Themes in Kafka’s

10 October 2016

Themes in Frank Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” is a story about a man who awakes one morning to find himself transformed into a giant bug. This metamorphosis causes a clash between the main character Gregor Samsa and his family which in turn creates major changes in all characters. Kafka utilizes many themes in the story including change, isolation, power and money. These themes aid in making the story vague, while retaining a sense of lucidity. One main theme in the story is change. Gregor Samsa’s reality changes only mildly, despite his radical physical transformation.

Prior to his mutation, Gregor’s life was consumed with his work as a traveling salesman in addition to taking care of his family. A boring life, dominated by providing for his family, much like a bug provides for his nest or hive. He describes his life as “the plague of traveling: the anxieties of changing trains, the irregular, inferior meals, the ever changing faces, never to be seen again, people with whom one has no chance to be friendly” (Kafka 13). The real metamorphosis occurs when he realizes his present situation, and his role in his household.

Themes in Kafka’s Essay Example

Gregor does not change into a bug; he simply recognizes that he has been one for quite some time. This sudden epiphany could certainly send him into a shock that causes a mental sickness, eventually leading to his death. From the very beginning the setting creates an atmosphere of isolation, a major theme in the story. “Gregor’s room is at the center of the Samsa family’s apartment, with one wall facing the outside, the opposite wall bordering on the living room, and the two side walls shared with the bedroom of Gregor’s parents and his sister respectively.

Each of these walls has an egress onto the world: the outside wall has a window, and the other walls have doors leading to the adjacent rooms. These doors, however – and in particular the double-door that opens into the living room – are not simple entranceways into the communal realm of the family; rather, they symbolize precisely that contradictory complex of merger with and separation from the family that each section of the narrative enacts. These doors function not only as passageways but also as barriers – indeed, ultimately they are impenetrable barriers. (Gray 286) After his transformation, Gregor is completely isolated. He realizes that it’s not much different than his life previous life, as the job to which he has been so dedicated, shows their disloyalty to him. “Moreover, it turns out that Gregor works for a firm that does not trust its employees at all: because he is late this one day, the chief clerk shows up to check on him and begins hinting that he is suspected of embezzling funds and may very well be fired” (Smith 193). His family alienates him as well.

Grete, his younger sister, is the only one who helps him. She was scared but managed to put her apprehensions aside, even getting angry with others for trying to help. After her acceptance as role of caretaker, the other members of Gregor’s family do not associate with him. “No one attempted to understand him, no one, not even his sister, imagined that she could understand him”(Kafka 45). As an insect, he can still hear, however, so he knows what others want, but they cannot know what he wants.

This seems an apt situation for Gregor to end up in, because his life even before his transformation seems to have been one of catering to others’ needs while suppressing his own. Before long, Gregor settles on the fact that throughout his metamorphosis he has neither lost nor gained anything. Even his unsettling dreams the morning of his mutation symbolize a troubled life before his metamorphosis. He is expressing his feelings of a lack of fulfillment and it shows a layer of him otherwise hidden. “The actual metamorphosis symbolizes a rebellion assertion of unconscious desires and energies” (Eggenschwiler 203).

His mother and father treat him as a monster, instead of their son who is in need of help and support, just like they neglected their parental roles before his transformation, allowing him to take on all of their responsibilities. Although in some ways the transformation reinforces Gregor’s alienation from the world, in other ways becoming an insect is a way for him to escape his unhappy life. No longer will he have to work at his burdensome job, or care for his family who do not return the same care or respect. Gregor is not the only one to go through a drastic change in the story.

His mother, sister and father also transform in ways not easily defined by outward appearance. This leads to the second major theme of the book, power. Power is both gained and surrendered by all members of the Samsa family at different points in the story. Before his transformation, Gregor holds the power as the man of the house. He earns the money to pay rent, provide food, and dig his family out of the overwhelming debt his mother and father have gotten into. After his transformation, Gregor loses this authority, basically imprisoned in his room, unable to attend to the responsibilities he once had. Gregor’s humanity, to the extent that his parents and sister acknowledge it, is inextricably tied to his function as economic provider” (Bloom 60). His father, however, gains power as he takes on the role as head of household. He is consumed by the family’s financial burden from the first day after Gregor’s mutation. He now finds the strength to find employment, something he was too ill to do while Gregor provided for the family. Interestingly, he can only regain his power after Gregor himself, the self-sacrificing, downtrodden one, is dead.

This suggests that the presence of a self-sacrificing person drains those around him. Gregor sees his father after some time has passed since his transformation and asks, “Was this the same man who in the old days used to lie wearily buried in bed when Gregor left on a business trip; who greeted him on his return in the evening, sitting in his bathrobe in the armchair, who actually had difficulty getting to his feet” (Kafka 36)? Although Gregor has the most obvious transformation, it seems Grete, his younger sister, changes the most throughout the story, many of these changes involving her own power and standing in the family.

At first she takes on the role as his caretaker, bringing him food, cleaning his room and trying to make him as comfortable as possible in his room. She is his only tie to his family and really his only link to humanity. She gains the consideration of her parents, who once considered her quite useless. “Often he heard them say how much they appreciated his sister’s work, whereas until now they had frequently been annoyed with her” (Kafka 29). She however takes on her own transformation, from girl to woman. With this change, her pity for Gregor diminishes.

When at first she had helped Gregor out of kindness, eventually she comes to regard the job as a chore. She doesn’t always enjoy it, but it serves to define her position in the family, and she becomes territorial about this power she has gained, not wanting her mother to be involved. As she matures and takes on more adult responsibilities, most notably getting a job to help provide for her family financially, her commitment to Gregor diminishes. Grete tells her parents, “We must try to get rid of it” (Kafka 49). Eventually she comes to resent the burden of what Gregor has become and it s Grete who decides they must get rid of “it”. While not as prominent as the other themes, but in correlation with power, the theme of money weaves a path through the story. Gregor is enslaved to his family because he is the only one who makes money. With the exception of his sister, the family seems to treat him not as a son, but as a source of income. When Gregor is no longer able to work after his metamorphosis, he is treated with revulsion and neglect. Once the family begins working, they also find difficulty communicating with each other, eating dinner in silence and fighting amongst themselves.

The exhaustion brought on by dehumanizing jobs and the recognition that people are only valuable so long as they earn a salary keeps them isolated from one another and unable to create real connections. This story has limited depth if the reader only takes it for its literal meaning and fails to read between the lines to discover the themes included. The reader must delve deeper into the story in order to understand it completely. Kafka kept this story compelling with the inclusion of these themes and other symbolism.

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