Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” and Joyce Carol Oates “Where are you going, where have you been?” seem to tackle highly disparate themes. On one hand, there is the story of a man’s surreal transformation into a “monstrous vermin.” On the other hand, there is the story of a perky and popular teenaged girl forced to violently enter adulthood. However, reading beyond the literal and superficial level yields a deeper underlying connection between these two: both Kafka’s and Oates’ works delve into and revolve around the nature of alienation brought about by the seeming prosperity of commerce and industry.For Gregor Samsa, Kafka’s protagonist in “The Metamorphosis,” the alienation is easy to see. By becoming a beetlelike insect overnight, he has suddenly found himself different in all the senses of the word. This transformation makes Gregor a prisoner even inside his own family, both through his own sense of shame, as well as the hypocritical attitudes of his family toward him.
The symbol of the insect fits Gregor Samsa’s feelings, emotions, and situation. An insect connotes something defenseless, something that can be stepped on and easily crushed. This is perhaps what Gregor feels in his job, where he is under the close surveillance of a boss “who talks down from the heights to the employee.
” Furthermore, as vermin, he is said to have “many legs, pitifully thin compared with the size of the rest of him, [that] were waving helplessly before his eyes.” This absurd and funny scene is indicative of his dissatisfaction as a traveling salesman. It was a “grueling job,” requiring him to spend all his days on the road, to put up with “the torture of traveling, worrying about changing trains…constantly seeing new faces, no relationships that last or get more intimate.” What Samsa is actually critiquing here is the alienating quality of his work, one that gives him no satisfaction as it makes him feel small, unappreciated, and dispensable – like an insect.For Connie, the protagonist in Oates’ piece, her alienation is more abstract. In fact, it seems that she has found her true place with her friends. However, this life with her friends is drastically different from her life with her family, to whom she seems not to have any close relations.
She is at odds with her mother, disdainful of her sister, and indifferent to her father.The source of Connie’s isolation and alienation of her family stems from her choice of activities. While her sister Jane, who was twenty-four years old, “was so plain and chunky and steady that Connie had to hear her praised all the time by her mother and her mother’s sisters,” Connie was her exact opposite, being more adventurous, even to the point of being rebellious. Connie liked hanging out in the mall in the town, but most of all she loved dashing across the busy highway to reach “a drive-in restaurant where older kids hung out.”The town here is a symbol of crass industrialization that has impinged on the youth – something Connie has a lot of that both her parents and sister did not have. It is opposed to the quaint rural municipality where Connie lived, a place where family barbeques on Sundays were still held, and one that Connie shuns away. It was pictured to be the home of vice, where girls meddled with boys and later on lied to their parents about their night out.
As result of frequenting the town, Connie becomes isolated from her family, both literally and figuratively, for it is in the town that she meets Arnold Friend, the older guy who eventually takes her away from her family.For both Kafka and Oates, alienation is a direct product of industrialization, an inescapable fact of modern life. Though they portray it in differing ways, they concur that its implications and consequences for individuals are dire, resulting not only to lost relationships but even losing one’s own self.;