Critical Analysis of the Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction to Alienation and Transformation
  2. Pre-Transformation: Gregor’s Life of Exploitation
  3. The Impact of Violence on Gregor’s Identity
  4. Familial Neglect and Isolation
  5. Restoration of Self-Identity and Peaceful Demise
  6. Conclusion: Dehumanization and Restoration of Human Consciousness
  7. Works Cited

Introduction to Alienation and Transformation

In the story “The Metamorphosis”, Franz Kafka focuses on the topic of alienation and considers its underlying effect on the human consciousness and self-identity. The alienation Kafka instigates is propagated towards the main character Gregor Samsa, who inevitably transforms into a giant cockroach. The alienation by family relations affects him to the extent that he prioritizes his extensive need to be the family’s provider before his own well-being. This overwhelming need to provide inevitably diminishes Gregor’s ability to be human-like. Kafka also enforces the idea of the ability to resurrect one’s self-identity following psychologically demanding events. In this essay, I utilize Gregor Samsa’s metamorphosis to address that alienation, in its various forms, is instrumental in the dehumanization process and can also oppositely induce a restoration of self-identity. The metamorphosis acts as a metaphor to express the inhumane change of state that occurs to a victim of alienation; it also formulates Gregor’s epiphany. He suffers through three forms of alienation: exploitation, violence, and neglect. The joint presence of these three external forces deprives him of a human distinctiveness, but in turn, influences a final realization that enforces the restoration of his self-identity, and therefore human identity.

Pre-Transformation: Gregor’s Life of Exploitation

Prior to his transformation, Gregor already resembles that of an insect, he was living a robotic life under the conditions of exploitation, discouraging his own life for his family’s basic and materialistic needs. This is shown when Gregor’s mother states: “You know that boy has nothing but work in his head! It almost worries me that he never goes out on his evenings off” (Kafka 95). This establishes the idea of Gregor’s life being a constant cycle of labor; then again, Gregor hasn’t missed a work day “in the course of the past five years” (Kafka 89). Furthermore, it is also ironic that his mother is “sensible”, a Marxist characteristic of the capitalist class, that the family unit itself is indeed the root cause of Gregor’s lack of societal involvement (Sokel 216). Walter H. Sokel, using Marxist ideology, argues that work must not be merely dictated by the external need or commands of others (Sokel 216). Therefore, Gregor was bound for death when his role as a son and a brother was mistreated and instead, became the role of an exploited laborer in his own family dynamics. In addition, Gregor finds no enjoyment in his obligated occupation as “the travelling salesman isn’t held in the highest regard” (Kafka 101). He speaks of the idea that “if [he] didn’t have to exercise restrain for the sake of [his] parents, then [he] would have quit a long time ago” (Kafka 88). Thus, while enduring the loss of his hard-worked monetary possession, he also has to practice an occupation that gives him no satisfaction, an “externalization” of his “bodily being” (Sokel 217). Therefore, the subjugation of a person, like Gregor, to live an incessant life under exploitative conditions indefinitely causes a diminishing ability to be self-sufficient and the estrangement of one’s disposition from an occupation.

The Impact of Violence on Gregor’s Identity

Gregor’s transformation and its disparity from a societal conformity initiates violence upon him, both physical and psychological; which causes his well-being to depreciate. In Ramon G. Mendoza’s article, Kafka’s personal diary is used to articulate the detrimental effect physical violence has on its victims:

“[A] son lying on his sofa after having been kicked by some mysterious blow, so powerful this time, that it had sent him out of the human world and straight down to the remotest recesses of the prehuman–the dark realm of bed bugs and dung beetles” (Mendoza 134).

This contradicts the generalization of violence only being the explicit intent to injure physically. It is also a mediator of psychological collapse. This collapse is the dislodgement of a human thought process, influencing a self-induced disregard of identifying oneself as human. Gregor, now considered an “animal”, endures the same violence as 'his father now gave him a truly liberating kick, and he was thrown, bleeding profusely, far into his room… then at last there was quiet' (Kafka 139, 106). This “kick” not only injures Gregor, but it is a driving force that deprives him from all human interaction and enslaves him in the “quiet” of his room (Kafka 106). In another incident, Gregor’s father throws apples at him aggressively and one became “embedded in his flesh, as a visible memento… [that] Gregor remained a member of the family” (Kafka 126). Gregor uses this act of violence as a reminder of his role in the family unit, although readers know that this role is slowly becoming disregarded. He tries to assert himself peacefully with the family, but the father is continually “kicking [Gregor] out of this world” (Mendoza 134). These continuous acts of violence take a toll on Gregor’s well-being. His overall health, including the ability to move, talk, and see, gradually declines as “he would find himself heartsore and weary to death, and wouldn’t move for many hours” (Kafka 133). As humans, we are characterized by our ability to move, talk and see. This causes Gregor to contemplate on his own human identity, such as the following: “Could he be an animal, to be so moved by music?” (Kafka 136). Instead of categorizing himself as human, he believes the same as his family and calls himself an “animal” (Kafka 136). Violence completely deteriorates well-being, both body and mind, which forces its victims to feel inadequate, disregarding their own humanity and existence.

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Familial Neglect and Isolation

Familial neglect towards Gregor deprives him of any opportunity of human interaction and societal input, his isolation and disownment inflicts the deterioration of his human consciousness. Grete, Gregor’s sister is the only family member who shows even a slight amount of unrestricted acceptance of the newly transformed Gregor. She brings him food such as “cheese that a couple days ago Gregor had declared to be unfit for human consumption” (Kafka 109). Although she is the only family member to do so, this food is unfit for a brother. She would never offer the human form of Gregor this food; therefore, he is treated as a complete stranger to the family dynamic he has worked so hard for. Since the transformation, Gregor has been contained in his room and disallowed a connection with all outward sources. Gregor asks himself: “Who in this exhausted and overworked family had the time to pay any more attention to Gregor than was absolutely necessary?” (Kafka 128). The Samsa family, under the metamorphosis of their own, become independent towards family issues. They view Gregor as being parasitic and ignore him completely forgetting about Gregor’s self-effacing duty previously. The conditional love the family pertains is imminent when Grete states: “We did as much as humanly possible to try and look after it and tolerate it...we must get rid of must have to put from your mind any thought that it’s Gregor” (Kafka 138, 139). Grete, once the person that took care of Gregor, suggests the disownment of Gregor and “her pronouncement of what amounts to a death sentence over him” (Mendoza 136). The parents agree complacently, never offering the thought that the “animal” they so perceive, is indeed their son (Kafka 139). Neglect and the abandonment of family forbids the integration of oneself into the core identifying group of humanity, the isolation involved with the lack of family support discourages the human consciousness.

Restoration of Self-Identity and Peaceful Demise

The alienation of exploitation, violence, and neglect inevitably dehumanize Gregor, but they also allow the restoration of his self-identity and a peaceful death. Gregor undergoes an epiphany which instills a sense of self recognition and acceptance when he decides on a self-inflected death:

“His conviction that he needed to disappear was, if anything, still firmer than his sister's. He remained in this condition of empty and peaceful reflection until the church clock struck three a.m. The last thing he saw was the sky gradually lightening outside his window. Then his head involuntarily dropped, and his final breath passed feebly from his nostrils” (Kafka 141).

According to Walter H. Sokel, Gregor’s death was a sacrificial decision made for the betterment of his family’s future (Sokel 228). On the contrary, Gregor does not use his last breath of existence on his family, but rather on himself. He finally accepts his unfortunate past and decides to die with dignity. At last, Gregor achieves maturity as “the rotten apple in his back... he barely felt anymore”, symbolizing his numbness and recovery to the poignant pain inflicted by his family (Kafka 141). Furthermore, he initiates his own deliberate solution to his dilemma, as an adult should, overcoming the fear of failure that has obscured his ability to prioritize his own life before others. This final reconciliation is the pinnacle of Gregor’s identification as a human, and with this epiphany, he dies with a self-identity, and at peace.

Conclusion: Dehumanization and Restoration of Human Consciousness

The dehumanization of a human being is a direct consequence of alienation’s ability to externalize a person from all human consciousness. Gregor Samsa’s transformation is a metaphor, created by Kafka to criticize the human stringent enthrallment to conformity. In Gregor’s case, he is a customary target for alienation due to his deviation from the societal norm. Therefore, is the victim of alienation the only person dehumanized, or is society gradually losing a human distinctiveness by the way we let people be treated as inhumane? Gregor’s encounters with exploitation, violence, and neglect, estrange him of all human-like feelings and relations. This continuous struggle allows for his epiphany, where a maturation process involves the acceptance of his family’s oppressive behavior and the “conviction” in his final decision (Kafka 141). The permanently dehumanized then are the Samsa family, the oppressors, living a life lacking culpability for the death of their only son. Hence, with the restoration of his self-identity, Gregor dies peacefully with a human consciousness in the body of a cockroach.

Works Cited

  1. Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis translated by David Wyllie. The Gutenberg Project. 2005. content/2433553/viewContent/25303127/View
  2. Mendoza, Ramon G. “The Human Vermin: Kafka’s Metaphor For Extreme Alienation.” Critical Insights: The Metamorphosis (2011): 133-165. Literary Reference Center. Web.
  3. Sokel, Walter H. “From Marx to Myth: The Structure and Function Of Self-Alienation In Kafka’s Metamorphosis.” Critical Insights: The Metamorphosis (2011): 215-230. Literary Reference Center. Web.
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