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.
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