Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”: Social Aspects Essay
“The Metamorphosis,” tells a story of how a man, Gregor Samsa, turned into an indefinite, disgusting insect, and what happened to him and his family after that (Kafka n. pag.). However, perhaps interpreting this text literally would even be a mistake; this is true of many of Kafka’s writings. Robertson points out that this story is “one which resists complete explanation… you can never completely solve it” (Robertson, 1:59). One of the possible readings of the text includes viewing Gregor’s transformation as a way to avoid his exhausting need to slave away for his family. So, let us consider what can be said about “The Metamorphosis” in this context.
A closer look at the main character reveals that Gregor Samsa was a hard worker, a man who labored much to feed his relatives. He doesn’t like his work, but he realizes that he has to be a breadwinner after his father lost the ability to work. In fact, he perceives the obligation of earning money for the family as his natural duty, for who else, if not him, would care for his relatives? Who else, if not him, would make sure that his sister, Greta, gets proper education and realizes herself? It appears that the protagonist believes in some kind of a natural social hierarchy, in which he has the place where he must serve his family and support them by dedicating all his life to this cause. When Gregor turns into the creature, he does not care about that in the slightest; on the other hand, he cannot reconcile himself with the fact that he will miss his train and will not be able to reach his work that day.
The protagonist’s transformation is simultaneous with his loss of ability to earn money. And at this point, his family starts feeling disgusted with him. They quickly forget all the good that Gregor did for them before the metamorphosis and lock him in his room. They now fear him, find him revolting, and, at the same time, blame him for not being able to work and support them anymore. Gregor’s family now perceive him as a parasite who needs to be looked after. They stop visiting him and contacting him altogether; only Greta plays the role of a (policewoman?) mediator and brings him food and drink.
And then, it becomes clear that the family could look after themselves without Gregor’s working for them after all. The father finds himself quite capable of working; moreover, it turns out that he has been setting aside money from what Gregor was earning for them. It becomes clear now that the family was parasitizing on their son all that time.
The whole story of Gregor’s transformation might be interpreted as the protagonists’ attempt to escape the unfair responsibility the weight of which he had to carry solely on his shoulders. This attempt is not conscious because Gregor is so confident about his duties that he does not even seem to care about his new form. This indicates the degree of self-alienation that the protagonist underwent (Hill 161; Sokel 486-487). He became a creature alien and incomprehensible even to himself; the original version of the text does not also indicate what type of an insect Gregor becomes (Gooderham par. 3-5). But the transformation allows him to stop doing the job he disliked so much at last. Interestingly, the roles of Gregor Samsa and his relatives instantly switch; they could be definitely called parasites before the metamorphosis, but after it, they start thinking of their son as one.
Interestingly, the writings of Marx and Engels can add to the understanding of the relationships between Gregor and his family. They write that “the bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation into a mere money relation” (Marx and Engels 62). The connection between the protagonist and his relatives is mainly economic; once the monetary part disappears, the whole relationship is broken. The family only looks for Gregor because they do not know where they could otherwise put him.
It can also be said that Kafka’s story shows us the two parts of the society; the first part works, the other one harvests the result of their labor. It is worth noting that the representatives of the higher class commonly perceive themselves as worthy and people who only get what they naturally deserve, whereas the representatives of the working class realize that if they stop working, they and their relatives will have nothing to eat. So, “The Metamorphosis” also shows us this division in the society, where laborers are forced to slave away to make their living, and they are perceived by the bourgeois solely as performers of their functions, being in all the other aspects dirty and unworthy creatures that also turn into hazardous deviants once they stop working and start doing something else.
It should be noted that such a perspective on society might be perceived as obsolete nowadays, but, arguably, it is not, e.g., if we start looking at humanity more globally. Nowadays, the division into the working class and their exploiters might not be always very clearly distinguishable in one society, at least at first glance. On the other hand, this line is clearly visible if one takes a look at the world on the whole. The countries of the First World often thrive thanks to the great efforts of the workers from the Third World, where people sometimes work over twelve hours a day since early childhood. The geographical distance comfortably allows these facts to be unnoticeable to the many. Racism, too, plays an essential role in this, allowing some people to view this situation as instead natural.
Still, the global perspective is not the only appropriate one in this case. It is common today to perceive the people who come from unsuccessful families and live poorly as unworthy, as those who are plainly too lazy to work and earn enough money. Clearly, some of these people, the ones who realize (consciously or unconsciously) that their situation is utterly unlikely to improve however hard they try and go “deviant,” might seem to be deserving of it; but such a point of view means completely ignoring their starting point, the social situation where they did not have much money and chance to become “successful.”
They are deviants, typical members of street gangs, refusing to work, sometimes dangerous and unpredictable. Just as Gregor Samsa became after his transformation, this comparison has its grounds if we assume that the change was Gregor’s (even if unconscious) attempt to escape his fate of a mechanism for earning money; both Gregor and the today’s deviants could continue working hard and making money, but once they stop doing so, they become an unpredictable, disgusting hazard in the eyes of the “righteous” successful commoners; and this kind of opinion is a very comfortable way for the latter to justify the cozy place they occupy in this world, instead of addressing social problems.
As it was mentioned, Kafka’s texts can have numerous interpretations, and the reading given here is only one of many. But, clearly, Gregor Samsa can be viewed as a member of the working class, a person who became so self-alienated while serving his own bourgeoisie that he turned into something incomprehensible and perceivably deviant to escape from his laborious duties.
Gooderham, W. Bradley. “Kafka’s Metamorphosis and its Mutations in Translation.” 2015. Web.
Hill, Stanley. “Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’.” Explicator 61.3 (2003): 161-162. MasterFILE Premier. Web.
Kafka, Franz. Metamorphosis. Trans. David Wyllie. 2002. Web.
Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2013. Print.
Robertson, Ritchie. “Treasures of the Bodleian: Kafka’s Metamorphosis.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 2011. Web.
Sokel, Walter H. “From Marx to Myth: The Structure and Function of Self-Alienation in Kafka’s Metamorphosis.” Literary Review 26.4 (1983): 485-496. Literary Reference Center Plus. Web.
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