Alienation is the state or experience of being isolated from a group or an activity to which one should belong or in which one should be involved. Alienation is a central theme that Franz Kafka discusses in his story ‘Metamorphosis’ from the beginning all the way to the end when the main character, Gregor, dies alone in his room. Gregor’s guilt, being a work alcoholic, and the rejection from his family feed off the central core of alienation. There seems to be a demand in society where you must conform to social norms in order to be accepted and not face alienation.
The initial alienation for Gregor is the transformation from human to bug. As the story progresses it becomes clear that there is not much of a difference between Gregor’s human life and his new bug life. He is not fazed by this transformation and tries to get used to it and eventually he accepts who he has become. He notices his “numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his bulk” Gregor does not seem to be emotional about this transformation, all he seems to focus on is how he cannot attend work anymore.
Gregor’s job is a traveling salesman and he has become so obsessed with his work that he is more mechanical than personal. He is just going through the motions day in and day out. He picks up “a prudent habit… acquired in traveling of locking all doors during the night”, which he takes into his home life and proves how distant he is from his family. It becomes clear that in reality Gregor hates his job. He thinks it is “exhausting… irritating work”, he doesn’t like to travel so much, meeting people that never become more than acquaintances, the mistreatment from his boss. He is only working to pay off a debt for his parents.
Since Gregor can no longer work, he becomes alienated from the money driven economy. The norm being if you are unproductive you become irrelevant and repulsive. Gregor’s insect form that stops him from earning an income to support his family, strengthens the circumstance that he is now seen as repulsive and disgusting in his family eyes and also in the eyes of society. His only value to his family is just a financial one, family relations have been reduced to economic worth.
The idea of Gregor just being a source of income further alienates him from the family. His family cares about the pay check Gregor hands them every month. Gregor’s was slowly changing into a hermit, but his family pays no mind to it because their only focus is in his delivery of funds for them. Some instances in the story it seems as if his family actually cares about Gregor’s well-being and condition, but that is easily seen through as their selfish desire for Gregor to continue being the breadwinner. When Gregor’s voice becomes distorted due to his insect form, his mom sends for the doctor which is most likely to ensure that he can still make it to work. Gregor assumes “people now believed something was wrong with him, and were ready to help him'.
Gregor does not understand that his mom’s motive is not for what he thinks it is, which is making sure he makes it to work on time. His family does not realize something is seriously wrong until Gregor exits his room as a bug, which is unsuitable for work. The reaction of his dad goes from fist clenching to sobbing, which would have been the same if Gregor said he quit his job. Family life for Gregor after his transformation does not change that much since he does not have a strong relationship with his family from the start. This only takes his alienation to a whole new level.
Gregor is now not only mentally detached from them but physically as well. He is seen as a burden and is no longer the center of attention since he is no longer obtaining the grain (making money). As a result of his transformation, his family locks him up in his room. Grete, trying to help, brings Gregor rotten food and takes all the furniture in his room out. This really drives home the idea that Gregor is no longer human.
As time continues, his family starts to slowly become strangers to him. One point his father throws apples at him to try and kill him. Gregor finally realizes just how much he is alienated from his family when he finds out that his dad got a job to fill the role that Gregor played. His dad is now a bank official and dresses in “a smart blue uniform with gold buttons”. Grete also gets a job and starts a new life for herself. Gregor’s family moves on without him, essentially forgetting that he even exists, this understanding brings about his self-alienation.
Grete’s character to him changed from an emotional little girl to a bitter mature stranger, she was the first in the family to suggest the extermination of Gregor. This news does not shock Gregor however since his father already tried doing that. The fact that his own sister suggested the idea hurts more and brings about his self-alienation, which eventually causes his death. Gregor then realizes since his family can no longer communicate with him they push him away, and his transformation makes him open his eyes and he know now that his family has always set him apart way before he turned into a bug.
Gregor dies broken-hearted and alone. He is excluded from society and his family, ultimately, forcing him to become a hermit. His job also brings about alienation from what mattered more in life, like building a strong familial relationship, having supportive friends that will be there through thick and thin, and true love. His metamorphosis brings him to the final stage that his life was meaningless and held no purpose.
Gregor accepts his job thinking it would have led to more self-fulfilling future. This is prevalent among most people in today’s society. People experience similar disappointments in the economy today, they make goals and rarely reach them to gain satisfaction and along the way they forget what is really important in life. They don’t stop to smell the roses. People who do not obey this way of life find themselves alienated and excluded. ‘Metamorphosis’ teaches us to keep balance between work and family, and family should not be tied to economic power.