Abstract: with self imposed rules and regulations, which

Abstract:

The
leading role of the novella Metamorphosis is Gregor Samsa who is the son of a
middle class family living in Prague with his parents and sister. He represents
a certain type of conduct with regards to existentialism – bad faith/
inauthentic rule of living. The story is about how Gregor has lost his true
self by his own choices and decisions of neglecting his personal needs and
overemphasizing on family welfare. He has bound his life with self imposed
rules and regulations, which he thinks are uncontrollable and unmanageable. Since,
his body is altered in that of an insect, now those very codes of governance
don not apply, and thus he goes through the expedition of finding his true
self. The first step of this ride is his inability to go to his office, and
follow the etiquettes. Being confined in his room and losing all the remnants
of his human life, he goes into self-indulgence and depression. It is then,
when he confronts his way of living and realizes his true identity. He not only
witnesses but also accepts the fact that his family was, in a way, better
without him doing everything for them. Recognition of this truth leads him to
confine himself to his room, and in the end his starvation and depression cause
his death and liberation eventually.

Introduction to Metamorphosis

In
order to understand the novella metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, we need to
understand the author’s life and the struggles he went through, as this novella
depicts his life’s story through an existentialist view point.

About Franz Kafka:

Franz
Kafka was an existentialist writer in the early nineteenth century. He was born
in Czech Republic, although he was born in a Jewish household but he was not a
practicing Jew. He spoke German. With regards to society and community, he
lived his life as a minority with restrictions and apprehensions. He didn’t
enjoy a good family life either. Even though he had a PhD in law but he was
forced to work in the insurance industry to support his life. His work also
hindered in his writing career as it took up most of his time. But, the
significant issue in his life was his relationship with his father. He was
never able to understand and develop a cordial relationship with his father.
Conversely, his father never appreciated and acknowledged him. His father had a
tyrannical role in his life, and the impact of this can be seen in his
writings.

Kafka’s
literary works deals with seclusion, separation, lonesomeness, and rejection.
Although, many themes are predominant in his works, we will stick to the theme
of existentialism. For Kafka, individualism was very important. The nurturing
one has received, and as a result the choices and decisions one take defines
him/her. He critically evaluates the role played by the social systems in our
society with regards to our decision making capability. Experience is far more
valuable than one’s beliefs. Kafka did not believe in God, and he propagated
that an individual is liberated to make his/her own ethical decisions.

About the novella: Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis
is one of the masterpieces of Franz Kafka. It is a satirical humor. One has to
read it multiple times to comprehend and grasp the underline meanings/themes in
it. It portrays to a large extent Franz Kafka’s own life.

The
novella is based on Gregor Samsa’s family. The family lives in Prague, in a
small apartment and it belongs to the middle-income segment. The family has
only four members: Gregor Samsa, his mother, his father, and his younger
sister. About five years back, Gregor’s father lost all his family, and
eventually Gregor ended up working for one of his father’s lenders as a
salesman. Now, Gregor is only the bread winner of the family who works day and
night for the betterment of his loved ones. The novella starts with Gregor sleeping
at home for the night before embarking on one of the frequent business trips in
the next morning.

In
this novella, the reader would not find clear cut meanings and intentions of
the author; instead the reader must read between the lines to comprehend what
is written and what is being said. It is important to note that the story is
only from Gregor’s point of view, we know how Gregor thinks and what he feels
and why he does what he does, but the feelings, thoughts, and cognition of
other characters is not known to the reader, unless those characters have
expressed it explicitly through their words. 
This piece of literature can also be termed as an allegory teaching us
the lesson of how one is supposed to define his/her life’s purpose and his/her existence.

Metamorphosis
tries to answer fundamental existentialist’s questions including what purpose
do we have and how do we explain the absurd fact of death which renders
everything in our life-all struggles, pain, etc futile. It tries to incorporate
the complex social and cultural systems we experience in our rapidly changing
lives and how these systems are being affected by emerging technologies, and
how all these together manipulate our decisions. In our society, an individual
is deemed to lose his/her true identity due to the expectations and societal
pressures from family, educational institutions, etc. and in what ways one can
regain the control over his/her life is partially answered in this novella.

Analysis of Metamorphosis from Existentialist Viewpoint:

As
the novella is divided into three parts, each part describing a different
aspect and stage of Gregor Samsa’s life, therefore we will analyze it part wise
as follows:

Part I:

This
part explains the relationship between Gregor and his profession. It is a kind
of a relationship between a slave and a master. Gregor’s life is bound and
defined by his profession. His life only revolves around his work. Twenty four
hours a day and irrespective of the place his mind is contemplating his work’s
dynamics. This is the reason why the author states that when Gregor gets up in
his bed and he finds out that his body has been transformed into that of an
insect, he denies accepting this reality. Yet, he tries to get out of bed, and
he wants to get dressed as he is getting late to go to office. His work has
been so much embedded in his life that without his work, his life is
indeterminate.

Existentialism
argues that existence precedes essence. We first exist, and then only we define
ourselves. Kafka through Gregor’s role is portraying that in this
industrialized and modernized life, we have been so much caught up in this
hustle and bustle that we forget that we are the ones who have made our lives
into this by our decisions and choices. Like, Gregor incorrectly assumed that
only he is responsible for his family’s bread winning, and only he can do it,
and that he has to do it and there is no other solution to this problem.  It’s not that Gregor lacks personal desires.
The very fact that he was looking at an exotic woman’s picture last night in a
magazine shows that he wants it, but he thinks that he cannot have it. In a
way, he has limited his freedom and his capacity.

Gregor’s
physical transformation is symbolic of the way he has treated his own self. In
his life, he put his family before his own self. He ignored his own wishes
which are evident by his disconcerting dreams. Gregor’s character depicts
contradiction between one’s true identity and one’s corporal reality. The
author distorted his character into that of an insect as in the insect form his
own self becomes higher than others. The first part describes in detail the
struggles and tribulations faced by Gregor in his insect body to leave his bed.
This depicts how much dependent Gregor was on his physical body and routine,
and clearly his sense of himself was altered considerably.

Moving
on we see that the Chief Clerk from Gregor’s office arrives at his home, and
all the family members including the chief clerk start questioning as to why
Gregor is not out of his room. In fact, they all kind of start making demands,
and giving commands to Gregor to come out of his room immediately. We observe
that how everyone assumes thanklessly Gregor’s role in their lives and how they
take it for granted with no consideration towards Gregor’s personal life. When,
at last, Gregor manages to unlock his room door and let him be out of his room,
all the audience is frightened and traumatized. The clerk runs away, his mother
starts blaring, and his unappreciative father injures him and pushes him back
into his room. At the end of part I, Gregor Samsa is seen to be locked up in
his body and locked up in his room by his own family.

Part II:

Part
two of the book further tells us about Gregor’s family, mainly his parents and
sister and their reactions to the transformed conditions in their house.
Gregor’s sister tries to feed him with human food that is bread and milk.
However, he does not find it to be appealing. He spends the rest of his time
listening to his family in the living room. His main concern is still for
himself that he does not want to become a burden on his family. Seeing that
Gregor had not eaten, Grete brings various scraps and leaves for him to eat
which he enjoyed eating. Gregor further learns that the money he gave to his
family had not been entirely spent and he feels proud of his contributions. However,
the family members will need to find a job since the money is not sufficient
enough to last a life time. This makes Gregor feel bad since his parents were
not capable of working, his mom had asthma and his dad was clumsy.  When Grete notices that Gregor enjoys
climbing the walls, she decides to remove the furniture from his room to give
him more space. The thought of losing all the remains of his human life made
Gregor panic and so he covered the picture of the woman in furs to protect it
from being taken away. His mother fainted at the sight of seeing his
transformed look and his father tried to kill him.

Existentialism
can be seen in various aspects of this part. According to existentialism,
People have two sides that is an individual side and a side with commitment to
society. Their choices should be in moderation of their two sides in order to
maintain a balance. If a person chooses himself over society, he loses the
support of the society and if he chooses the society over himself he loses his
individuality. After Gregor’s transformation he is forced to divert his
attention towards himself, hence he lost his importance, his family eventually
learnt to be self –sufficient, moved on in life and were not dependent on him
anymore.

Another
depiction of existentialism can be seen when Gregor’s room was being organized
his family planned to remove all the paintings from the
wall. It was Gregor’s personal choice to protect his rights as an individual by
holding on to the picture before they remove it. There was nothing inherent in
that picture; it was just his perception of the picture being attractive.

A
view central to the existential thought is that of “The look”. This states that
the way others perceive us changes the way we see ourselves, the concept of one
self and of right and wrong. For instance, Gregor’s sister’s affection and love
that he cherishes the most can be perceived as a look of approval. This notion
of the look can also be applied in the situation when Gregor hides himself from
his family so that they do not have to bear seeing his grotesqueness.

Part III:

The wound that Gregor had, because of his father smashing the apple
was growing painful and the apple went sticking inside his body. There was
nobody to take care of Gregor, as he was not a part of the family. And was
living in a room where nobody was to take his care. Gregor’s darkened room’s
door was opened every evening but when Gregor saw outside his room towards the
living room he listens to the family’s conversation that sounds depressed and
defeated. His father misbehaved with his family and often not listened to them.
The serving girl was replaced by an elderly woman. And due to their low
earning, the family sold out the ornaments that Gregor’s mother and sister use
to wear in parties and celebration with pride. The family feels disappointed
and the behavior of Gregor’s father start to get worse day by day towards his
sister and mother. Gregor is neglected by his family and due to many other
problems in the family the family was unable to care for Gregor. Gregor’s room
that was cleaned by his sister was now cleaned by that old working lady. His
sister stopped the cleaning after which his mother started cleaning and after
that his father stopped both of them from cleaning the room and from that time
the cleaning was done by old lady. The old lady starts to call Gregor with odd
names like “you old dung beetle” and was not frightened by him being a bug.
Gregor stopped eating any food on protest and didn’t respond to any of his
family members. Family invited three lodgers to stay in their apartment giving
them a portion or a room. These lodgers were very much hygienic, caring persons
and due to that they came with their own furniture. Due to this and small space
in the rest of the apartment, all the useless items were shifted to Gregor’s
room. According to Kafka the family had given these lodgers much more
importance then they needed, as Kafka says “the family exaggerated their
politeness to the lodgers”. One evening Gregor listened to the violin that her
sister played, in kitchen. And upon the request of these lodgers the sister
agrees to play violin in the evening every day, in their room, in front of the
lodgers. While sister plays the violin the fathers stands in the corner and
mother sits on a chair offered by the lodgers. After some days the lodgers became
bored with the violin playing skills of the sister. Finally they started to get
irritated and disappointed by the performance.

Gregor was coming from his room towards the lodger’s room to listen
to the violin and to grab her sister’s attention so that he could tell her
that, she could come in his room and play the violin there, instead of lodger’s
room. While coming towards the lodgers, one of the lodgers calls Gregor’s
father and points his index finger towards Gregor, as he was moving slowly
towards the room. Due to this his father got tensed and tried to push them into
their own room and tried to block their view of Gregor, from his body. The
lodgers gave a notice about leaving the flat immediately, without giving any
payments for the days they lived here. Upon this the sister breaks up her
silence in front of mother and father and says that the family should get rid
of this bug. The father supported the sister and mother seemed to disagree with
that but could not help. Sister asks that how can he be Gregor? And says if he
was Gregor he would have gone voluntarily as Gregor cared that human cannot
live with the bug that he had been changed into after his metamorphosis. Gregor
was so depressed with what his father and sister had said about him, and his mother’s
inability to do anything for him. Due to this he felt that he was now very weak
and couldn’t move towards his room. After immense efforts to move his body,
which was very difficult, due to the weakness that was due to not eating
anything for long time and due to his families view about him. He finally
reached his room feeling weakened and shattered. After reaching his room he
comforts himself at a place and lies there for hours and hours. In the morning,
the old woman finds Gregor starved to death.

The last part encompasses the Gregor’s renovation of self. He is
reborn in some sense. It exemplifies his connection with demise and loss. As
now he was not even only considered as someone not part of the family, but also
as someone not even human. His family couldn’t communicate with him. The rules
and regulations which at some time governed Gregor’s life were of no use, and
thus Gregor found himself in the state of ‘despair’. He was now able to explore
his true nature. At the end, the author in an ironic style also hints the
reader as to how this story goes on when Grete (Gregor’s sister) take son his
role as being the champion of the family, and her mother and father look at her,
and admire her for her support.

Conclusion:

Many have argued that the transformation and its consequences
cannot be taken as Gregor’s dream, as in that case it would undermine the
significance of the whole story. From beginning till the ending, we see that
Gregor enjoyed a position of power in his family apparently, but the reality
was that his family was much better without him, as his mother, father, and his
sister all of them started contributing and living cheerfully.  

Franz
Kafka uses Gregor’s character to outline his own existentialist ideas,
especially the importance of individualism. Gregor’s transformational journey
signifies how important existentialist thoughts are, and how we often over look
them. Living in an ever expanding and interdependent world, we often face
decisions requiring a choice to be made between ourselves and our
family/society. Those very choices define not only who we are but also have
repercussions for our lives. For existentialist, a human being is in a chaotic
world, which is unsympathetic and unreceptive. In order to have purpose in such
a world, one must know his freedom and how his decisions are going to impact
that freedom. In a nutshell, Franz Kafka’s masterpiece Metamorphosis gives us a
profound understanding of existentialist theory and is very much applicable to
our daily lives, and it will be of relevance to future generations as well.