Fatality of Conformity Through Complete Submission to External Norms in Franz Kafka's ‘The Metamorphosis’

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In ‘The Metamorphosis’, Franz Kafka depicts Gregor Samsa and his acceptance with the the psychological and mental repercussions of an inalterable physical transformation. The local segregation that Gregor faces within his household parallels to the seclusion of the cultural ‘other’, who lies on the outskirts of societal norms. Throughout history, minority groups have been oppressed by dehumanizing stereotypes and stigmas for conditions of religion, race, gender, or sexuality. Gregor throughout his life has been a nuisance to his surroundings; however once his physique matches his status to others, Gregor's humanity falls into question. Gregor’s failure to acknowledge his intrinsic value and overcome his isolation set by degrading standards of his environment reveals that conformity creates alienation. Therefore, since systematic seclusion of society holds universal implications, Gregor Samsa serves as a symbol to represent repressed groups detached by prejudice.

Gregor Samsa’s metamorphosis and identity as a “gargantuan pest” threatens his family’s dynamic and values (Kafka 13). Margaret Sönser Breen in her book ‘Reading for Constructions of the Unspeakable in Kafka’s Metamorphosis’ compares Samsa to minorities in post September eleventh American society. After the sudden attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, the American people separated themselves from non-normative cultural groups who appeared to jeopardize collective safety. Breen notes that the dangerous perceptions “quickly resulted in damage to hundreds of [Middle Eastern, Arab, and Muslim] stores, mosques, and businesses, as well as violence against thousands of people simply because they carry a mark of ‘difference’” (Breen 121). Gregor’s father similarly perceives Gregor as dangerous when he “pushed [him] relentlessly” (29), despite him “heavily bleeding[,] far into his room” (Kafka 30). Fear of the unpredictable and unknown creates incentive to force the “alien” into isolation or in position for assimilation. Gregor’s family utilizes tactics of social policing and surveillance to not only hide him from their neighbors and the rest of the world, but to also maintain authority over his essence. In the removal of furniture in Gregor’s room, the mother and sister debate between the choice to keep his personal possessions in hope of conformity or to gain control over his state in favor of his subordination into something lesser than human. Gregor contemplates being able to “freely crawl” or “forgetting his human past” (Kafka 43); however, since he never possess the power to make the decision for himself, the action serves more as confining regulation rather than liberation.

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Organizations and governments create policies to combat cultural minorities classified as “harmful” based on imposed social stigmas. Gregor's separation and persecution reflects Franz Kafka’s own experience as a German-speaking jew in Prague during the era of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and anti-semitism. During the 1930s, the Nazi party achieved domination by presenting the Jewish people as the cause for the social, political, and economic hardships that faced post World War one Germany (Browning). In combination of prejudices, criminalization, and violence through the genocide of the holocaust, the Jews were dehumanized and regarded as cultural aliens. Anti-semitism heavily influenced the circumstances of Gregor’s naissance to his environment and subsequent isolation. His metamorphosis prevents him from fulfilling his duty to his family and brought significant burden to their cumulative obligations. The entire family strips Gregor of his humanity in order to justify their will to get rid of him. As they resort to his condition as the source of their “complete hopelessness” and “endless torment” , Grete notes that they had “to banish the thought that it’s Gregor” (Kafka 53, 62). Correspondingly, participants in ethnic cleansing or genocide must mentally dehumanize victims in order to justify their actions.

In the presence of social sins, minority status can elicit sentiments of guilt and shame. Gregor Samsa expresses similar alienation to the circumstances of homosexuality. The significance of his door and room from the rest of his local community also expresses the closeted seclusion and suppression of the LGBT community. Especially during Kafka's lifetime, homosexuality was considered immoral and even criminalized in many countries and under religious institutions. The weight of social sins incite the pains of isolation and burden of guilt that Gregor experiences. The “small red apples”, weaponized to restrict Gregor back into closed confinement, allude to the fall of humanity in the book of Genesis (Kafka 48). In society, sinful culpability systematically exercises suppression of homosexuality and dehumanization of a minority that deviates from the traditional family structure.

Gregor’s form and forced isolation serves to represent all non-normative groups as prejudice universally affects all who fail to meet the criteria of the conventional majority. Paul Landsburg in a literary journal, ‘Kafka and the Metamorphosis’, explains “to be an exception or in the minority is the original social sin. When in society any group of men characterized by racial or social heredity is denounced as ‘vermin’, there will always be one group that from then on will see nothing but the other’s rottenness” (Landsburg). Gregor’s physical appearance serves as a mark of contrast to normality similar to star of David during the Holocaust or even physical traits that have brought upon malicious stereotypes such as skin tones. In many instances, Cultural “otherness” instills fear of threat and preconceptions about groups of people enough to enact waves of social control. Kafka exposes the fatality of conformity through Gregor’s complete submission to external norms, causing him to become what his environment envisioned him as until they inevitably saw him as nothing.

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Fatality of Conformity Through Complete Submission to External Norms in Franz Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis’. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 24, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/fatality-of-conformity-through-complete-submission-to-external-norms-in-franz-kafkas-the-metamorphosis/
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