Change in human life is inevitable and it commonly makes people’s lives different from usual. Change is also important at some point in our lives but at times, it affects even those connected to the victims. In The Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa changes into a large insect thus highlighting the central theme of change in the story. In translating the story, Susan Bernofsky attempts to capture humor as well as the humanity in this ghoulish narration, underlining the ways in which Gregor’s transition is only a physical show of his enduring spiritual destitution. The common literary device discussed in this essay is an allegory and it entails unearthing hidden meaning in addition to commenting on some aspects of human life. Kafka commented on isolation as a common product of how society was developing at the time. With this understanding, this essay will use allegory as a literary device to interpret the text by locating the idea about the meaning of the novel as well as analyzing the story by focusing on the scene.
As explained by Brod, (1960), Franz Kafka was born in 1883 in the Czech Republic but later moved to Berlin to focus on writing although he died of tuberculosis later. His father was not appreciative of Kafka’s creativity and this complicated connection between them shaped most of his literary pieces. His job and complicated life did not allow him to write extensively, but amid all that, he managed to come up with his best-selling short story, The Metamorphosis, which was finalized in 1912 and published in 1915. Kafka’s life connects highly to his Metamorphosis story. He lived in isolation with his father seemingly taking him as a lesser being. As a result, many of his stories cited their unsound relationship. Among the key theme in the story in relation to his life is that life is absurd and void of meaning. It feels as though Kafka was answering the ancient inquest of whether life was a comedy or a tragedy through his tragicomedy. The opening scene happens to be one of the most memorable opening statements in literature; a salesman waking up in the morning to find that he has changed into a monstrous insect: “When Samsa Gregor woke up one morning from a troubled dreams, he found himself transformed right there in his bed in a sort of monstrous insect” (1.1).
Analysis of First Scene
It is also very troubling to realize that Gregor was a good person and hardworking who supported his family financially, but the reader is not told why he transformed or why he deserved the transformation. In fact, he was not too overwhelmed by his new state and how he was going to cope with it, instead, he thought of his wearisome job. He reflected on the numerous times he wished to resign that job if his family did not rely on the money he got from it. Bernofsky confirmed in an interview that Gregor had to work hard for his boss less he would not meet the financial constraints of his family. It seemed that that was a dictate by the society. In such a case, Kafka might have been disapproving this capitalist work ethics dictated by the society. Gregor’s concern at the time was being late for work having worked for five years without a single day late as this is what capitalist work ethics dictated. But at the same time, he feels the urge of taking a break by saying to himself; “what if I go back to sleep for a little while I stop this foolishness!” (1.1). At this point, the writer seems to resist the ideas of entrepreneurial work principles that existed during those times. It is in the same length that Gregor’s manager comes to his place to inquire about his lateness. In fact, he warns him of the consequences of lateness reminding him that his work had not been pleasing lately (1.2). Ironically, Gregor answers from the other side that he would be on his way to work right away. This scene introduces the reader to writer’s theme of isolation and denial. His family forgot his previous contribution to their wellbeing and became obsessed at keeping him out of their sight with little care and attention.
Literary Device and Interpretation-Possible Meaning of the Novel
As stated in the introduction, one of the overarching themes of the story is the concept that society in the present day isolates people from one another. After transforming into a vermin, what follows in the story is Gregor’s thoughts and actions as he is sheltered alone in his room and his connection with the family and the outside life is limited. This concept of allegory can be located after observing Gregor’s job before his change. He used to travel as a salesman as he tells the reader, “Travelling day in and day out…contact with different people all the time so that you can never get to know anyone or become friendly to them…,” (1.2) that his job was very isolating. He lacked friends in his life and this was confirmed by a woman portrait he found in a magazine as the only decoration in his room.
The next isolation level as allegory is Gregor’s change. He only has his family as the only surviving human connection but isolation takes this connection from him. He is not even looked at by his family members. This isolation is a true representation of the writer’s figurative isolation from his father. He and his job plus his transformation are an allegory for humanity in the contemporary age and the manner they are separated from one another. The story is actually a true autobiographical literature as its parts reflect Kafka’s personal life. He felt like an insect in his father’s commanding presence as he even developed stammer while talking to his father. The real happenings in his life, more so his family setting, is mainly a model for the family relationship of the story. Thus the allegory explains human alienation in the society. People are sidelined when things shift from good to worse even when they were sole providers in their families. For instance, people marry for wealth, but the affection dries off in case the wealth ends. Again, people’s lives are highly shaped by their background. This is why Kafka thought of using a vermin (a destructive insect destined to be destroyed or removed from the human surroundings) to introduce his idea that isolation is real in the present day life.
The story has received several meanings but the feasible one relates to Kafka’s personal life in comparison to what society requires from the working class. Gregor clarifies this through his thoughts that his family was harassing him to open the door because he seemed to be on the verge of losing his job and that the chief would start harassing them once more for the earlier debts. Everyone at this point was bitter and wanted him to resume his duties as a provider; all that mattered was that he was able to provide. But after realizing his transformation, his worthiness faded and he was unappreciated since he could not provide for them anymore. His sister sympathized with him for a while but seeing that there was no change, she gave up on helping him. She even proposed his elimination; “I won’t pronounce the name of my brother in front of this monster, and so all is: we have to try to get rid of it. We’ve done anything humanly possible to take care of it and to put up with it” (3.17). The house began falling apart and the household became reduced. The present day society has set the norms that children are supposed to help their families if they get job. In many cases, they do not get time to build their life as they are busy and fixed in supporting their families; Gregor wanted to make his family comfortable before doing it to himself. It is disappointing to realize that the family kept money all this time while their son toiled hard to pay for their earlier debts; “despite the fact that Gregor has been living more or less as an indentured servant to pay off his parent’s ancient debts-in fact, the family has plenty of money…” (p.125). This toiling made Gregor forego his happiness, freedom, and comfort simply because the society had it that way.
This is further expressed when Gregors family started abusing his sister so that she could as well provide for them. She was forced by the situation to look for a job and she had to replace the gap left by Gregor. After her brother’s death, her parents realized how grown she had become and that it was the right time for her to get married to another ‘Gregor’-someone who could provide for them as Gregor did. This is what is happening in society today; girls are married off by their parents with the intentions of earning financial support from their husbands. The truth is that Gregor’s metamorphosis was engineered by his family and again, their daughter was bound to change into something else; a workaholic, a provider, a woman, and unhappy being all because of her family and what the society dictated.
A lot can be said about The Metamorphosis in regards to its meaning and the initial intention of Kafka in writing such a brilliant story. As argued by different literature analysts, the novel connects with the author’s life and his problematic relationship with his biological father. His novel is termed as allegorical in the sense that it has a hidden meaning that affects personal and society’s life. The readers can argue that Kafka was telling his personal experience but from a different angle, however, in the same length, they can still say that the story is a representation of isolation in whatever measures; be it social, political, familial, or person versus another person. Although everyone can have multiple explanations of the deep meaning of the story, change, isolation, and allegory, as discussed in the essay, are three primary elements in the story which cannot be flouted.
Brod, Max. Franz Kafka, a biography. Schocken, 1960.
Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis: A new translation by Susan Bernofsky. WW Norton & Company, 2014.