The Metamorphosis Essay, Research Paper
In the opening lines of German author Franz Kafkas’ short story narrative “The Metamorphosis”, the protagonist Gregor Samsa a disgruntled traveling salesman who lives with and supports his parents and little sister, awakens from a night of unpleasant dreams to find that he has been metamorphosed into a cockroach he calls a “monstrous vermin” (Kafka, page 89). This particularly strange opening sets the stage for in my opinion, a very strange and very vague play. I say this because throughout the whole story we never find out much less are given any clue of how or why he managed to be metamorphosed into this insect. Not to mention what the moral of the story is or the fact that this whole book reads like one big nauseating, joke.
As the story begins we basically from the get go are introduced to the daily gist of the book which is Gregor’s everyday struggle with his newly acquired body. This is evident when Gregor try’s to crawl out of bed but cannot because he is laid down on his back and as a cockroach does not have the means to get himself up and into a upright poistion. To make things worst when he awakens at half-past six o’clock and is immediately late for the five o’clock train he was destined to be on for his meeting with the porter. Gregor is now running the risk of being unemployed if he doesn’t make his appointed rounds as a traveling salesman. It is right before this point that we find out about Gregor’s utter contempt for not only his job and his boss but his special loan workout wage setup as well. You see Gregor’s parents are in debt to his boss who is only referred to as the “chief” (Kafka, page 90) of his firm. Gregor himself who is a returning veteran of our country yearns to be free his Indentured like servitude to his chief so that he can feel free to pursue other goals. This to me I find quite peculiar because it is never stated what he plans on doing after he pays the debt, nor does he seem to have any remarkable talents about him. As the story proceeds we again find Gregor desperately trying to get up from out of his bed with all his family members inquiring about his early morning agenda through his locked bedroom doors. From that point on as if things were not already bad to begin with, Gregor’s whole world went on a downward spiral the moment the chief clerk makes his way round to the Samsa’s residence to see why Gregor did not make his scheduled trip. Gregor then starts to convey to the chief clerk that he was not in the right frame of mind earlier but is all ready to go now. However Gregor fails to realize that the metamorphic change into a cockroach has not only affected his appearance but it has changed his speech pattern as well. He not only looks like a cockroach but his voice which sounds normal to him translates to others in the sound of a cockroach. Upon hearing this insect like sound and seeing Gregor as he now is the chief clerk leaves the Sama’s residence never to return taking not only Gregor’s job with him but all hopes of Gregor ever repaying the family debt. Gregor is then chased into his room by his dad and forced to basically spend most of his time there until his time was up. During the time that Gregor was forced to live out the remainder of his existence in his now prison like room, many family matters occur. For one his younger sister whom he is used to taking care of now trades places with him as far as roles in responsibility go. She now after years of good loving and nurturing feels obligated to repay Gregor for all his years of dedication. Since Gregor in his current metamorphosed state cannot do his every day activities, she sees to it that he is feed and his room is kept clean though she personally finds it hard to look at him for undisclosed reasons. While she is doing this it is interesting to see how much utter disgust and loath his father looks at him with, and not for just physical reasons either. This after years of Gregor putting aside his own personal life and ambitions and working hard to repay a debt that is not his to begin with, you would think there would be some form of compassion on his father’s part. However some parental compassion does not fall on deaf ears for Gregor’s mother openly voices her concern for the now grimacing state her son is in. These actions however mean nothing because as the story goes on each family members character begins to build due to the fact of responsibility that has now befallen them. Each member must take up now take up jobs to keep the family afloat. As the story builds the father has now taken back his former position as head of the household with Gregor’s sister a close second. The mother with her asthma proves to be just too physically and emotionally weak to hold much weight, even though her wifely duties are much appreciated by her husband. As time goes on everyone except for Gregor’s mother basically looks at him like an “invalid” (Kafka, page 122) and wants this nightmare he’s brought to the household to end. At one point Gregor and his father get into another physical altercation which sees Gregor taking on cockroach like qualities like scurrying back and forth to avoid danger in the from of apples being thrown at him, one of which becomes resident in Gregor’s back. To compensate for the lack of monetary gain the Samsa’s rent out one of their rooms to lodgers to help cover the slack. At the climax of the story we find not a physical altercation but a verbal one between all talking members of the family which excludes Gregor for two reasons but still involves him. When Gregor decides to leave his room to try to share a moment with his talented violinist of a sister it is mistaken for an attack on the lodgers and all hell breaks loose. Hell in the form of his once guardian angel of a sister, this time stating that “he must go,” (Kafka, page 134). At the end the charwoman who used to go to Gregor’s room to tease him finds him flattened in his room dead apparently from starvation, Gregor hardly ate once his relationship with his family deteriorated. Even though it is hinted at that the Samsa’s weep together in a room they still showed no compassion when the charwoman proclaimed that she threw Gregor in the garbage. In the end the Samsa’s talked about moving when they went on a family stroll and looked at their daughter with signs of hope. Perhaps they now want her to solely work off their debt.
I personally did not like this story that much for its lack of information and its handling of the situation. I also find tales of giant sized cockroaches running rampant to be quite disgusting. I believe that Kafkas’ moral can easily be distorted by a trained or untrained eye in literature because of his handling of the situation. Near the beginning we find Gregor stumbling around trying to get used to his new body and still trying to make if for work at the same time. Now I strongly believe that if anyone were to wake up a cockroach that work would be the last thing on his or her mind. This now takes me to the next logical thought that him being a cockroach was just an allegory or used for satire. However in this story I don’t believe that to be the case here I believe he is quite literally and figuratively a cockroach, however if I am wrong and it is satire I must say it is used pretty terribly. For if this metamorphosis is not what it seems to be then why all the looks of disgust by fellow family members as well as the chief clerk. They all acted as though they seen some thing horrid. This reaction to appearance also has reactions on opposite sides of the spectrum though, for the lodgers looked upon him with amusement, both of which can support my claim of a real physical change in Gregor. Another clue for a real physical change is the way he is treated and the way he treats himself. People like his father, sister and the charwoman treat him like an animal or a pest. His father says, ““shoo!”” (Kafka, page 104) to him with newspapers and hurls apples his way, and he in turn runs around in circles and hides under furniture. His sister now cleans his dirty disgusting room, serves him food on the floor, which by the way is spoiled and rotting. And the char woman tosses all useless appliances in his room and every now and then finds time in her daily activities to call him a “old dung beetle!”” (Kafka, page 127) and pester him with brooms. He him self takes certain liberties that only cockroaches have such a sticking to the surfaces of walls and ceilings. Another important fact is the fact that he never left the house. With such a gruesome appearance it supports my claim. But if he is indeed a cockroach then what is the point behind this whole story? Is it just a fable about a man who turned into a cockroach? Was this whole fiasco of making a man a cockroach done to give a distraction to a redundant moral, or maybe even compensate for a meaningless story? I doubt that this book would have such critical acclaim if so, then what? That’s what I had a hard time figuring out. At first glance I looked at it as a overdone story whose redundant moral is one of lack of love and appreciation, one where people build you up to knock you down. Gregor’s father did both of which. In some aspect I was right, but there’s much more. As the critics have thought me.
In “Franz Kafka An Anthology of Marxist Criticism” Howard Fast sees things very much the same way I do but with a little bit more knowledge on Kafka, his history, and his times. He says just like me that the satire is too heavy to just be meant in an allegory fashion. It’s as if Kafka “was carried away by a conviction of reality of the situation he had conceived” (Fast, page 12). You see when establishing satire your object is to create a smile or metaphor and relate it to the object at hand, to drive out the true of that object all being done with a certain grace or ambiance to it. Essentially what your talking about is fake but comparing it to something real because of significant likeness. The satire itself should never be more real than the object at hand; it should never have more life. However Kafka went too far. He made the satire, which is the likeness of a cockroach, too real. If Kafka were to not have delved so much into unneeded characteristics of Gregor then people such as I would get his message clearer. Kafka talked about the clinging to walls and ceilings, all of which had no bearing on what I, learned the story to be about. The story is about Communism and its affects on both parties when it doesn’t workout. You see before Gregor’s transformation he was living in a communist environment, he would slave at a job he did not like and give most his earnings to his parents mainly his dad to pay off a debt. Much like communism you slave at a job within your trade, give most your earnings to the government to either help build up the government or pay of national debts. When Gregor was late getting to work it was the beginning whether he knew it or not. Him turning into a cockroach and the pain he felt in his stomach at the time was a revolting of sorts. His father was left to carry the workload and much like a communist government when the people, which Gregor represents, cannot work or revolt the government treats the people badly and an effect is made. That effect is the downfall of the whole structure. Which happened at the end, when Gregor dies the system collapses and a new one with his sister will begin. Fast however saw the actual meaning of the story different than mine however. Fast states that Kafka “In his mind, he has performed the equation; man and roach are the same; they are each as worthy as the other; they are each as glorious as the other; they cancel out” (Fast, page 13). By saying this Fast is saying that Kafka is stating that mankind is a lazy, disgusting, low life form. Which in Gregor’s case does not hold true. The book begins with Gregor thinking about how hard he works and how sick of it he is. Not only that but he is paying off a debt he really does have to, so he cannot be lazy.
An overall critical analysis more along the lines that can I agree with comes from Stanley Corngold in “Kafka, Franz The Metamorphosis”. Corngold goes more along my lines when he says:
“’The metamorphosis’ can also be seen as a reaction against bourgeois society and its demands. Gregor’s manifest physical separation may represent his alienation and inarticulate yearnings. He had been a ‘vermin,’ crushed and circumscribed by authority and routine. He had been imprisoned by social and economic demands: ’Just don’t stay in bed being useless….’”
This I believe is the effect his family had on him, which continued this pattern by feeding upon itself. It reversed the roles with Gregor’s father playing the disgruntled worker and Gregor becoming the invalid his father was. However Gregor was only an invalid because of circumstance. Unlike his father who apparently failed in life and was in debt.
In conclusion it is only suffice to say that this story continues its suffice communistic pattern. Allen Thiher in “Franz Kafka A Study of the Short Fiction” states it well when he says “A contrast to Gregor’s demise is the final image of ‘The Metamorphosis.’ Gregor’s sister, Grete, also undergoes a transformation, though one that opposes Gregor’s. She awakens to her body’s sufficiency once Gregor has disappeared.” (Thiher, page 44). With communism the problem doesn’t go away that easily, for just like many nations under communist rule the resolution of tough times doesn’t always make for a happy ending. This is because with such governmental dealings as this where one party feels deprived and not given its fair share another revolution is right around the bend. As for the Samsa’s, it looks like Gregor’s sister Grete is the next one to inherit the family debt.
Glatzer, Nahum N. Franz Kafka, The Complete Stories. Schocken Books, New York, 1971.
Hughes, Kenneth “Franz Kafka An Anthology of Marxist Criticism.” University Press of New England, Hanover and London, 1981.
Corngold, Stanley “Kafka, Franz The Metamorphosis.” Bantam, New York, 1972.
Thiher, Allen “Franz Kafka A Study of the Short Fiction.” Twayne Publishers, Boston, 1990.