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Concepts of Self-Conception, Alienation, and the Absurdity of Life Franz' Kafka's The Metamorphosis

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What is it about some novels that captivate and capture our attention? Why do they continue to enthrall and beguile us despite it being decades after their publication date?

There are original stories that are fundamental to our society. Some have acquired the attention of readers for decades, centuries, and even millenniums; they might be religious texts, national epics, or folktales explaining some quality of the world or human existence. However, just as individual narratives maintain the ability to rapt an audience, they also encourage those who have read them to retell these stories again and again. Published in 1915, Franz' Kafka's The Metamorphosis begins when the protagonist Gregor Samsa awakens from his disturbing dreams as an insect he describes as a 'monstrous vermin.' From there on Gregor experiences alienation, diffident behavior, and depression in his relationships. These symptoms and new-found attributes have a tremendous effect on 'Gregor's self-concept, which eventually leads to his desolate yet inevitable death. Because of its extreme absurdity, Kafka's The Metamorphosis has produced numerous manifestations and various responses that scrutinise every rational and irrational facet of the novel. However, what is it about Kafka's novel that keeps us revisiting it? Kafka's masterpiece has successfully stood the test of time and has remained to be one of the most enduring pieces of literature, due to its intelligible conceit, that of a man turned into a grotesque bug and Franz Kafka's deftly executed narrative in which the third-person omniscient narrator displays the transformation of its protagonist in a completely straightforward manner. While the audience would hope to relate to the novel's protagonist, Gregor, the fear of considering him as a disgusting cockroach initially challenges our capacity to understand and empathise. The Metamorphosis remains relevant because of the universal abstractions explored in the novel, such as self-conception, alienation, and the absurdity of life. This presentation will provide sufficient evidence by discussing these notions explored in the original text and two of its manifestations which are The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa by Caroline Leaf and The Metamorphosis adapted by Peter Kuper.

Have you ever read a text that challenges your perception of the intricacies of the human psyche? There are many interpretations in which can be derived from this text. Some consider The Metamorphosis to be an autobiography which attempts to capture the loneliness and isolation Kafka experienced during his life. While initially appearing as fictional, the novel is a metaphor for the modernist concerns experienced by Kafka himself. One concept significant to The Metamorphosis is self-conception or identity. When Gregor wakes up, he finds himself so out of touch with his body that he hardly notices the physical transformation his body has undergone. When Gregor is locked and isolated in his room, he attempts to restore the identity he has lost. 'His thoughts, full of tenderness and love, went back to his family. He was even more firmly convinced than his sister, if possible that he should disappear.' Even after his change, Gregor finds himself still serving his family by not disturbing and inconveniencing them. This statement in which uses diction displays Gregor's obliviousness to the resent his family holds for him, and it isn't until the last chapter when Gregor is finally able to distinguish himself from his family after discovering the truth, that his family is deliberately ignoring him. This notion of Self-conception is further explored through the use of colour in Caroline Leaf's adaption. The incorporation of tenebrous browns and the lack of vibrant colours successfully depicts the numbness Gregor is experiencing towards his situation and his inability to reach his self, mostly due to never having an identity of his own, to begin with. Furthermore, this notion of identity and self-conception is further emphasised in Peter Kuper's adaption through the use of frames. Kuper produces meaning in his manifestation by using frames in moment to moment transitions to demonstrate time passing. By looking at Gregor's constrained motion in his bedroom, the viewer can see how Gregor sees himself and enter his depressed and melancholy world, which he finds challenging to function in. These various frames illustrate the significance of the development of Gregor's identity and self-conception. The Metamorphosis successfully demonstrates the relatable and universal concept of self-conception, and it is for these reasons that Kafka's novel has been revisited.

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Kafka has created a character and removed the aspects that make him human by transforming him into an insect that, at the same time, ignores the details of Gregor Samsa's anatomical transformation process. 'He was filled with rage at their miserable treatment of him.' Using emotive language, Kafka focuses on the thoughts and emotions of Gregor as he slowly becomes isolated and alienated from his family and the society he lives in. This is further emphasised in Caroline Leaf's adaption The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa. Like in the original, the reader predominantly sees Gregor's father from Gregor's point of view as being a man who holds little sympathy for his son. In Leaf's manifestation, she uses worms' eye to depict the powerful and threatening nature of Samsa's father and highlights the lack of sympathy and affection he holds for Gregor by alienating him from the family. Furthermore, this notion of alienation is further emphasised in the graphic novel The Metamorphosis adapted by Peter Kuper through the use of colour. The graphic novel is predominantly produced in white and black. The contrast produces an intense dark atmosphere, and the absence of color demonstrates how dull the condition of Gregor's situation is. Kuper tends to use significant parts of black to accentuate the immense despair and alienation of Gregor further. Kafka's novella, The Metamorphosis effectively exhibits the cognate and universal abstraction alienation, and it is for this reason that it continues to remain relevant to contemporary audiences.

The Metamorphosis deals with an absurd or wildly irrational case beginning with its first phrase,' 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.' This statement uses symbolism, which conclusively indicates how the narrative works in a random, chaotic world. The ridiculous event is the waking up of Gregor to find that he has become a gigantic insect, and since it's so far beyond the limits of a natural occurrence. It's not just unlikely to occur, it's physically impossible. The Metamorphosis of Gregor takes on supernatural importance. The fact that the tale never explains the conversion of Gregor is also symbolic. This concept is further explored in Leaf's adaptation through the use of intertitle 'When Gregor Samsa awoke one morning at home he found himself in his bed monstrously transformed.' This use of exposition further emphasises the strangeness and absurd representation of life. The reactions of the multiple characters contribute to this sense of absurdity, precisely because they seem almost as ridiculous as the conversion of Gregor itself. These unexpected responses add to the absurdity of the tale, but they also mean that the characters, to some extent, expect or at least are not surprised by the absurdity of their universe. This concept is again heavily explored in Kuper's adaptation of The Metamorphosis through the use of low modality. Kuper's illustrating style is unrealistic and cartoonish, which highlights the unrealism and absurdity of the events which have unfolded. For these reasons, The Metamorphosis has continued to maintain its relevance by successfully illustrating the relatable and universal notion of the absurdity of life.

It's nearly impossible to comment on how classic adaptations are in the medium's history because no matter how dedicated a director is in producing a film or how hard an illustrator works to compose a unique graphic novel, they must still work within the confines of another writer's prose. The Feelings of seclusion and isolation possess universal implications and is one of the reasons as to why The Metamorphosis has continued to be revisited. All people in their lifetime experience some rejection or alienation in some way. Families often contribute to such feelings, whether deliberately or unintentionally. In The Metamorphosis and its adaptations, Kafka dehumanises and utilises the distortion of reality when developing his character in order to emphasize the theme of self-conception alienation and the absurdity to life. The Metamorphosis is relatable and explores universal terms, and it is for these reasons that it has stood the test of time.

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Concepts of Self-Conception, Alienation, and the Absurdity of Life Franz’ Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 2, 2024, from
“Concepts of Self-Conception, Alienation, and the Absurdity of Life Franz’ Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.” Edubirdie, 14 Jul. 2022,
Concepts of Self-Conception, Alienation, and the Absurdity of Life Franz’ Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 2 Mar. 2024].
Concepts of Self-Conception, Alienation, and the Absurdity of Life Franz’ Kafka’s The Metamorphosis [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jul 14 [cited 2024 Mar 2]. Available from:
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