“Metamorphosis” and Identity

9 September 2016

It is by questioning the effects of this transformation and not by wondering about the reasons behind it that we can see how Kafka uses this surreal situation to present truths about humanity and identity. The Metamorphosis is a human piece of fiction, no matter with which perspective you filter it. Gregor is presented with the ultimate challenge to any person: a transformation that strips him of all his humanity for everyone else apart from him, until he starts to doubt it himself.

Kafka outlines the fact that this is in fact not a challenge that Gregor can overcome, but a slow time-bomb to the inevitable end. From the very first famous sentence in this short story, the reader is struck by several things. This vague and often paradoxical description which is maintained throughout the entirety of the story is often questioned. However, it is the fact that Gregor has transformed into an insect that is of paramount importance, not what he looks like.

“Metamorphosis” and Identity Essay Example

This sudden act of transformation in Gregor’s life changes everything he is used to in his everyday life. One possible reason for why this beginning is so peculiar and original is the fact that the main character undergoes a physical anagnorisis from the very outset of the story, rather than towards the end or middle. This transformation becomes a an act of alienation for Gregor, as his humanity, integrity and identity are viciously attacked. James D. Fearon defines the modern understanding of identity so: As we use it now, an “identity” refers to either (a) a social category, defined by membership rules and (alleged) characteristic attributes or expected behaviors, or (b) socially distinguishing features that a person takes a special pride in or views as unchangeable but socially consequential (or (a) and (b) at once). ” Following this modern interpretation of identity, the notion that Gregor was already alienated from his identity can be ruled out, for he lived his pre-transformation life diligently, conforming and accepting the role he has been set to play in the social requirements of the world.

We know that for his life, Gregor has always been in this routine, and even in the beginning of this piece, even after he is aware of his transformation, he bizarrely still thinks of getting to work although he is “burdened with the misery of traveling” and hates the “stresses of making deals” and is no longer physically human. “He was the boss’s creature, stupid and spineless. ” With his unique dark humour, Kafka plays on the word “spineless” to create an ambiguous and ironic image of Gregor in relation to his superior and his job.

However, he desires to get back to his dull job with a zeal instilled into him by the socio-economic expectations laid down on him. A Marxist interpretation is very suitable with this train of thought – in his Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx says that “The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation. ” With this interpretation, we can see that Gregor has been given a chance to break free of the totalitarian and capitalist society he has been trapped and living in, but has to sacrifice his physical identity as well.

Gregor’s father informs the chief clerk “He’s not well, believe me, sir. What other reason could there be for Gregor to miss a train! Indeed, the boy thinks of nothing but business. ” Gregor’s parents can be seen as products of this social system attempting to keep their son within the constraints as well. Later on, the financial situation of the family is discussed, and the reader can see that Gregor was the main source of income to the family. With Gregor’s transformation and subsequent alienation, he has indeed become “a mere money relation”.

The genius behind Kafka’s writing is that he does not simply leave them as products of society with no heart, but he adds a more profound depth to them, by adding a human aspect to their devotion to maintaining a standard, safe identity. Kafka paints them as characters who genuinely want their son to accept these social constraints because they themselves do not see the constraints in the first place. It is this fear of the unknown and irregular that scares them so when Gregor does not come out of his room, and when he does, it is his new physical identity that terrifies them.

It can be said that Gregor’s human identity crumbles not because of his own loss of faith in his own identity, but because of everyone else’s rejection of him as human. To explain this point, I refer to Immanuel Kant’s influential “Copernican Revolution” and how it can link into the idea of alienation and identity being subjective to each person, or in this case, a number of people whose own perception is shared with others due to the socio-normative ideas they are all told by society. In his Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant says that: “Hitherto it has been assumed that all our knowledge must conform to objects.

But all attempts to extend our knowledge of objects by establishing something in regard to them a priori, by means of concepts, have, on this assumption, ended in failure. We must therefore make trial whether we may not have more success in the tasks of metaphysics, if we suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge. ” Kant’s revolutionary idea that objects must conform to our knowledge rather than our knowledge conforming to objects can be effectively applied the idea that Gregor’s human identity is (seemingly) lost due to everyone else’s rejection of him as someone, or something, with a human identity.

Rather than using the terms “objects” and “knowledge”, “people” (who physically are objects) and “socio-normative concepts” are more comprehensible in this context. In Metamorphosis, Gregor’s parent’s socio-normative concepts cannot conform to post-transformation Gregor in any conventional sense; instead of seeing that this new identity of Gregor cannot be understood because of their deeply ingrained and limited socio-normative understanding. The idea of “identity” is all relative to what you have been taught or told to believe – these socio-normative concepts.

It is Grete, “a girl who was still a 17 year old child” that for the most part, tries to retain Gregor’s human identity. This theory that identity is relative is substantiated through Grete’s relationship with Gregor. At the beginning of the story, Grete is not seen, behind the door with the parents, yet there is a significant difference. Grete is the only one who appreciates the gravity of the situation. She is already sobbing when she realises there is something wrong with her brother.

This is yet another good example of Kafka’s combination of his satire of society as well as humanity – Grete, as well as her parents, is aware of this break in Gregor’s everyday monotonous routine, a break in the norm, yet we can see that she also genuinely cares for her brother. Grete’s relationship with Gregor progresses in the most interesting way, following a complex character arc. Through facing the enormous implications of what has happened to her brother, Grete matures so much that by the end, she is the focal point of the story.

Grete is the one character who seems tuned in to Gregor’s needs, and she is the benevolent figure who cleans his room and brings him food. However, as the story progresses, she becomes painfully aware of the lack of human identity he has relative to her, and begins to despise this creature that represents her brother – towards the end of the story, Grete desperately explains to her parents “You must try to get rid of the idea that this is Gregor. The fact that we have believed for so long, that is truly our real misfortune. But how can it be Gregor? If we steadily go down the road of using 18th century German philosophy to try and understand the human, moral and ethical issues raised by Kafka in Metamorphosis, then Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s dealings with self-consciousness in his work Foundations Of Natural Right is the next concept which is directly applicable. A Kantian critic, what he says is a progression of what has been previously said in this essay. Fichte states that “one individual’s knowledge of the other is conditioned by the fact that the other treats the first as a free being (i. e. limits its freedom through the concept of the freedom of the first). But this manner of treatment is conditioned by the first’s treatment of the other’s treatment and knowledge of the first, and so on ad infinitum. Thus the relation of free beings to one another is a relation of reciprocal interaction through intelligence and freedom. ” Instantly we can see the parallels between Fichte’s ideas and Gregor’s relationship to his family. From the discovery of Gregor’s metamorphosis, his parent’s stop treating him as a free being, it is only Grete who manages to maintain that “illusion” for a substantial period of time.

Despite Grete’s first attempt’s to retain Gregor’s identity through trying to see past the socio-normative concepts that she is restricted by, she cannot hold up the idea of this new Gregor. If “the relation of free beings to one another is a relation of reciprocal interaction through intelligence and freedom”, then this can be seen as an explanation for everyone’s rejection of his new identity. A “human” understanding of intelligence and freedom is bound by the fact that it only applies to what is “human” – Grete’s knowledge conforms to Gregor’s new form, rather than supposing that Gregor’s new form conform’s to her limited knowledge.

Her knowledge, and any human’s knowledge, is the sum total of experiences through sensory perceptions, and Gregor’s considerable lack of human features and general incompatibility with people’s perceptions alienates him from his family. Not only is it Gregor’s new physical appearance/identity that is changed, but perhaps it is his loss of the ability to communicate with his family that is more significant and damaging to their relationship. It is an audacious and grandiose statement to say, yet it is almost a universal truth that communication lies at the heart of all conflicts in fiction.

Therefore, Gregor’s inability to communicate with people creates conflict, as well as a fading in faith of his retention of his human identity through Fichte’s theories that “one individual’s knowledge of the other is conditioned… by the first’s treatment of the other’s treatment… “. The first sign of Gregor’s own realisation of his descent into his animal identity is hearing his animal voice, implying that he is listening to it as both an observer and a subject simultaneously.

Yet the fact that he is listening to himself as an observer still implies that he does indeed have a human identity within him – its is more probable than not that Kafka never intended to let Gregor fully slip into an animal identity; towards the end of his life, a question is posed: “Was he an animal that music so seized him? ” As well as his human appreciation of music, this questioning of his humanity proves his humanity, When dealing with the theme of identity in Metamorphosis, or any other theme or that matter, we are faced with vast moral, social and ethical questions that Franz Kafka presents to us. Goodden’s view that Kafka’s works are like “literary Rorschach tests” is insightful to say the least – Kafka’s texts are undoubtedly ambiguous intentionally. This ambiguity he creates allows personal freedom and interpretation, so that his works are like mirrors. Celeste Michelle Condit talks of the term “‘intertextual polysemy’ to refer to the existence of a variety of messages…. he terms “internally polysemous” or “open texts” for those discourses which truly offer unstable or internally contradictory meanings, and the term “polyvalence” to describe the fact that audiences routinely evaluate texts differently… “. With the Metamorphosis, all of these terms apply, and that is exactly what allows us to study the theme of identity within this story. Kafka’s profoundly moving work Metamorphosis stimulates such questions in the reader, allowing his stories to transcend simple fiction into a simultaneously intellectual and emotional level that forces us to consider issues like identity.

Bibliography Fearon, James D. (1999). What Is Identity (As We Now Use The Word)? Stanford: Mimeo. Marx, Karl. (1848). The Communist Manifesto. http://www. la. wayne. edu/polisci/krause/Comparative/sources/marx. htm#Introduction [Accessed 23 September 2000]. Kant, Immanuel. (1781). Critique Of Pure Reason. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Fichte, Johann G. (1797). Foundations Of Natural Right. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Goodden, Christian. (1977). The Kafka Debate: New Perspectives For Out Time. New York: Gordian Press.

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