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Flaws of the Structure of Society in Franz Kafka’s 'The Metamorphosis'

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While on the surface, Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis’ appears to be just a tale of a travelling salesman who one day wakes up transformed into a monstrous vermin, this far fetched plotline is only the tip of an iceberg concealing beneath the surface a wealth of societal criticism. The novel carefully explores and critiques the dehumanizing nature of the system of capitalism and the effect it has on laborers. A trenchant analysis of the character Gregor Samsa provides a window into the deep rooted flaws of the dark corporate world.

Kafka’s novella carefully unveils an overarching metaphor built upon an outrageous plotline designed to expose critical flaws of the structure of society in the eyes of Marxists. Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman and the central character to the text, not only provides an improbable story but is representative of a laboring class devoid of production possibility and symbolizes a proletariat (term used by Marxists to label lowest socioeconomic class). Gregor was forced to survive under inhumane conditions, with his work consuming every aspect of his life. “Human beings have to have their sleep”, (Kafka 4) Gregor said, thinking to himself about the loathing resentment he had towards his job. Laying in bed in a state of confusion, he thinks “O God…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!” (Kafka 4). Prior to opening the door, Gregor says “Mr. Manager! Take it easy on my parents! There is really no basis for the criticisms which you are now making against me, and really nobody has said a word to me about that” (Kafka 15), unearthing the vulnerability of lower economic classes, and their dependence on upper economic classes. His manager, representative of the bourgeois class, was concerned exclusively with Gregor’s output and upon the sight of his metamorphosis “had already turned away and with curled lips” and “without letting Gregor out of his sight, backed toward the door” (Kafka 16). Gregor’s instantaneous unemployment is gestures towards the impersonal, rude, and dehumanizing structure of class relations. Gregor unmasks his new self and clearly reveals his vulnerable proletarian state.

In addition to employing characters to signify tensions between economic classes, the novel judiciously details how Gregor’s transformation encumbers his labor and due to that, eliminates his place in society and even his own family. Even before his metamorphosis however, Gregor can be seen as more trapped in his torturous job, working only to support his family. “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” (Kafka 5) Gregor says, revealing one of the primary thematic conflicts of the novel: Gregor’s job was killing him, yet what killed him in the end was his inability to do that very job.

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Gregor’s manager, present only in the first climactic scene of the novel, is described as insensitive and impersonal, with his anonymity serving as an indicator to the lack of humanity he held for Gregor and presumably other prolaritats. Gregor specifically highlights the fact that the manager “sits on the desk and talks down from the heights to the employees” (Kafka 5) clearly defining the rigidity in class structure present in society. The manager holds a well-defined superiority over the laboring class, because of his further economic reach. When Gregor is a few hours late after being on time for work every day for five years, the manager travels all the way to his home and consults with his parents to personally reprimand him, because, as with the bourgeois class, the manager possesses no labor of his own and relies exclusively on workers such as Gregor.

Gregor’s new verminous is described only in vague terms, with the only specific details, such as his “animal’s voice” (Kafka 16) highlighted only to explain how his transformation has affected his productivity and diminished his ability to conduct labor. The obvious interpretation of the manager fleeing after seeing Gregor’s new form was one of fear, but in line with the overarching metaphor of the novella, the manager instantly saw that Gregor no longer has any productive value so he was fired on the spot. To the bourgeois class, the worker is worth nothing more than the value of their labor, and so without any labor to offer, Gregor was worthless and expendable.

Gregor worked years to pay off his family’s debts, but as soon as he is no longer earning wages he is so quickly discarded by his father. After Gregor becomes unable to support his family financially, they all eventually abandon him as well. Gregor’s family is also representative of the bourgeois class, as when Gregor was no longer able to provide his family with money, his relationship with them was severed. Gregor’s father, with whom he had little emotional attachment, was the harshest in dealing with Gregor. He is nothing but hostile after the transformation. Upon first seeing his transformed son, he “clenched his fists, as if to drive Gregor back into his room” (Kafka 19). Then, one day when his son is trapped outside of his room, he attacks him by throwing apples. Upon being attacked, “Gregor stood still in fright, paralyzed in fear as ‘his father had decided to bombard him’” (Kafka 51). Although this scene appears almost comical, the apple he threw left Gregor with a ‘serious wound, from which he suffered for over a month”. This act of aggression from Gregor’s father reveals Gregor’s role in the family: the sole income earner and nothing more.

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Flaws of the Structure of Society in Franz Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis’. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 31, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/flaws-of-the-structure-of-society-in-franz-kafkas-the-metamorphosis/
“Flaws of the Structure of Society in Franz Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis’.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/flaws-of-the-structure-of-society-in-franz-kafkas-the-metamorphosis/
Flaws of the Structure of Society in Franz Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis’. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/flaws-of-the-structure-of-society-in-franz-kafkas-the-metamorphosis/> [Accessed 31 Jan. 2023].
Flaws of the Structure of Society in Franz Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 25 [cited 2023 Jan 31]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/flaws-of-the-structure-of-society-in-franz-kafkas-the-metamorphosis/
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