns into a vermin, it’s easy for them to justify excluding him from the inner-circle, and eventually rationalizing his unimportance to them.
Grete, Gregor’s young sister, is the only one out his family who can bear to even be in the mere vicinity of Gregor, in his new state. She starts off as more sympathetic, and becomes the only one who feeds him, at the very least. “For there stood a bowl full of fresh milk with tiny slices of white bread floating in it,” (2010). This shows that Grete cared enough to put out Gregor’s favorite food, leaving it there for him once he wakes up. Even something so small, is significant when the mother cannot stand the sight of him, resulting in her fainting, and the father is extremely violent towards him. She even went so far as to bring, “… him a whole array of food, all spread out on an old newspaper,” (2011). If someone did not care about a person at all, they would never do this for them, especially if it was so easy to do the opposite. However, as the story goes on she becomes increasingly repelled by Gregor. She is the one who initiates the idea that enough is enough, and that the monstrosity that his holed up in his room, is no longer Gregor. “‘You simply have to try and get rid of the idea that it is Gregor. Our real misfortune is that we believed it for such a long time. Just how can that possibly be Gregor…?” (2027). Referring to Gregor, as “it” shows that she does not view Gregor as human anymore, but as something disposable and ruining their lives. “We must try to get rid of it. We have done everything humanly possible to look after it…” (2026). She no longer has any sympathies or grief over letting Gregor die. This change that she goes through, is not really explained from her point of view, and we do not get much of a glimpse of her mindset. It seems more for her parents, after seeing her mother and fathers distress. “… the door was hastily slammed, bolted, and locked,” (2027-2028). The multiple descriptions Kafka uses to describe the last and final moment that will conclusively lead to Gregor’s death, shows a finality of the family’s irreversible decision. For the family, there is no going back from this. The door is locked, and they do not care about what happens to “it” in the room.
The next morning, Gregor, “held on long enough to glimpse the start of the overall brightening outside… then his head involuntarily sank… and his final breath came feebly from his nostrils,” (2028). Once again, Kafka writes such a powerful end to Gregor’s death, with his description of his final moments. The fact that Gregor held on to catch a peek of the sunshine is such a somber thought for someone who is dying. Sunshine corresponds to happiness and joy, while death is the complete opposite. He sees his last glimpse of the outside world, a ray of light, and then sinks into death, and darkness.
The Significance of Setting in Naguib Mahfouz’s “Midaq Alley” and Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”
Naguib Mahfouz and Franz Kafka both use setting as an important literary feature in their respective works, Midaq Alley and The Metamorphosis. Mahfouz’s Midaq Alley takes place in the back streets of Cairo, Egypt during the Second World War, specifically in Midaq Alley. The alley is home to various inhabitants, including the heroine, Hamida, who desperately seeks to escape the monotony of life in the alley. The Metamorphosis, on the other hand, depicts a middle-class family, the Samsas, living in an apartment in Germany near the start of the First World War. The protagonist, Gregor, transforms into an insect at the start of the novella and is left confined to his bedroom. Gregor’s bedroom serves as a reflection of his dehumanizing transformation, and it becomes his coffin when he perishes at the end of the novella. In their works, both Mahfouz and Kafka present protagonists imprisoned by their settings, who, in their attempts to escape, exhibit the true cost of captivity.
Gregor’s bedroom, the major setting of The Metamorphosis, physically imprisons Gregor from the start of the novella. His transformation into an insect creates obstacles for him; for example, Kafka spends much of the exposition of the novella describing Gregor’s attempts to get off of the bed. Gregor’s lack of freedom in his apartment is used as a reflection of his debilitating transformation. Gregor leaves the bedroom to try to explain to the Deputy Director why he was not at work that morning, and, in doing so, feels immediately free: “This had hardly happened, when for the first time that morning he felt a sense of physical well-being. […] Suddenly, he believed that the ultimate relief of all his suffering was at hand” (Kafka, 620). However, Gregor’s father quickly forces him back into his bedroom, where he stays for most of the novella. Within the apartment, the bedroom becomes Gregor’s place of exile. He is never allowed out, and he spends most of his time staring out of the window, if “only in some kind of nostalgia for the feeling of freedom he had previously found in looking out the window” (626). Furthermore, the bedroom not only confines Gregor, but also taints his view of the world around him: “If he had not known very well that he lived in the quiet, but distinctly urban Charlotte Street, he could have believed that he looked out of his window into a desert in which the gray sky and the gray earth merged indistinguishably” (626).
While the bedroom physically imprisons Gregor in The Metamorphosis, Midaq Alley culturally imprisons Hamida in Midaq Alley. Midaq Alley is rich in Eastern culture but at odds with the more progressive aspects of an Egypt emerging into Western society. Hamida has a desire to leave the alley, and her strong ambition lies in her dreams of wealth and success. While she grew up and resides in Midaq Alley, she takes daily walks down Mousky Street both to test the limits of her confinement and to admire those who are freer than she. Hamida dreams of life outside the alley, and yet her vague ambitions are “limited to her familiar world, which [ends] at Queen Farida Square. She [knows] nothing of life beyond it” (40). She envies the Egyptian girls that she meets on her daily walks, who, “taking advantage of wartime employment opportunities, [ignore] custom and tradition and now [work] in public places just like the Jewish women” (40). Hamida’s imprisonment is also presented in her reluctant engagement to Abbas, the young barber who prefers Midaq Alley “to any place in the whole world” (87). As an emblem of the alley’s culture and morals, Abbas envisions a future in which he and Hamida live together in the alley as man and wife, a vision not shared by Hamida. Abbas discusses his dreams with her, saying, “‘We will be the happiest two in the alley,’” to which Hamida replies with a scowl, “‘Midaq Alley!’” (87). Hamida believes in a future outside of the alley and is “aware of the great gulf between this humble young man and her own greedy ambitions” (82). Despite her apathy towards Abbas, she agrees to marry him, thinking that she cannot ask for anyone better in the alley. Hamida puts her dreams on hold for her marriage to Abbas, and thus she incarcerates herself even further in the prison of Midaq Alley.
Gregor and Hamida both make attempts to escape in The Metamorphosis and Midaq Alley, although to varying degrees of success. Gregor leaves his bedroom twice after his initial foray into the living room at the start of the novella, and both departures contribute to his death. Gregor first emerges when trying to prevent the removal of the furniture from his room, seeing it as a blow to his humanity: “Did he really want to let them transform the warm room… into a cave?” (628). His beleaguered sister locks him out of the room, and his father comes home and embeds an apple deep in Gregor’s back, forcing him back into his bedroom. Gregor’s final attempt at escape comes near the end of the novella. When Gregor’s family rents a room to three lodgers, Gregor’s bedroom becomes a receptacle for useless trash, a reflection of the Samsa family’s gradual abandonment of Gregor and his lowered status in the apartment. After long periods of starvation, Gregor is drawn out of the room by his sister’s violin playing, which guides him “to the sustenance he had unknowingly desired” — a signal that he can no longer endure the starvation in his bedroom (636). While listening to the music of the violin, he begins to dream of a time when his sister “would not be forced, but would rather stay with him willingly” in his bedroom, expressing his hope that his bedroom can once again become a place of tranquility (636). However, these dreams are crushed when the lodgers discover him on the dining room floor and exit in fury. In the face of his family’s anguish, Gregor returns to his bedroom, and, after overhearing a conversation in which his sister doubts his status as a human being, he perishes.
In Midaq Alley, Hamida escapes the alley through the allure of the pimp, Ibrahim Faraj. Faraj represents, to Hamida, everything which the alley is not able to provide; he is “her life, her hope, her strength, and her happiness” (200). Through him, she is able to fully realize how Midaq Alley has imprisoned her: “Was there any other way of slipping the noose of the past except with this man who had lighted such a fire within her?” (200-201). In the realization of her dreams, she not only escapes the physical setting of Midaq Alley (by beginning her life in Faraj’s apartment), but she sheds her cultural shackles as well. Faraj bestows Hamida with everything she could want, and she becomes extravagantly beautiful and wealthy. This dramatic transformation, however, causes her spiritual self to die, as symbolized by her name change to “Titi” upon her arrival at Faraj’s apartment. Faraj explains, “‘That’s your new name. Keep it and forget Hamida, for she has ceased to exist!’” (216). While Faraj’s apartment provides Hamida with everything she previously wished for, Faraj’s mistreatment of her maims her soul. Hamida never returns to the alley, both physically and spiritually; she becomes a completely changed person, with little hope of returning to the values and ideals set upon her by the alley that she had so despised for most of her life.
The settings of both The Metamorphosis and Midaq Alley are the sources of imprisonment for the protagonists, Gregor and Hamida. Gregor’s bedroom physically sets him apart from his cherished family and taints his view of the rest of the world, while Midaq Alley imposes traditional Eastern values on a young, ambitious Hamida. Gregor’s bedroom starts as his sanctuary but becomes his prison; and although he attempts to leave, he realizes in the end that, just as he used to fit a proper place in society, so does he fit a proper place in the apartment. His final return to the bedroom represents an ultimate understanding of his imprisonment and of the futility of his attempts to escape. In a similar fashion, Hamida leaves the restrictions of Midaq Alley and, in doing so, becomes a completely different person — unrecognizable to herself afterwards. However, unlike Gregor, she does not return to her prison in a moment of final comprehension. In the final chapter of Midaq Alley, Mahfouz reveals that Hamida has moved far away from the alley in an effort to rebuild her life. She is successful in leaving Midaq Alley, but Mahfouz clearly presents the cost of leaving, suggesting that the old Hamida is metaphorically dead. Through the authors’ use of setting, Gregor’s bedroom and Midaq Alley impose restraints upon the dreams of Gregor and Hamida. Those restraints, by their very nature, express the dominance of the setting over the characters’ lives and enforce the fatal penalty of attempts at escape.
Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. Trans. Alexis Walker. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007.
Mahfouz, Naguib. Midaq Alley. Trans. Trevor Le Gassick. New York: Anchor Books, 1992.
The Other Side of Happiness
One thing that Shusaku Endo’s Silence and Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis have in common is the aftertaste they leave in the reader’s intellectual palate. Unlike most authors, Endo and Kafka refuse to oblige the readers with a satisfying happy ending, opting instead for a less predictable but more dramatic finale. Despite the innocence of the central characters, both stories reach their zenith in the downfall of those characters: Rodrigues ends up a prisoner and an apostate, while Gregor dies alone in his room without ever regaining his humanity. In both books, the powerful though unhappy ending is balanced by a hopeful note that the character’s downfall has contributed to a happy ending in another place and time. The hopeful addition is important in emphasizing the moral message in each story, which lies in how the central characters are able to find gratification in their defeat.
The transformations of the characters in each work culminate in their respective downfalls, which come with other positive repercussions for themselves. In Silence, Rodrigues’ downfall is epitomized in his new identity as an apostate and a prisoner. However, the positive repercussion of Rodrigues’ apostasy is his amplified understanding of God’s character. As he becomes aware of his spiritual filthiness, Rodrigues becomes ever more grateful of God’s forgiveness and His presence as the only remaining comfort in his life. Rodrigues realizes the presence of God who was with Him the whole time, who told him that “it was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross” (171). His is a God who comes down to be condemned so that His people would not have to be condemned for the sins they commit in their weak and limited flesh. This alternative side of the power struggle is emphasized when Inoue confidently reinstates his victory over Christianity, to which Rodrigues objects, saying, “No, no. […] My struggle was with Christianity in my own heart” (187). Thus, Endo implies that even though Rodrigues’ downfall is apparent in his power struggle against the Japanese, in a more positive light, he has won the faith struggle inside of his own heart through the strengthening of his relationship with God.
In The Metamorphosis, Gregor’s downfall lies in his increasing isolation from humanity and his ultimate death. However, on the other hand, Gregor is able to escape his existentialist ennui through his death. This is evident in the description of Gregor’s train of thought as he lay dying. The narrator describes:
He remembered his family with deep feeling and love. […] He remained in this state of empty and peaceful reflection until the clock struck three o’clock in the morning. […] Then without willing it, […] from his nostrils flowed out weakly his last breath. (85)
This passage lies in stark contrast with his feelings in the rest of the book, such as his frustration at having to get out of bed in the morning or his trepidation at Mr. Samsa’s increasingly negative sentiments. For the first time, he feels peaceful and content. Thus, alternatively, the positive repercussion from Gregor’s death is his own victory over the stagnancy of life.
The downfall of the characters also brings positive repercussions to the people around them. In Silence, even though Rodrigues is forever scandalized and imprisoned as an apostate, he imparts his newfound knowledge about salvation to Kichijiro. He consoles Kichijiro’s weakness by saying:
There are neither the strong nor the weak. Can anyone say that the weak do not suffer more than the strong? […] Since in this country there is now no one else to hear your confession, I will do it. […] Go in peace! (191)
Rodrigues relieves Kichijiro’s burden by indirectly noting the lesson that he himself learned through his apostasy: namely, that in their suffering, God Himself had suffered before them and with them. In the end, Kichijiro goes off into the world with hope that he may learn from Rodrigues’ mistakes and lead a faithful life. Similarly, in The Metamorphosis, despite the melancholy of Gregor’s death, that very event allows the Samsa family to move on toward their bright future. Prior to this, Gregor sacrifices his time and efforts for his family by being the breadwinner. However, through his metamorphosis, that sacrifice is amplified. Without Gregor’s financial support, the family is forced to take on their own jobs, which turn out to be a good idea. Gregor’s death is the catalyst that allows the family to not be caged in their comfortable nest, but to keep moving toward a brighter future. The narrator describes how they talked “about future prospects, and they discovered that on closer observations these were not at all bad” (89). This fact is something that they would never risk and discover otherwise unless Gregor’s metamorphosis occurred to break them free. The hopefulness of the situation is particularly highlighted through Grete; the narrator especially describes how “the daughter first lifted herself up and stretched her young body” (90). Kafka sets up Gregor’s death while informing the readers that it allowed for these positive changes to occur.
The hope that presents itself after the downfall of the characters is explored by the authors through the spiritual and natural settings. In both books, the setting changes during the falling action and denouement of the plot. In Silence, Rodrigues drinks in the atmosphere of Japan outside of his window as he sits in captivity. The passage that describes this scene does so with severe melancholy:
His only consolation was to lean against the window and watch the people going to and fro. In the morning, women with boxes of vegetables on their heads would pass by. […] In the evening, bonzes ringing their bells would pass down the slope. He would stare at this scenery of Japan, drinking in every detail. (174)
This passage describes the bucolic and peaceful scenery enjoyed by the Japanese, including the Japanese in the pit that Rodrigues saved by apostatizing. As an ironic contrast, Rodrigues himself is not able to take part in such beauty and is confined to his prison. However, this contrast also serves to highlight the balance between the hopelessness of Rodrigues’ situation and the hopefulness that resulted from his sacrifice. Likewise, in The Metamorphosis after Gregor’s death, the setting of the book dramatically changes. It becomes lighter and more serene, as can be seen from the serenity of the family as they embraced on the morning of Gregor’s death, or how “the car in which they were sitting by themselves was totally engulfed by the warm sun” (89) as they talked to each other about their future. The hopefulness of the situation of the other characters such as Kichijiro and the Samsa family is saturated in contrast with the hopelessness of the central characters. Thus, the two stark images enhance and deepen the balance between despondency and optimism.
The balance created by the bittersweet endings of these books is significant because it allows the authors to fit a hopeful moral message that balances the bleakness of the endings. The outcomes of the conflicts in the stories determine the moral messages conveyed to the readers. Because in both cases, the outcome of the conflict is the demise of the central character, both Endo and Kafka would have a difficult time sending positive messages in negative situations. Thus, the hopeful episodes of the secondary characters allow the authors to impart didactic messages. This stops both books from being a series of miserable events, instead making them into stories that can advise and teach the readers. This balance is evident in both books. Through the hopefulness presented in Silence when Rodrigues acknowledges the hope he has in Christ and imparts that hope to Kichijiro, Endo successfully emphasizes the moral message about God’s amazing grace and forgiveness to even the most vile of sinners. Through the hopefulness presented in The Metamorphosis when the family happily moves on with their lives after Gregor’s transformation, Kafka is able to finalize the meaning of Gregor’s downward spiral as a selfless and unsung sacrifice to allow for a positive metamorphosis in his family.
The two authors have sacrificed conventionality, comfort, and the readers’ good nights’ sleep to deliver the books’ emotionally powerful endings. Overall, Endo and Kafka have gone to great lengths in order to be able to pack more meaning into the stories they spun. However, the grotesqueness of the situations is balanced with a hopeful note to show the readers that their favorite characters did not perish in vain. Thus, through the hope that they give, both stories are able to deliver an ever more powerful moral message straight into the people’s hearts.
Endo, Shusaku. Silence. Taplinger Publishing: New Jersey.
Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. Walking Lion Press: Utah.