Writers often intertwine their personal life experiences and emotions into their texts because it is with what they are most friendly. A writer who connects to their narrative carries more meaning in their text and develops a connection with their audience. Franz Kafka’s 1915 novella, ‘The Metamorphosis’ tells the tale of Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman who woke up restless one morning to discover he had transformed into a ‘gigantic insect.’ Aside from being simply a fascinating plot, Kafka’s work also carries direct biographical references to Kafka’s own life. Franz Kafka, a Czech-born German novelist was largely regarded as one of the most pivotal figures of 20th century literature. His writings commonly explore the recurring themes of alienation, existential guilt, and absurdity. Universally known term ‘Kafkaesque’, has been used to describe such situations found in his writings. Franz Kafka utilises elements in ‘The Metamorphosis’ to form a literary model of the complicated relationship with his father, seclusion from society and illness.
Franz Kafka’s father, Hermann Kafka, was a notorious tyrant. Kafka’s relationship with his father is portrayed in some of his books as a hopeless conflict against an immense authority: for example, in ‘The Judgement’, ‘The Sons’ and most famously, in ‘The Metamorphosis.’ Kafka often discusses the belief that his father had destroyed his will, and made him feel permanently powerless. In Kafka’s 1919 autobiographical work ‘Brief an der Vater,’ (‘Letter to the Father’) Kafka bemoans his father’s attitude towards his academic endeavours; ‘What I would have needed was a little encouragement, a little friendliness, a little keeping open of my road, instead of which you blocked it for me, though of course with the good intention of making me go another road. But I was not fit for that… At that time, and at that time in every way, I would have needed encouragement.’ John Bonina’s analysis of Franz Kafka and Gregor Samsa discusses the similarities between Mr Samsa and Hermann Kafka; Like Mr. Samsa earlier, Kafka’s father was a business owner. Similar to Mr. Samsa, he was also controlling and repressive of his son. Hermann Kafka pressured Franz Kafka to study law, and Kafka received his doctorate in this field in 1906. After graduation, he worked as a legal clerk, but discovered this job to be unfulfilling and quit soon after. He then began to work as a traveling salesman for an insurance company, against his father’s expectations. Although this contrasts to Samsa’s father’s opinion regarding his son’s job, both fathers have interests that differ with those of their sons. Meanwhile, both Franz Kafka and Gregor Samsa struggle to find satisfaction in their careers, ‘Oh God, he thought, what an exhausting job I’ve picked out for myself! On the road day in, day out. It’s much more irritating work than doing the actual business in the home office”. This conflict of interest is one of the numerous similarities between the lives of Gregor Samsa and Franz Kafka. Now informed about the parallels between Kafka’s relationship with his father, readers can fill in in the missing gaps in their knowledge of the novel. Readers now know Franz Kafka chose to portray Mr Samsa as a harsh, domineering father in the text, as it reflected his own family. Readers also better understand why Gregor never quit his job despite his hatred for it, he was too fearful of his father to differ from his career preference regarding Gregor.
The most saddening aspect about Franz Kafka’s life was his utter isolation from society. As a Jewish man living in Prague, Kafka experienced the rejection and isolation that anti-Semitism brought upon his family. In ‘The Metamorphosis’, Gregor experiences a similar sense of loneliness after his family learns about his grotesque mutation into a monstrous vermin. The harsh treatment of society after this event, forced Gregor to isolate himself from the world, “The manager burst out with a loud ‘Oh!’ – it sounded like a rush of wind – and now he could see him standing closest to the door, his hand pressed over his open mouth slowly backing away, as if repulsed by an invisible, unrelenting force.” The manager’s reaction displays how Gregor’s isolation is also imposed upon Gregor by the people around him. Until his metamorphosis, Gregor’s isolation was self-inflicted, such as his habit of locking doors. However, society was now confining Gregor in the four walls of his bedroom. If we project Franz Kafka onto Gregor Samsa’s character, we see more similarities come to light.
In essence, readers can fill in missing gaps once learning the context of Franz Kafka’s life, as well as gain a better understanding of the reasons behind Kafka’s construction of characters and plot in the “The Metamorphosis.” Through knowledge of Kafka’s relationship with his father, readers learn that Mr Samsa was inspired by Kafka’s own patriarchal, domineering father. In the same sense, Gregor’s isolation was a reflection of Kafka’s own feelings of isolation and rejection from society as a result of his Jewish religion.