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Books

Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis As A Semitic Allegory

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

For thousands of years, the Jewish people were kicked around and persecuted for their beliefs; constantly ordered and expelled out of kingdoms, forced to convert to Catholicism, and had their land conquered or face execution. Alienated wherever they went; made into scapegoats so that people had someone to blame for their misfortunes. Essentially treated and stereotyped as Ungeziefer (bugs) and insects of society. Gregor Samsa, the protagonist in The Metamorphosis by Jewish author Franz Kafka & a travelling salesman who sold himself, hates job but continues to work to pay off his father’s debts. One day, he turns into a bug and his family alienates him to his room; treated like a beggar in his own house and his family constantly blamed their misfortunes on him. When Gregor died, his family felt the same relief a European monarch did having kicked out his country’s Jewish population. Gregor Samsa represents the Jewish people; The Metamorphosis symbolizes an allegory representing the struggles and alienation of the Jewish people.

In 1492, as Columbus sailed the ocean blue, Spain kicked out the Muslim and the Jew. Upon discovery of his metamorphosis & alienation by his family, Gregor ‘was left completely on his own” in his room. Whenever he would try to leave, his family would shoo him back inside and slam the door on him. Franz Kafka uses Gregor Samsa to symbolize the Jewish people as they both became completely exiled & alienated from society and treated as less than human. similar to the exile of Napoleon Bonaparte, exiled in the sense that Gregor laid imprisoned in his room and removed from the rest of society. Like Gregor, the Jews were constantly exiled from Europe. Jewish expulsion from society stemmed from the fact that Christians felt that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus Christ. The Jews became frequently massacred and exiled from various countries with notable exiles from Rome (70), Judea (135), Egypt (415), Byzantine Empire (East Roman Empire – 629), Middle East (700), France (1182), Italy (1288), England (1290), Hungary (1360), Switzerland (1392), Austria (1421), Spain (1492), Portugal (1496), Holy Roman Empire (1593), and Russia (1791). The examples above only contain the most significant out of the dozens of examples. In 1492, the introduction example, the Spanish Inquisition forced all of Spain’s Jews to either convert to Catholicism, leave the country or face death. Gregor and the Jewish populations of Europe were forcefully exiled from society and kept away to relieve the stress and burden others felt the Jews placed on them. Franz Kafka used Gregor to symbolize the Jewish people and how they too faced exile from society. Gregor woke up one day and suddenly everyone turned against him. The tale of the Spanish Conversos matches Gregors. The Conversos, Catholic Spanish citizens whose grandfathers/great-grandfathers converted from Judaism, one day woke up to find out the King had ordered them out of Spain for simply having Jewish blood and allegedly faking their Catholicism. Gregor and the Jews were treated as less than humans. Gregor was treated as a beggar in his own home; shown from the scene when Grete brings in food she thinks Gregor will like; such foods include delicacies such as “congealed white sauce…half rotten vegetables… inedible piece of cheese… old newspaper,” (Kafka 18) typical foods any average human would eat. Along with that, his family stopped referring to Gregor as “he” or “him” but rather using “it”. The new house maid started poking Gregor with a broom to confirm if died or not, something that no one would do to a human. The Jews were often enslaved (not similar to American slavery, slavery in Europe featured far less cruelty) and labeled as the Ungeziefer of society, a term Hitler used often when referring to the Jewish population. Even Martin Luther, the leader and spark of the Protestant Reformation, wrote a book advocating violence against the Jews and compared them to swine and devils. Kafka uses Gregor as a stand-in for the Jewish people and to show the effects that dehumanization can bring. Not just exiled from society, Gregor also became alienated from his own family. He used to lead as the head and breadwinner of the family; but now, when his family has a meeting they always make sure to “close [his] door” (Kafka 31). Gregor has to resort to listening through the wall. Apart from that, his sister, the only one who helps Gregor at first, quickly changed her attitude about Gregor in part 3. World War II not the first example of Jewish alienation from society. Stemming from the year 807 in the Abbasid Caliphate (present day Iran), Jews became forced to wear attire that would separate themselves from the rest of the community. In 1555, Pope Paul IV established a ghetto system to keep Jewish populations away from the rest. Jews became forced to wear armbands and not permitted outside the Ghettos. This situation seems very familiar to the events predating the Holocaust. Kafka symbolizes the alienation and separation of the Jewish people with Gregor. Gregor Samsa morphed into a bug one night and his world flipped upside down. As a result, he became exiled from society, treated as less than human and alienated from his family. The author Franz Kafka, also Jewish, uses Gregor to symbolize the treatment of the Jewish people throughout Europe.

When a situation turns into a mess, human nature tends to look for scapegoats. Someone to point figures at and blame for all their problems. Whether the situation involves a President blaming a former President for his administration’s downfalls or someone simply accusing the wind of knocking over their mom’s vase, humans tend to shift fault of their own to avoid damages to themselves. Gregor, just like the Jews, became scapegoated by his family and blamed for all his family’s problems; regardless of Gregor’s innocence of guilt. His family blamed him for turning into an insect just like how the Jews received blamed for their Jewish upbringing or Jewish family history. Gregor’s family essentially blames the their financial woes on Gregor despite the fact he used to bread-win for them. His family blames him so much that he now feels guilty and believes the fault lies with him that “whenever the need for earning money was mentioned Gregor let go his hold on the door and threw himself down on the cool leather sofa beside it, he felt so hot with shame and grief” (Kafka 37). After World War 1, Germany received a huge amount of reparations (compensation for war damage paid by a defeated state). These reparations and the Great Depression destroyed Germany’s economy, left the country poor and placed Germans in poverty. This lead to the rise of a man, the reader may recognize him, a fellow named Adolf Hitler. Hitler played into the hearts of human nature and scapegoated the Jews, blaming them for Germany’s financial situation; he claimed that the blame does not fall on the brave German soldiers, but falls on the “stab-in-the-back” Jews on the home front. Even though the Holocaust occurred after Kafka’s time, Gregor greatly resembles the way the Jews became economic scapegoats for World War I. In part 2, when Gregor’s mom sees Gregor she immediately begins to have an asthma attack and faints. Gregor became concerned for his mom and came out; but, his sister shoved him back into the room. This same event occurred near the middle of part 3. Essentially, Grete used Gregor as a scapegoat for Gregor’s mom’s health, citing this as one reason to “get rid of it” (Kafka 37). When the Black Death rolled Europe in the mid-14th century, nearly half of the population died. Rumors began spreading that the Jews poisoned wells as the Jewish population seemed unaffected by the plague and because a couple of Jews falsely confessed after brutal torture. Taking the Jews as scapegoats allowed for Europe to have someone blame their problems & misfortunes on and justify more massacres of the Jewish population. Speaking of massacres, scapegoating went to such a length with Gregor and the Jews that violence became a regular instance for them. Gregor’s dad, tired with Gregor, came into his room and began chucking apples at him. The apples seriously wounded Gregor and almost killed him. The apple stayed on Gregor for the remainder of the novella. Not just exiled, dehumanized, alienated and scapegoated, the Jews also faced extreme measures such as genocide and massacre. For thousands of years, the Jews fell victim to countless amount of massacres and a few genocides, such as the Holocaust. Franz Kafka used Gregor to symbolize the scapegoating and massacre of the Jewish population.

The author, Franz Kafka, Jewish himself, had experienced a large amount of antisemitism. The 1910s saw a new wave of antisemitism “disguised as patriotism” arise in Europe (Reinach). Kafka’s sisters died in Nazi Concentration camps similar to how Gregor died imprisoned in his room. Even though Kafka himself died young and did not witness the rise of Hitler and the Holocaust, his novel predicted the very nature of the Holocaust. In the German version of the Metamorphosis, Kafka uses the term Ungeziefer, or insect, to describe Gregor. The same term used by Adolf Hitler to dehumanize Jews. Kafka lived through antisemitism in Prague; growing up, Kafka remained confined to the Jewish ghettos of Prague, ghettos were a common tactic by European monarchs. They invited Jews to stay in their nation to collect more taxes while at the same time keeping the Jews away from “regular people”. In early 1900s Europe, “judicial systems condemned, sometimes to capital punishment, innocent victims whose only crime was to be Jews”. Many of his works stem from on his experiences as Jew; the Nazi’s even ordered a burning of Kafka’s novels in Germany. The influence of growing up Jewish in Prague leads to Kafka’s signature themes of alienation and otherness. In many of his novels, his protagonists fall victim to beatings, abuse and hate from the world around them. In his Letter to his Father, Kafka writes about how his Jewish upbringing mixed with his father’s negligence for him and Judaism contributes to his attitude and viewing of society. The author Franz Kafka, grew up Jewish and side by side with antisemitism; he documented his experiences with many allegorical works such as The Metamorphosis.

The Jewish people have suffered all throughout human history. If one had to randomly select any European country, the odds of picking a country that massacred and exiled the Jews reign higher than flipping a coin and calling heads. ADL Global 100’s antisemitism index estimates 26% of the world today exerts antisemitic values. The Jews faced massacre, genocide, discrimination, alienation, exploitation and ultimatly expulsation from wherever they went; similarly, Gregor Samsa, the protagnist in The Metamorphosis by Franza Kafka, also faced violence, discrimination, alien, exploitation and explusion from society and his own family. The author, Franz Kafka, grew up Jewish, around antisemitism and wrote The Metamorphosis as an allegorical piece in which the protagonist Gregor, who wakes up one day transformed into a bug, symbolizes the persecution and alienation of the Jewish people. 

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