There is no doubt that writing is a way to demonstrate our deepest feelings and beliefs; therefore, it is important to comprehend the background of our writing in order to understand and analyze diverse situations. The purpose of this essay is to develop a comparative analysis between the different works written by Franz Kafka: ‘The Metamorphosis’ and ‘In the Penal Colony’. Both readings are considered literary classics, and from my humble point of view, they cover complex issues like the lack of humanity and human dignity. Throughout this essay I will examine the background of the existential position of the main characters and the cruel reality that encompasses them. The importance of making this comparison lies in evaluating the similarities and differences of both readings and to understand the writing characteristics of this famous author. To support the main arguments, a brief explanation of the context will be made, the personality of the character will be analyzed, and a comparison will be elaborated between both texts.
It is important to emphasize the indifference of social injustice towards the human being. Our current world has witnessed various immoralities throughout the years, which is why Kafka emphasizes this vulnerability through his readings. Hence, to understand the perception of the author, it is compulsory to acknowledge the meaning of social injustice. In my personal opinion, I truly believe that social injustice can be understood as the integration and protection of the most vulnerable in order to establish a just and equitable society. Even when Kafka´s stories are settled in different environments (one in a prison and the other one inside of a house), both reflect a high degree of social injustice. To illustrate this, we can observe in ‘The Penal Colony’, the great inequality that the condemned person presents by not knowing directly the crime for which he has been punished. Kafka (1914) shows it in the following lines: 'Does he know the sentence? No, said the Officer… but the traveler interrupted him: He doesn´t know his own sentence? No, said the Officer once more ... it would be useless to give him that information”. On the other hand, in ‘The Metamorphosis’ we can witness the lack of fairness that is given to Gregor Samsa by his family. Despite the fact that this character transforms into an insect, he is unable to speak with his family members and face the reality in which he lives. Also, throughout the reading, the author narrates how Gregor is the one who financially supports the family but does not get any kind of recognition for it. By this, it is possible to understand that both characters are victims of the perceptions of others and neither is able to speak and fight for their rights.
Human dignity is a right which we have had since our origin; as a result, a human being should be recognized by the simple fact of being one. Frank Kafka, in his works delves into those details that demonstrate both the deterioration and the destruction of human dignity within his characters. For instance, the pure reality that is seen in ‘The Metamorphosis’ is nothing more than Gregor showing us our humanity. In this reading, it can be seen that the destruction of the character begins when he is only used for other purposes rather than his integrity as a person. His job is to feel compassion for the people around him and generate income despite suffering constant fatigue. When Gregor suffers his dramatic transformation, he stops being seen as a member of the family and becomes a 'monster' which comes to disturb the family stability. In this case, we can see the following statement that Gregor´s sister made in ‘The Metamorphosis’ (2015) “My dear parents… things cannot go on any longer in this way. If you don´t understand that, well, I do. I will not utter my brother´s name in front of this monster, and this I say only that we must try to get rid of it”. Similarly, in ‘The Penal Colony’ the chronicle of the events that are carried out mark the lack of dignity that is given to human beings when explaining the process that entails the machine to snatch life. This can be clearly observed when the Officer constantly describes the operation of the apparatus while emphasizing the power that the 'old commander' had to determine who is worthy to live and who to die. Because of this, it is possible to observe Kafka´s willingness to cover topics such as the deterioration and destruction of human dignity. Likewise, we should not deny the fact that within a society, the same inhabitants tend to foment their own destruction due to the own selfishness of the human being.
It is important to recognize that in spite of the cruel realism shown by Kafka in his readings, he also alludes moments of warmth in which he shows a sincere interest in the well-being of the characters. Therefore, it can be interpreted that, although we can have moments in which we can damage ourselves, we can also be compassionate, just and supportive. Hence, I believe that the author shows in both stories’ sensitive moments such as when Gregor´s sister tries her best to clean his room and feed him in spite of the feelings of regret and disgust. Kafka shows it in the second part of ‘The Metamorphosis’ (2015): “By the door, he first noticed what had really lured him there: it was the smell of something to eat. A bowl stood there, filled with sweetened milk… but he soon drew it back again in disappointment, not just because it was difficult for him to eat… but also because the milk, which had always been his favorite drink and which his sister had certainly placed there for that reason”. On the other hand, we can appreciate certain moments of compassion and justification between the traveler and the condemned. As far as I understand, ‘In The Penal Colony’, the story talks about the practice of penal punishment within the colony but also addresses issues of how barbarism, society and politics can shape judicial decisions. For this reason, Kafka shows us some moments in which justice and compassion can give a twist to the novel´s development. In order to support this argument, we can tan a look at the following statement (1914): “I am opposed to this procedure… I was already thinking about whether I was entitled to intervene against this procedure and whether my intervention could have even a small chance of success”. Above all, it is clear that even when we do not foresee moments of clarity, it is possible to grasp signs of affection that can make difficult moments more bearable.
As a conclusion, I would like to emphasize the characteristics that the author approaches in both readings. I firmly believe that although the stories seem a bit cruel and drastic, you can perceive the dynamics of human relations, the guilt that we bear, the verdicts imposed by external individuals, the different characters and personality that we create of ourselves, the vanity and the ego with which we act in front of others and finally the real suffering of human beings. Personally, I have no doubt about the great content behind these words. I know that every time that I read these texts again, I will be able to understand the author's context more and with a different perspective.