Story about Traveling Salesman: “The Metamorphosis” (Franz Kafka)
At its most superficial level, renowned author Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is a story about a traveling salesman who, overnight, metamorphoses into a vermin; how he must continue on with life, and the effects his change has on his family. But, delving deeper, it is obvious that the author is commenting on the perilous inflated standard money is held to in a capitalist system and how it affects humans’ personal relationships. Kafka uses the protagonist’s, Gregor’s, crumbling relationship with his family to represent this friction and warn others against succumbing to such levels.
Kafka writes using a somber tone throughout the story to relay to the audience that Gregor, as a member of the working class in a capitalist system, has accepted his fate as being identified solely as a worker. When Gregor wakes from his night’s sleep and discovers that he is no longer of his human form, he doesn’t seem shaken but rather attempts to prepare for work while ranting to himself of its unfruitful nature. He uses negative diction to describe the labor as “grueling”, “torture” and “miserable” (Kafka 3-4). Gregor, although clearly unhappy with his job, attends day in and day out, working for himself, but mostly for his family. These ideas of unhappy working class members prove that “capitalism … [steals] freedom…a laborer is paid for the work he does… but is paid an amount to allow him to support his family rather than an amount based on the profit he has given his employer” (Political Theories for Students 218). The proletariat, or working class, work, not because they are truly interested in their field, but because it is a necessity to bring in the meager funds to simply live. This takes away their choice but shovels more and more money into the laps of the upper class. Kafka essentially uses Gregor’s position as a traveling salesman as a metaphor for a prison. Trapped, members of the working class work themselves tirelessly because they see money as their only salvation.
Food is a necessity for every living organism to survive and thrive. Therefore, Kafka uses food as a major symbol to represent Gregor’s deteriorating relationship with his family when they could no longer benefit from him and the money he provided. In the beginning, Grete, Gregor’s younger sister, brings him “a wide assortment of things, all spread out on an old newspaper” (Kafka 23) to eat, but later delivers him only with “scraps of food” (Kafka 45). Gregor’s family initially held out hope for his accelerated recovery so that he may continue to pay for their every need, but after months of no progress, they begin to treat him worse and worse and eventually wish for him to be gone. Gregor is a son and brother to them, but they cannot seem to be concerned with anything other than the luxuries he provided for them.
Within the United States, the more money one has, the more wealth and power one has access to. In other economic systems, such as communism, wealth is distributed equally so no one person is better off than another. Kafka demonstrates the greed and power-hungry characteristics that correspond with capitalism through Gregor’s family. Gregor routinely provides for his family, pays for his father’s debt and even plans to surprise his sister by paying for music school because of the love and family bond he feels for them. His family recognizes the power they have over him and exploit him; “such conditions of abuse of power produce alienation. Alienation in Kafka’s work is intrinsic to protagonists’ lives… Gregor Samsa in ‘Metamorphosis’ showcases alienation as he constantly worries about his work but dislikes it, and his job consumed all of his time” (Khare et al. 1625). To his family, he is exclusively the breadwinner, and not one of them, therefore separating him. Political Theories for Students describes alienation as “a central problem with capitalism” (219), proven by the dynamics of the Samsa household. When Gregor inevitably passes away due to lack of care, his father exclaims “well… now we can thank God!’ (Kafka 52). His family swiftly transitions from viewing him as an economic blessing to an economic burden. They even begin to make vacation plans to rejoice the extra money they will now have now that they must not care for Gregor. The parents soon begin to dream of the spoils Grete’s future husband would bring to them, instead of her happiness in marriage (Kafka 55). They did not see music as a worthwhile and successful career, regardless of the love Grete has for it and the extraordinary talent she possesses.
Kafka draws on satire to continue his commentary on the drawbacks of revering money. Months after Gregor discontinues working, the Samsa family remains with a maid, despite their tight financial situation (Kafka 54). The family is so image driven, they use the little money they have for a luxury so as to seem more wealthy, more powerful. This is toxic behavior that is only possible within economic systems in which there are people with excessive amounts of money at the top, and those with very little at the bottom.
Franz Kafka remarks on the inflexible grip money and wealth have on individuals within capitalist societies in The Metamorphosis. Gregor Samsa, the protagonist, represents one of many of those who have crumbled under the harsh pressure of an image driven, money hungry civilization. Kafka uses Gregor’s Mom, Dad, and sister, Grete, to illustrate the downfalls of greed and how, in the end, will leave one with less than what they began with.
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