Freedom is always an interesting and important topic. In the United State, every citizen is supposed to be free. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, citizens have many rights such as freedom to express yourself, right to vote in elections for public officials, and freedom to pursue 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness'. In this analytical paper, my topic is describing what freedom means in The Metamorphosis and The Bell Jar.
I argue that Kafka and Plath use a similar approach to show that freedom is a person has self-consciousness and can follow his heart. In other words, a person is truly free if he can do what he really want rather than he is forced to be a person that others like parents or society expect him to be.
In terms of The Metamorphosis, Gregor works very hard after his father's bankruptcy in order to let his family members have a good life. Mr. Samsa, Mrs. Samsa, and Grete do not work, and the whole family relies on Gregor and his income. Gregor has the responsibility to help his family while he certainly does not have the accountability to help every family member to realize their dreams. 'It was his secret plan to send her (in contrast to Gregor she loved music very much and knew how to play the violin charmingly) next year to the conservatory, regardless of the great expense which that must necessitate and which would be made up in other ways.' Gregor plans to pay high tuition and living cost for his sister since attending the conservatory is Grete's dream. As a reliable brother, Gregor thinks that he has the responsibility to support his sister. Helping sister to attend music school seems to be what Gregor personally wishes to do. However, I consider that it is more likely that an impression about prefect brother is he usually help his sister and Gregor is expected to be such brother.
Due to Gregor's responsibility to his family, he does not have his own life and loses his hobbies in order to finance the whole family. Gregor becomes a work bender, but I do not believe that is what he really wants to be since that is what his father, his mother, and his sister wish him to be. 'If I didn’t hold back for my parents’ sake, I would’ve quit ages ago. I would’ve gone to the boss and told him just what I think from the bottom of my heart. He would’ve fallen right off his desk! How weird it is to sit up at the desk and talk down to the employee from way up there. The boss has trouble hearing, so the employee has to step up quite close to him. Anyway, I haven’t completely given up that hope yet. Once I’ve got together the money to pay off the parents’ debt to him—that should take another five or six years—I’ll do it for sure. Then I’ll make the big break. In any case, right now I have to get up. My train leaves at five o’clock.’'
As what Gregor states above, Gregor is not free since he faces great stress in life. The actual situation of Gregor's family forces him to work very hard, and becoming a bug is a way that Gregor could evade reality. Because of the metamorphosis, Gregor does not need to do his disagreeable job and face huge working pressure anymore. Before the metamorphosis, Gregor has to make a choice between the desire for freedom and the responsibility to his family. When Gregor appears in human form in the novel, he is not free at all. In fact, Gregor is not a human being with an independent will since his life goals are sustaining his family and paying off the debt. Gregor does not realize the individual being gradually since his individuality is inhibited and eroded by sociality. It is possible for Gregor get freedom only after he becomes a bug. Before metamorphosis, working is the most important thing to Gregor. After metamorphosis, Gregor begins to slightly realize his sense of being.
Gregor becomes a 'working machine' that his family wants him to be and he lose his freedom. After Gregor becomes a monstrous vermin, his father, mother and sister must seek jobs as well we try to reduce household costs. It is notable that Gregor's family still can live on without him and the family even takes a day off to celebrate the death of Gregor. Gregor' family ignore Gregor's contributions to the family; Gregor lost his freedom but his family abandons him after he cannot earn money. I think Kafka use metaphor in The Metamorphosis, the small and congested room where Gregor lives represents that Gregor is imprisoned in a oppressive society. After Gregor's metamorphosis, he becomes a bug and his shell symbolizes great stress in life. Gregor cannot get rid of pressure, which is similar to a bug that cannot get rid of its shell. The way that a bug lives is uncomfortable, but it is almost impossible to change fate. Thus, normal people like Gregor survive with tremendous difficulties in that hard time; freedom is valuable and not everyone is free.
Likewise, when it comes to The Bell Jar, Esther also experiences great pressure from society. Plath writes that 'This hotel -- the Amazon -- was for women only, and they were mostly girls my age with wealthy parents who wanted to be sure their daughters would be living where men couldn't get at them and deceive them; and they were all going to posh secretarial schools like Katy Gibbs, where they had to wear hats and stockings and gloves to class, or they had just graduated from places like Katy Gibbs and were secretaries to executives and simply hanging around in New York waiting to get married to some career man or other.' Mainstream values in the past expect females to be good housewives and mothers. Marrying a perfect man seems to be women's primary goal since a husband can provide her and her children necessary financial need. Traditionally, married women have been treated as dependent on their husbands, and females are considered inferior to males. Esther' mother also wishes Esther can marry a outstanding man. Esther gets 'A' in classes, obtains a large scholarship, and even earns a valuable internship in New York because her mother wishes her to be a good student and can find a decent job. Actually, Esther is an intelligent female and she has critical thinking; she makes an effort to resist the stress from traditional views. Unfortunately, Esther encounters difficulties in her academic development like rejection for attending the writing course. In addition, men she meets are not what she expects and their relationships are not true love.
'Only I wasn't steering anything, not even myself. I just bumped from my hotel to work and to parties and from parties to my hotel and back to work like a numb trolleybus. I guess I should have been excited the way most of the other girls were, but I couldn't get myself to react. I felt very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.' Esther's experience in New York disappoints her, she kinds of losing the direction. Esther does not want to be a woman under conventional standards, and she wants real freedom as well as become true self. 'I never feel so much myself as when I'm in a hot bath.' Esther is trapped in a kind of dilemma, and she does not fit the society because she is quite different from others. Esther's self-consciousness is rather strong, and she do her endeavor to against outside pressure. Eventually, Esther chooses some extreme methods such as suicide to escape. The reasons why Esther chooses extreme ways are that Esther wants freedom while she does not have adequate courage and ability to oppose the whole world.
The bell jar can be found in several places in the novel. For example, the term of bell jar appears in the hospitals where Esther stays, Buddy's TB sanatorium, and the Deer Island prison that Esther visits. People live in these places are all trapped in the similar bell jar. The bell jar first appears when Esther visits a hall in the hospital with Buddy. 'After that, Buddy took me out into the hall where they had some big glass bottles full of babies that had died before they were born. The baby in the first bottle had a large white head bent over a tiny curled-up body the size of a frog. The baby in the next bottle was bigger and the baby next to that one was bigger still and the baby in the last bottle was the size of a normal baby and he seemed to be looking at me and smiling a little piggy smile.' Like these died babies in big glass bottles, Esther seems to be trapped in a bell jar, which is constructed by stress from society. The bell jar is a metaphor for society, where people live with conventional notions. Due to the bell jar, Esther has many negative emotions like depression and self-doubt, and she does not have the hope to escape. The bell jar makes Esther grow abnormally, suffocate, even commit suicide. Hence, Esther in The Bell Jar is not free since she is force to be a women under conventional views, which is what society expects her to be.
On the other hand, some individuals argue that freedom in The Metamorphosis and The Bell Jar means wealth. Many problems Gregor and Esther encounter are directly caused by the lack of money, and poverty seems to be the root reason of tragic lives. Consequently, some people believe that owning a lot of money is free indeed. For example, Plath writes that 'I thought I might learn shorthand in no time, and when the freckled lady in the Scholarships Office asked me why I hadn't worked to earn money in July and August, the way you were supposed to if you were a scholarship girl, I could tell her I had taken a free shorthand course instead, so I could support myself right after college.' In fact, Esther does not like shorthand, the reasons why she decides to learn it are she does not need to pay tuition to her mother and stenographer is a good job. If Esther is not disturbed by the financial issue, she will be free to other things she like rather than waste time in shorthand that she dislike.
Similarly, Gregor's life before the metamorphosis is very difficult; he gets around for years to promote sales. Meanwhile, Gregor is often reprimanded by his boss and his colleagues are not friendly to him. Even if Gregor's working environment is rather difficult, he is still worried that he will lose his job. Kafka writes that '‘O God,’ he thought, ‘what a demanding job I’ve chosen! Day in, day out on the road. The stresses of trade are much greater than the work going on at head office, and, in addition to that, I have to deal with the problems of traveling, the worries about train connections, irregular bad food, temporary and constantly changing human relationships which never come from the heart. To hell with it all!’' 'And even if he caught the train, there was no avoiding a blow up with the boss, because the firm’s errand boy would’ve waited for the five o’clock train and reported the news of his absence long ago. He was the boss’s minion, without backbone or intelligence.' If Gregor has numerous money, then he and his family can live a comfortable life. Also, Gregor does not have to work hard in such a tough working environment, and he is able to help realize her sister's dream of attending music school easily. Thus, freedom means a lot of money in The Metamorphosis and The Bell Jar.
Being rich does have many conveniences and can do many things you want to do. Yet, owning numerous money is not necessarily equivalent to having real freedom. Other than material needs, human beings also have spiritual needs. Money can give a person freedom for buying substances while it cannot provide mental freedom. If the basic life requirements are guaranteed, mental freedom is more important than earning more money. In The Metamorphosis, money links Gregor and his family, and the link breaks when Gregor is changed into a monstrous verminous bug and he is no longer be able to earn money. The similar issue may also occur when a person owns a lot of money. In this case, the relationship among family members may not be kinship, and it becomes a desire for money in fact. Wealth is not the standard to determine whether a person is free or not. Otherwise, the majority of people in the world is the poor, who is not free; the minority of people worldwide is the rich, whom is free. Undoubtedly, we know that is not the case. A person who does not have a lot of money does not mean he is not free, and a rich person does not necessarily is free. Therefore, owning a lot of money does not mean true freedom.
Every person definitely belongs to a family, and we ought to shoulder the responsibility to support the family, as well as family members have some expectations about what kind of person we should be. Nevertheless, it is critical that making a balance between the contribution to the family or others and personal life. Additionally, it is clear that parents' expectations to us are not often agree with our real goals. There is no doubt that everyone not only lives for himself also for others who are important to him. However, a person can make more contribution to others' lives only when he is able to live a good life. The relationship among people should not only about interest, and Gregor is killed by his family's indifference. In other words, both sociality and Individuality are indispensable for an independent and complete person. Gregor's family members, boss, and colleagues care their own interests only, and they overlook understanding, solicitude, and kinship to others as normal persons. In contrast, Gregor cares his family to much and he pus sociality over individuality. Yet, the fundamental prerequisite for the existence of an independent person is self-awareness. Gregor's Metamorphosis and his final death indicates that a person will have miserable destiny eventually if he overlooks individuality.
In summary, due to the popularity of materialism, people consider money and wealth as the topmost pursuit. Actually, people's values are distorted and human beings become 'slaves' of money and material; true and beautiful relationship or emotions among humans disappear. Therefore, we must have the ability of self-reflection and do not let our mind being distorted under the pressure from outside society. An independent person who has critical thinking and self-consciousness is truly free and owns real freedom.
- Kafka, Franz, The Metamorphosis, Leipzig, Kurt Wolf, 1915.
- Plath, Sylvia, The Bell Jar, Portsmouth, Heinemann, 1963.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, https://www.uscis.gov/citizenship/learners/citizenship-rights-and-responsibilities. Accessed 13 Apr. 2019.