Life during the First World War and Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”

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Updated: Apr 15, 2022
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Life during the First World War and Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” essay

In “The Metamorphosis” written by Franz Kafka in 1915, the writer is critical of modern culture and modern man. Much support was needed from the citizens countries involved in World War 1, from being soldiers overseas to working in factories. Families were broken apart due to the war and many more were killed due to the advancement in technology for guns. Despite the trials of modern life, Kafka believes men can use knowledge about themselves to overcome life challenges and be happy contrary to their current situation. We will examine life during World War 1, the Great Depression, and World War 2, relating history to “The Metamorphosis.”

The global history of the period between World War 1 and World War 2 is violent and turbulent. Women replaced the jobs of tens of thousands of those men sent to fight as soldiers in World War 1, in some countries there was forced unpaid labor and food shortages (Hunt, p. 829). Their lives revolved around supporting the machine that is war, producing money for their country to support war and the deprivation of goods due to embargos and money shortages. The additional emotional toll of not knowing if a family member like a father or brother going to war, women suddenly having to work and support the family, or having your country violently invaded and taken over by a new power. These unstable economic conditions led to social revolutions in Russia, Germany, Ireland, Italy, and more, then eventually to World War 2 (Hunt, p. 840). There was no spare time or money for the middle or lower class to spend on recreation or travel like in previous eras, as countries recovered economically from world war 1. Revolutions led to an increase in woemns suffrage, but also led to the rise of Nazism in Germany and Stalin in Russia (Hunt, p. 867).

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Kafka illustrates modern man as a self-conscious functionary who fears loss of purpose and self. “I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself ( p.1888).” Unless you are that person viewing life from their eyes, one can never truly understand what someone is going through. Even so, he cannot fully understand himself due to a lack of confidence that life is not truly in his control. Modern life can transform someone from caring for others to killing them, as demonstrated in wartime. A once considerate man may become rude and cold from experiences in life. “And even if he caught the train, a bawling out from the boss was inescapable, because the office messenger had arrived by the five o’clock train and reported his absence long ago; he was the boss’s creature, mindless and spineless.” This demonstrates the rigidity of modern life, as everyone is working hard to survive to the point of emotional turmoil.

The ability to have a happy family life is overcome by the dehumanizing forces of industrialization and capitalism in post-WWI Europe. “That’s to say, it was money that should not really be touched but set aside for emergencies; money to live on had to be earned.” Economic turmoil, the threat of war and economic sanctions led to an unstable life in wartorn countries. The Great Depression taught many countries the wrong way to run an economy, leading to revolutions in many countries. This piece of advice was contrary to how countries led themselves into bankrupting war, hope for families to recover from the impact of war on their jobs. At the end of “The Metamorphisis” though their son was lost, there is renewed hope for the family as their daughter has matured into an adult ( p.1913). They thrive on her hopeful future and evolution, that it will replace the bad times they have experienced as a family.

In conclusion, life was tough in war torn areas of the early 20th century, which inspired “The Metamorphosis.” Industrialization and imperialism are married in World War 1, where countries fight with their advanced weapons to conquer one another. However, citizens need not agree nor be apart of such war, for war does not serve the ordinary man but the rulers; men can choose to be better than the governments that rule them and the rules of war that surround them. One can learn from the mistakes of others, and not repeat the same actions by transforming. The modern man can be contradictory, confused, rude, do not question authority, and works hard. This unsustainable lifestyle eventually led to the end of World War 1, the Great Depression, then closely followed by the bitter World War 2. 

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Life During the First World War and Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”. (2022, Apr 15). Retrieved from