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.
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