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Metamorphosis is a short story written by Franz Kafka in 1912 about a man called Gregory Samsa, who one day wakes up as a giant insect. This short story is considered as the most ‘Kafkaesque’ piece of literature.
Gregory works as a door-to-door salesman, and has a huge responsibility as the family’s only financial pillar. Due to a debt, he is compelled to work for his employers until he has fully paid it off. Being the only financial support for a family of four, himself, his sister and parents, they don’t have a lot of money to spare or live anywhere near lavish. Gregory’s mediocre job and the family’s dependency makes them belong to middle class who live in an average apartment that is according to the family a huge upgrade. They also had a maid that does the daily chores while Gregory was working, but any details about her salary, if any, are not specified. Although, we do get a feeling that she is working there without a salary or very little because she owes them and is compelled to work there as she begs Gregory’s father to let her go, after Gregory’s metamorphosis as she is terrified by his sight and cannot work knowing what lives under the same roof. Thus Kafka made it very clear that the Samsa’s belonged to the middle class.
Gregory Samsa is so fit into his daily job and responsibility that he doesn’t have a life of his own. His mother and sister consider it very weird that he does not come out of his room one morning. This is so unlikely of him that his supervisor comes to check up on him. During that morning, Gregory is definitely concerned with his metamorphosis and cannot take in the whole situation at once, but what is strange is that he is more concerned about getting to work on time and getting up for it. Kafka represents Gregory and his social group, ’regular job – middle class’ people as a very monotonous, uneventful and repetitive group.
Many have noted that a typical feature of something being Kafkaesque is how the ‘mundane and absurd aspects deal with modern day bureaucracy’. Critics use historical biographical approach and blame his writing style on his past of working for a year as an insurance clerk in Prague in 1907. We see a common social group in his writings. A lot of his stories’ protagonists are middle class workers who have a fixed work schedule and a fixed pay, like office workers or a salesman in this case. They have to work extensively for an average pay and spend most of their lives with one goal, working. We take his work about an underwater god ‘Poseidon’. The god is an executive so swamped with paperwork that he doesn’t even get a chance to explore the boundaries of his own kingdom.
Another central theme is the comparison to the disabled, mentally or physically, who become nothing but obligation after the sympathy phase, due to their inability to contribute and are eventually left for ‘alienation’. Gregory’s sister eventually gives up on him and admits that she is disgusted by him. The father can be compared to a short-tempered intolerant selfish family member who is quick to give up. He often throws tantrums and repeatedly tries to physically hurt Gregory to take out his frustration. The sister, although started out by being sympathetic for some time but eventually gave up as Gregory did not seem to heal or become normal again. Gregory’s father is furious on him, as he goes berserk on him numerous time from his metamorphosis until his death as Gregory is now nothing but a horrifying “beast” who causes trouble repeatedly. He causes his mother to faint twice, he occupies a whole room while not contributing to the family at all, he causes the Boarders to leave the apartment and gives them an excuse to not the pay the rent too.
Kafka also represents Gregory’s group as the typical bread-winners, and how replaceable they are. He also demonstrates how selfish people who are dependent on that group can be. Gregory’s father had some savings who no one knew about until it became absolutely necessary to use it. The father also got a job which shows that he was fully capable of being another source of income and take some burden off his son. The savings and his father’s job could partially fulfill Gregory’s wish which we learn in the beginning, to quit his job and be free of the family obligations, maybe not for ever but for a little while at least. Post Gregory’s death, the family takes a day off and goes for a trip to the countryside as if nothing had happened, in fact the sunny beautiful weather acts as a pathetic fallacy reflects a bad time coming to an end and good times were on their way, as Mr. and Mrs. Samsa discuss their daughter’s future. This gives a very negative image and portrays that social group as something you don’t want to be a part of.
To conclude the essay, Kafka’s works have a dark tone and ending. Using again the historical biographical approach, be possibly related to his past about his troubled relationship with his father and his loneliness due to the busy family business. Kafka, despite of writing Metamorphosis more than a century ago, still represents the society and how Gregory’s group it in a way that is very relevant to today’s working class. Everything is perfectly fine and running smoothly until the providers wake up every morning to leave for work and bring home the food but as soon as the income flow ceases, the provider receives initial sympathy and then is alienated as he is nothing but a liability. It’s always amazing to see how Kafka’s works are still relevant till the date and that merely proves his point again that humans are stuck in a repetitive system.
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