Written in 1912 by Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis looks like an autobiographical piece of writing because the major parts of the story resemble Kafka’s own life. However, it is not a straight autobiography and Kafka has skillfully written the story, putting together the facts of his life, but using mysterious symbols. These symbols carry different themes, but the major theme is the status of a man in society when he becomes isolated.This is how Kafka begins his story – “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” This is one of the most famous first sentences in modern literature. There is no build-up, no tension, but just a direct boom – our hero is now an insect.
From the second sentence, the insect becomes our hero and it remains until the end of the story. Thus, from the very first sentence Kafka uses symbolism, which at first sight sounds very strange and ridiculous. However, as the story moves on, we not only accept the transformation of our hero into an insect, but we also feel sympathy for his state. Kafka has written the story in such a realistic style that we can visualize everything, and can imagine it happening in real life.This transformation of Gregor into an insect is a symbol, which signifies that sometimes a person’s life becomes so frustrating that he starts feeling like a helpless and isolated insect. Gregor’s metamorphosis indicates his multiple alienations from his job, from the society, from his family, from humanity, and even from his body.Gregor does not panic on his transformation.
His only concern is how to get back to work. He wants to catch the 5 a.m. train as usual, but since he sleeps until 6:30, he decides to catch the 7 a.m. train, but before that, the chief clerk arrives there. Gregor feels very angry that only because he has wasted an hour, the company is casting suspicion upon him.
This emphasis on time symbolizes the capitalist world, where time is as valuable as money. Wasting time by sleeping until late, a person misses business, and thus wastes money. Later we find Gregor’s mother saying to the clerk that whole day Gregor thinks of work only and does not go out even in the evening. This indicates the way a modern capitalist society thinks that any activity, no matter how good it is, is pointless if it does not earn money, and the time thus consumed is useless time.When Gregor’s mother tells the clerk that Gregor is ill, the chief clerk replies, “we men of business – fortunately or unfortunately – very often simply have to ignore any slight indisposition, since business must be attended to.
“ His statement is a symbol for the rule of the modern capitalist society, where illness is a crime, and the ill employee is the culprit of wasting company’s money. That is why Gregor is not that much worried on his sudden change. His greater concern is how to get back to work. However, since he could not get back to work, as a punishment, he is not only alienated from his job, but also from the society that is based on money and time. Money gets the primary importance in this society, and anybody who does not work is unimportant and useless. Stanlay Cargold has rightly said, “The Metamorphosis” can also be seen as a reaction against bourgeois society and its demands.
Gregor’s manifest physical separation may represent his alienation and inarticulate yearnings. He had been a “vermin,” crushed and circumscribed by authority and routine. He had been imprisoned by social and economic demands.”There is a photograph of Gregor, in a military uniform, in the living room. This is a very little detail, and in first look seems irrelevant, but this symbolizes a deep meaning.
Military is a process that turns a man into a productive member of the society. Gregor’s former job in military symbolizes his new job in the capitalist society, where he is a normal and productive member. Because of this ideal image of him, his family keeps his photograph on the wall. As long as he remains within the established order of labor and commerce and is able to support his family, his family feels proud of him and care about him. Kafka conveys this message when he describes the picture.
“Right opposite Gregor on the wall hung a photograph of himself on military service, as a lieutenant, hand on sword, a carefree smile on his face, inviting one to respect his uniform and military bearing.” This statement indicates that now when Gregor is a helpless insect, he is neither useful for society, nor for his family.In chapter three, Gregor’s father is back to work force, and becomes a slave to his job, even when he is at home. “He slept fully dressed where he sat, as if he were ready for service at any moment and even here only at the beck and call of his superior. As a result, his uniform, which was not brand-new to start with, began to look dirty, despite all the loving care of the mother and sister to keep it clean.
Gregor often spent whole evenings gazing at the many greasy spots on the garment, gleaming with gold buttons always in a high state of polish, in which the old man sat sleeping in extreme discomfort and yet quite peacefully.” Here, the always-gleaming brass button is a symbol that represents the absorption of Gregor’s father into the dehumanizing capitalist system. At the same time, his dirty uniform symbolizes his degradation behind his socially useful and servile façade. The uniform is a symbol for the economic order. This indicates how a man loses his individuality and identity, and completely sacrifices himself to the economic order.
Thus, in this capitalist society, you can feel peace, but only at the cost of losing your humanity.At one point of time when Gregor hears his sister, playing violin, the music touches his heart. He realizes that when he was a human being, he never noticed that his sister plays such a great music. This gives Gregor a sense of satisfaction, and he thinks his metamorphosis is a kind of blessing for him. This symbolically means that if one wants to feel like a true human being, he must rebel against socially acceptable behavior.“On page 11 Gregor answers his father’s request to open the door with a clear “No.” The response produces a stunned silence and a sob from his sister.
It was the last intelligible word Gregor would ever utter. It would soon become apparent to the rest of the world that Gregor was indeed what he himself knew he was: a social deviant.” In the end when Gregor’s family finds that he is now a useless creature and a burden for them, they literally leave Gregor to climb the walls and die. This way, Kafka is in fact warning the people, living in this materialistic capitalist society, that they are very likely to be caught in Gregor-like situation.
It is very difficult to escape from such a situation. The only way seems to be death.006).