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Reading The Metamorphosis by Kafka from a psychological point of view

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Gregor Samsa’s unconscious can be explained through three important symbols prevalent in The Metamorphosis. According to the Freudian theoretical framework, these three symbols are personified in Samsa’s mother, father and sister. For Samsa, his family members represent his id, superego and his ego. Samsa’s sister represents his id, his father represents his superego and his mother represents his ego. Within a Freudian framework, the id represents the subconscious drive of appetite, survival and primal desire. The superego has to do with disciplining the id, and provides the capacity for shame, guilt and repression for the sake of social acceptance. The ego has to do with a realistic balance between discretion and self-denial and the satiation of appetite along with the realization of personal satisfaction.

Samsa’s sister, the “id”, fits her role by predicting Samsa’s immediate needs. She provides Samsa with food, and when Samsa rejects the food he’s given, experiencing a new appetite, Grete, his sister, reacts by bringing him an array of food from which he can freely choose what he would prefer to eat: “To test his taste, she brought him an entire selection, all spread out on an old newspaper.” (Kafka, 13) Likewise, when Samsa desires space for ease of mobility, Grete picks up on this, and does her very best to move furniture that is much to heavy for her in order to accommodate her brother: “…And so she got the idea of making the area where Gregor could creep around as large as possible and thus of removing the furniture which got in the way, especially the chest of drawers and the writing desk. But she was in no position to do this by herself.” (Kafka, 18). When the rest of Samsa’s family tries their best to block Samsa out of their view, Grete goes out of her way to meet his immediate needs. When Samsa is in his infant stage of his transformation, Grete cares for him as though he were a baby. However, as Samsa matures as an insect, his immediate needs become harder to satisfy, and he loses his appetite. The more insect-like Samsa becomes, the less he tends to his own well-being: “. Streaks of dirt ran along the walls; here and there lay tangles of dust and garbage.” (Kafka, 25).

The force that reinforces Samsa’s low self-esteem associated with his transformation is his superego. This is represented well by his father. It is Samsa’s father who pelts him with apples in order to subdue his behaviour after an altercation between Samsa’s mother and Grete: “Further running away was useless, for his father had decided to bombard him. From the fruit bowl on the sideboard his father had filled his pockets, and now, without for the moment taking accurate aim, he was throwing apple after apple.” (Kafka, 22) The father assumes the worst of Samsa and aims to beat him into submission and silence. The father also suits his role in his adherence to a strong work ethic and deigning to authority. The father refuses to remove his banker’s uniform except by force, as he is overly committed to his servile position as clerk: “But now he was standing up really straight, dressed in a tight-fitting blue uniform with gold buttons, like the ones servants wear in a banking company.” (Kafka, 22).The superego is domineering and intimidating, and the stronger it becomes, the weaker Samsa becomes: “. Gregor wanted to drag himself off, as if he could make the unexpected and incredible pain go away if he changed his position” (Kafka, 22).

Samsa’s mother suits her role as the Ego as she balances both her husband and the daughter. When Grete attempts to push an oversized dresser out of her brother’s room, her mother tries to calm her zeal by trying to convince Grete to leave it be: “I think it would be best if we tried to keep the room exactly in the condition it was in before, so that, when Gregor returns to us, he finds everything unchanged and can forget the intervening time all the more easily.” (Kafka, 19). As well, when the father tries to kill Samsa with apples, the mother tries to calm his fury by running to him and calming him down: “…As her hands reached around his father’s neck, and she begged him to spare Gregor’s life.” (Kafka, 23).Unfortunately for Samsa’s ego, the mother is often silenced for the sake of the two other layers of unconsciousness. Seeing Samsa in his insect state throws the mother into a fainting spell. This suggests that Samsa’s unconscious self is in a state of civil war, where his desire is fighting with his duty to the point that his sense of reality and equilibrium is breached. Samsa is effectively made insane by anguish and dissatisfaction, and only when he is eliminated from the picture does sanity restore itself: “Leaning back comfortably in their seats, they talked to each other about future prospects, and they discovered that on closer observation these were not at all bad” (Kafka, 34).

Samsa’s family is therefore representative of his state of mind. His id and superego are caught up in an internal conflict that his ego cannot resolve. This leads to his ultimate self-destruction, which, sadly, is the only thing which restores peace. What Kafka is effectively suggesting here is that the removal of Samsa, or his suicide, is the only way to relieve him (and everyone else involved) of his tremendous burden.

Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. Trans. Ian Johnston. Nanaimo: Malaspina University-College, 2009. Web. 2 Feb. 2010. https://records.viu.ca/~johnstoi/stories/kafka-e.htm>.

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