Working towards a Bachelor of Arts, Simran writes articles on modern history, art theory, religion, and mythology, and analyses of texts.
Kafka's Metamorphosis, drawn by chryssalis
Metamorphosis is a novella written by Franz Kafka that follows the protagonist, Gregor Samsa who wakes up, finding himself transformed into an insect.
Was the Samsa Family Responsible for Gregor's Death?
The two main factors that led to Gregor’s death include his family life and self-perception. The Samsa contributed heavily to Gregor’s death due to their mistreatment. Instead of seeking help for Gregor, they hid him from society. This is reflected through the symbolism behind the way, after his metamorphosis, Gregor’s room resembles a mental institution, or a family member kept hidden due to shame” (Abassian 2007, p. 49). The metaphor is strengthened by the fear, shame and frustration the Samsa family shows towards Gregor.
For example, his father attacks Gregor (Kafka 1915, p. 26), his family isolates him, neglect to give him food, and eventually gives up on him. Instead of treating him like a family member, they treat him like a “parasitic insect” (Kafka 1915, p. 3). This treatment contributes to Gregor’ despondent attitude and makes him believe his family is better off without him, “… his own thought that he had to disappear was, if possible, even more decisive than his sister’s” (Kafka 1915, p. 71). As expressed by Bonilla, “This sacrifice, like every sacrifice made in Gregor’s life, is taken for granted by his supposed loved ones as they rejoice in his death and move on with their own lives” (2014, p. 26).
This suggests it is the way the family’s self-preservation came before Gregor’s life causes him to feel alienated, worthless, become suicidal, and unwilling to try to revert to his former self. This could have been avoided if the Samsa family attempted to help Gregor instead of isolating him. Therefore, it is clear the actions and attitude of the Samsa family had a heavy hand in Gregor’s death.
The Metamorphosis (Franz Kafka) - Thug Notes Summary & Analysis
This is emphasized through Gregor’s pattern of selflessness at his own expense. For example, he takes up the role of the family’s financial supporter even through his job made him unhappy (Bonilla 2014, p. 22). Emrich states that Gregor “believed he had to provide his family with a pleasant, contented, secure life by sacrificing himself, by selling himself to his business” (Emrich 123).
This selflessness becomes self-destructive because he does not attempt to change his situation to avoid becoming suicidal. For example, once he accepted his job, his relationship with his family diminishes and he becomes socially and emotionally isolated from them.
This was not an issue he took up with his family at the time even though it upset him. These examples highlight how Gregor attempts to put everyone before himself, however, this becomes an issue since the other characters do not put him before themselves either. This connection is one-sided as reflected by the way his family gives up on him. This becomes an issue for Gregor because it is not shown throughout the text that he has the ability to help himself.
The question of whether Gregor would have been able to help himself without outside help arises in the text. Gregor leads the audience to believe the only option he had was to stay in his room. Nonetheless, Gregor had not once attempted to figure out a way to turn back to his original self.
Instead, he passively accepts his situation. There was a chance he could have created his own solution to his situation, but his passive acceptance leads to his death. This could be due to his own self-perception. For instance, Gregor describes himself as a “monstrous vermin,” which is a metaphor for how he perceived himself (Kafka 1915, p.3). The Cambridge dictionary defines “vermin” as “…people perceived as despicable and as causing problems for the rest of society”.
This describes how he perceives himself, as well as his family. If he had already perceived himself in such a way, it explains why his physical transformation did not startle him. His metamorphosis is then a symbolic representation of how he already saw himself. This suggests holds himself back from getting better. Thus, the combination of his family’s attitude towards him and his attitude towards himself both played major roles in Gregor’s death.
Is the Ending as it Seems?
I do not believe Gregor Samsa physically transformed into “a monstrous vermin” since the text is instead an allegory exploring the loss of personal identity and psychosis. Psychosis is a mental disorder where a person loses the capacity to tell reality from fiction and Gregor’s situation fits this description. The narration exhibits unreliable traits due to the explanation was given for Gregor’s transformation, the way the text reflects the mentality of psychosis and how Gregor “found himself… transformed into a monstrous vermin,” acts as a metaphor for Gregor’s self-perception. Psychosis is associated with loss of personal identity and a variety of hallucinations, visual, somatic, and auditory, all which is reflected in Kafka's descriptions.
The unlikeliness Gregor physically transformed into an insect is even acknowledged by Gregor, “…it seemed rather that being able to actually move around on those spindly little legs until then was unnatural.” This supports the claim Gregor did not literally find himself “transformed into a monstrous vermin” and the vermin is a metaphor for how he saw himself and how he was perceived. This suggests his transformation into “a parasitic insect” is a metaphor for Gregor’s psychological metamorphosis from being able minded to mentally disabled.
Kafka showed Gregor perceiving himself as “a monstrous vermin” to allegorically comment on how society views the mentally disabled. This is reflected in the juxtaposition of mood and narration between the ending and the rest of the novella. For example, in the third person, an unknown narrator only describes events that Gregor sees, hears, remembers, or imagines from the actions around him, until the end scene. The last scene portrays the Samsa family after Gregor’s death and the mood of the text abruptly shifts from misery to joy.
However, the end scene is what calls the narrator’s reliability into question as it begs the question; did Gregor’s point of view really end there? The inconsistency in narration and the dramatic shift in mood leaves the audience feeling strange about how the family easily moving on without Gregor. This is because alike Gregor’s transformations, it is reasonable to suggest the ending never physically happened. The scene was one of Gregor’s hallucinations in his dying moment and would believe would happen after he dies. To him, his family is better off without him. Hence, the family is portrayed unceremoniously disposing of Gregor’s body and moving on without a hassle.
This is an allegory for how mentally ill patients can be viewed in society as vermin to be disposed of and highlights how harmful the stigma is. Gregor had the potential to get better but the seclusion, violence exhibited against him and lack of emotional support caused him to get worse. The emotional link to his condition is highlighted by the way he begins to almost completely identify as an insect after Gretel gave up on him. The family’s shame of Gregor prevented them from seeking consistent medical help for him.
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (Free Audio Book in English Language)
Metamorphosis' Portrayal of the Working-Class
When Grigor dies, his family is relieved, crying with joy. In the last scene, they don't appear to feel sorry for their family member in the slightest as they are now able to move and start a new life. There appears to be a correlation between the stress of financial struggles of the working class and the lack of sympathy that the family exhibits towards Grigor.
Throughout the text, financial issues are present, creating an insight into the life of a struggling, working-class family. When Gregor is unable to help his family members financially, he is depicted as a burden on the family emotionally and physically. Overtime as their financial issues increase, they grow apathetic to Grigor's being. They begin to isolate themselves from Grigor, the isolation builds hostility during the process.
The issue of financial struggles is shown when the family allows two men to rent rooms within the house. The two men treat the family with disrespect, which Grigor detests. As shown through Girggor's inner thoughts, he still cares for the family and tries to scare the men away from the house.
In response, the family loathes him, and his sister, Gretel, who was shown to love him in the beginning of the text tells him that she hates him. This is significant since Gretel appeared to be the only family member at the beginning of the novella who interacted with him despite his gruelling appearance.
She is shown to look after him, giving him food and moving furniture for him to roam around in his room. As she becomes Gregor's caretaker she is able to establish a place in her household. However, when she gets a job, her job replaces her position as Gregor's caretaker.
It is seen that the financial struggles of the working class under capitalism cause an immense amount of stress on Gretel, which in turn numbs them to Gregor's position. She even suggests to the family that Gregor should get rid of him. She was his link to the outside world and now even she has given up with him. With this, Gregor loses his primary link to his humanity.
Abbasian, Cyrus 2007, ‘The Metamorphosis’, The BMJ, vol. 335, no. 7609, p. 49.
Cambridge University Press n.d., Meaning of “vermin” in the English Dictionary, North Ryde, Sydney, viewed 18 October 2017, <http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/vermin>
Kafka, Franz 1915, The Metamorphosis, tran. David Wyllie, University of Adelaide, Adelaide. Viewed 18 October 2017, from Planet PDF.
Bonilla, Victoria 2014, ‘The Succubus and the Suckers: the Soul-Siphoning Leeches in the Stories of Modernist Text’, PhD Thesis, University of New Orleans Theses and Dissertations, New Orleans.
© 2017 Simran Singh
Simran Singh (author) from Australia on July 04, 2018:
Valentina G07 on July 04, 2018:
I really enjoyed reading this article.