“The Other” in Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” Essay
Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is justly considered as one of the most highly-esteemed literary pieces of all time. The themes that rose in the story, such as alienation, isolation, ethics, and family, have always attracted people’s attention. In The Metamorphosis, Kafka manages to describe these and other issues from a new perspective. A person that used to be a normal human being suddenly loses his human shape, and the author demonstrates what happens next in such a situation. Instead of compassion and sympathy, the main character receives disgust and estrangement. Instead of support, he gets unfriendly remarks and offenses. Instead of ending his life in the cozy atmosphere of his home and family, he dies lonely, forgotten, and neglected by everyone.
The present paper argues that the most prominent theme in the story is that of “the other” which is reflected in a number of situations through a variety of stylistic devices. The thesis of the paper is that the notion of “the other” in The Metamorphosis is represented not so much through the opposition between the character and other characters as though the opposition between his past self and present self. Gregor Samsa’s example will be used to demonstrate the hardships of an individual who cannot be accepted either by himself or others and who eventually give up trying.
The first indication of “the otherness” in the story is at the very beginning when Gregor contemplates his work and the experience he has been having there. In this short introduction, the reader finds out that the main character does not have many friends and does not enjoy his life much. This mentioning of Gregor’s “otherness” is not yet what the thesis concerns, but it is the initial step that is useful for understanding the development of the plot. The young man mentions that his work is “strenuous” and demands much communication “with different people,” which leads to the impossibility of becoming friendly with anyone (Kafka 2). This remark is employed to explain Gregor’s present possibility to spend more time with his family, which, unfortunately, does not become true.
The character’s understanding of his “otherness” is vividly depicted in the way he sees his room. Describing it as “a proper human room” presupposes that Gregor does not consider himself a “proper human” any longer (Kafka 2). He does not feel comfortable in it, and he considers it too big for his transformed body. What is more, the author mentions that Gregor has never felt quite safe at home. He “congratulated” himself for the “cautious” habit of “locking all doors at night even when he was at home” (Kafka 3). These examples show that Gregor has always been different from others in some way. However, this “otherness” has nothing to do with “the otherness” that is about to be revealed.
The idea illustrating how Gregor has become “the other” is further developed in the description of his altered body. Instead of his voice, he hears “a painful and uncontrollable squeaking” when he tries to reply to his mother’s question (Kafka 3). Instead of his arms and legs, he has acquired “all those little legs continuously moving in different directions, and which he was moreover unable to control” (Kafka 4). However, even despite the difficulty of the situation, Kafka pictures Gregor as a man who is different from others and from his past self due to his sense of humor. It would be normal if a person who found himself in such circumstances were in dismay. Gregor, however, manages to treat the situation with a pinch of comicality: despite “all the difficulty” he is in, he cannot “suppress a smile at this thought” (Kafka 4). The character realizes how ironic the situation is: he himself has locked the door in the evening, and now when he desperately needs help getting out of bed, no one can come to rescue.
At this point, “the otherness” of the character is depicted not only by changes in his physique. It is obvious that Gregor’s new body creates much discomfort for him. He cannot communicate with his family properly, which leads to the deterioration of their relationships. His own mother and father cannot accept his new image. The only person why seems to have a relatively sufficient level of understanding is his sister, Greta. In the very beginning, Gregor wonders why she is crying (Kafka 6). Even before she sees him, she senses that something has gone terribly wrong. When the mother sends Greta to the doctor, she leaves immediately, although Gregor does not recollect hearing her getting ready. The reaction of his family and the office clerk to Gregor’s transformation deepens the impression of “the otherness” ─ he is so strikingly different from what he used to be that hardly anyone can accept him.
The character’s “otherness” is also revealed through his understanding of the situation and his thoughts about people’s acceptance of his new condition. Earlier, Gregor realized that he was lonely, but it was his own choice to be isolated from others. However, now, he comes to understand that his isolation is no longer his decision. This understanding is particularly clear when the author depicts the clerk’s reaction to the metamorphosis. Gregor hears this man “exclaim a loud “Oh!”, which sounded like the soughing of the wind” (Kafka 7). The clerk’s response, which is stylistically emphasized by a simile, indicates that from now on, people are going to treat Gregor with more or less the same attitude. It will no longer be Gregor who decides whether to communicate with someone. It will now be everyone else who will think whether it is worthwhile to spend time on Gregor.
There are more instances of “the otherness” in the story, but due to the impossibility to include all of them in such a short paper, the attention is given to the most prominent ones. The paper’s thesis concerned the problem of becoming and being “the other.” In this relation, the main arguments were focused on Gregor’s treatment of himself and his realization of his new condition, and the consideration of his feelings related to it. The Metamorphosis is esteemed by critics and loved by readers all over the world. One of the reasons for such acceptance is that the author managed to introduce the notion of “the other” in a way that no one had done before him. Not only is the main character opposed to others but he is also contrasted to himself in the past. This is what makes The Metamorphosis such a valued piece of literature and what unites readers of different ages and beliefs in the company of Kafka’s fans.
Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. Translated by David Wyllie, The Project Gutenberg EBook, 2002.
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Introduction Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is justly considered as one of the most highly-esteemed literary pieces of all time. The themes that rose in the story, such as alienation, isolation, ethics, […]