Franz Kafka wrote one of his best-known works called the Metamorphosis which was first published in 1915. It tells the story of salesman Gregor Samsa that wakes one morning to find himself suddenly transformed into a huge insect and subsequently struggling to adjust to this new condition. It shows the readers how Gregor and his whole family is trying to adapt to his new appearance, but it’s not that simple.
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The novella has been widely discussed among literary critics, with differing interpretations being offered. Some of them view the transformation of the protagonist as symbolic rather than literal. I believe that Gregor does not really turn into an insect, instead, the author made an insect a metaphor for the life he lives and his relationships to those around him.
Gregor is dehumanized by his boss in the way that he treats him at work. His presence at work proved more important to his boss than his well being. When Gregor neglected to arrive at work due to his unexpected physical transformation an attorney was sent to his house and exclaimed, “I hope it’s nothing serious. On the other hand, I must also say that we business people- for better or for worse, however one looks at it- very often simply have to overcome a minor infirmity for business concern” (20). The boss was so concerned about his business and how the absence of Gregor would affect him that he did not even bother to care about how Gregor was doing or why he had not shown up for work. He was seen as a minion to the boss. His only purpose pertained to earn more money for the company and if he was not doing that the boss saw him as a waste. The boss looked at him as a worker, not as a human being. Gregor is stripped of the emotional traits he possesses like his personality and seen only for the things that could help the company like his productivity. The way that the boss treats him and takes advantage of his passiveness is the first way that he is dehumanized.
Gregor also experiences dehumanization through his lack of strong relationships. He does not go out with friends like a man of his age would usually do. Even before his transformation Gregor isolated himself and focused solely on his work. His mother describes, “I am almost angry that he never goes out at night; right now he’s been in the city eight days, but he’s been at home every evening” (20). In this situation, Gregor takes away his own human qualities. He does not waste what he views as precious time going out with friends, instead, he works hard long hours and comes home to his family. He does not let himself obtain relationships with friends even though his own mother encourages it. Gregor focuses intensely on his work and does not take time to reflect on himself. The time that he spends on his work draws away from the time he would need to make strong relationships and his lack of these relationships is what eventually leads to his dehumanization. He does all of his hard work for one reason, to provide for his family.
Gregor provides for his family which forces him to spend less time on his own needs and more time on his family’s needs. Gregor hates his job and doesn’t want to upset his boss because he knows that he provides his family ‘s only income. When he debated whether or not to go to work he thinks to himself, “If I didn’t hold back for my parents’ sake I would have quit ages ago” (14). This shows that Gregor works not because he enjoys it but because he feels the need to pay off his family’s debt. He feels as if it is his duty to provide for the family when they are under the financial distress they are experiencing. Although Gregor worked extremely hard his family takes advantage of him. While overhearing his family talking his father says, “In, addition, the money that he had brought home every month- he had only kept a few guilders for himself- had not been completely used up and had accumulated to become a small asset” (38). While Gregor worked hard at a job that he hated so he could pay off his family’s debt as quick as possible his father set away money and not caring about how his son felt about his job. This made it so he would have to work longer at his job to pay off the debts. If Gregor ‘s family cared about his personal well being they would have done everything in their power for him to quit his job. Instead, they sat around living lavishly off of his hard earned money and let him do all of the work. This dehumanizes Gregor and shows that they view him as a paycheck instead of an important member of the family. Although dehumanized by his family, Gregor’s metamorphosis provides many unexpected positives. His father, mother, and sister all become more independent through his transformation as they are not able to depend on Gregor anymore. Despite how spoiled the family was by Gregor and his financial support, they quickly learned to adapt to their new lives without his help.
After Gregor’s Metamorphosis, his father had to become the main provider for the family. He went from being dependent on his son to a supportive family man. He worked so often that he would ‘t take his uniform off even to sleep. The text explains, “The father refused with a sort of obstinacy to take off his servant’s uniform even at home, and while the sleeping gown hung uselessly on a coat hook, he slumbered fully clothed in his place, as if he were always to serve and even here awaited the voice of his superior” (52). His father now works to the point of exhaustion, never for a second does he let himself relax. He works long hours and when he gets home he often times drifts into sleep even when he has not gone to lay down for bed. He wears his uniform to bed which shows that he is both subjective to his boss and proud of the work he is doing. His change in clothing at the end of The Metamorphosis signifies that the father has also changed. Gregor’s Father changed from a careless dependent into a proud hard working provider.
Due to Gregor’s Metamorphosis, his mother learned to help support the family despite her sickness. The mother had asthma and used this as a reason she could not work for all of these years. She learned to help out in small ways, like sewing, although nobody ever forced her to work. The sister was worried she was working too hard and said to the mother, “My you’ve already been sewing for such a long time!” (52). She was not being overworked but she had done such a minute amount of work for the family for so long that even her small contribution seemed massive in comparison. The family was scared to let her work hard because of her medical condition and how weak and frail she had become with age. In reality, it was good to have her working. Gregor’s Metamorphosis helped his mother become more independent. Her small contributions that she made to the family by sewing gave her self worth and purpose.
Gregor’s Sister, experience the largest change as she went from a spoiled girl with everything handed to her to a girl that had to work for what she had. Even after Gregor’s Metamorphosis he still thought of ways that he could make Grete’s life better. He thought to himself’, “Only the sister still remained close to Gregor, and his secret plan was to send her, who differed from Gregor in that she loved music and knew how to play the violin movingly, to the conservatory next year” (37). Because Grete helps Gregor despite his change he still thinks of ways that he can help her out. Gregor soon realizes that this dream for Grete will no longer happen for her due to his physical state. Grete recognizes the financial situation of her family and knows that it is her duty to help. As explained in the text, “The sister, who had accepted a position as saleswomen, studied stenography and French in the evenings so that sometime later she, perhaps, would get a better position” (52). Grete worked hard as both a saleswoman in the day and student in the night. For the first time in her life, she took her destiny into her own hands and made it better without the help of Gregor. She dedicated herself to making her life better. Grete matures and takes Gregor ‘s place as a provider of the family and becomes a strong independent woman through the process.
Even before his metamorphosis occurred Gregor was dehumanized by his work was all that was important about him was his productivity, his lack of close relationships due to his extensive working, and his family treating him as nothing but an income. Although these things hurt Gregor and were the threshold for his metamorphosis to begin, he created positives for the lives of his entire family. His dad became a proud provider, his mother worked through her sickness and proved herself stronger than anybody expected, and his sister took it upon herself to become a saleswoman and get an education to better her own life. Having a family member transform into a bug may sound terrible but the outcomes may become better than ever expected.
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