The Relationship between Gregor Samsa and his Father in the Metamorphosis, a Short Story by Franz Kafka
Work. Work. Work. An endless lifestyle since youth. From a very young age children are put to work all the way until they are no longer able to work. Although it is orthodox to do something in life which consist of continuous work and progress, the standard ideology set up by society is an overwhelming weight to carry. In the story “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka, Gregor Samsa is a traveling salesman, who is working hard to pay of his father’s debt and is trying to get his family a stable life with great income. Gregor Samsa is an earnest and dedicated worker, who had never skipped a day of work in his life, until one day when he wakes up in a form of an insect, unable to continue his previous life routine. This whole transformation did not only change his appearance, but it also changed the lifestyle of his family. The story “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka is an outstanding story that portrays the struggles of losing self-esteem, the desire off existentialism, and the suffering of isolation, without losing the reality of an everyday working entity.
One of the many ways that Franz Kafka represents one of Gregor Samsa’s struggles in his life is through the struggle of losing self-worth. To lose self-worth one begins by losing self-esteem, which in essence is the loss of confidence in one’s own worth or abilities. Gregor Samsa throughout time became a workaholic, remaining in line with his duty that he picked up to keep the family financially stable and paying off his father’s debt. By taking on so much and working endlessly as a sacrifice for the wants and needs of his family, Gregor began to lose a sense of individuality with himself. He no longer had his own life, going out and having social interactions (other than his work interactions). He no longer had personal desires that were solemnly his, he no longer thought of his happiness, and he no longer had the chance to identify himself with another entity outside of his home. Gregor was disconnected with himself entirely. Gregor at the beginning of the story received his happiness from being able to be the breadwinner of his household, by seeing that his family lived a desirable lifestyle and that no food missed from their table.
He worked constantly to pay off a debt that was not his, yet was proud of how far he has worked, to a point where Franz Kafka mentions that Gregor, “he felt a great pride that he had been able to provide such a life in a beautiful apartment like this for his parents and his sister” (34). In a way, Gregor did have an identity, but one that was not of his own, his identity revolved around his family, what he lacked brought him to his destruction. After Gregor transforms from night to day into a helpless bug, he is forced to find a new way of surviving. As he is unable to provide for his household he begins to feel more depressed, something that he was already with his lifestyle but now this transformation is helping him recognize things much more exposed and clearer. Seeing that his family is unable to live without a strong breadwinner to help them through pushes Gregor to lose his confidence. There was no way that he was able to work and bring home money, his identity within his family was diminishing and so was the way he viewed himself. He was useless in the eyes of his family which started to grow on how he began to view himself, useless and worthless.
The setting completely of this story is no help to Gregor, he begins to see that the family is unable to afford the apartment anymore and so they all begin to attempt to save what they call their home. As they do so, they are unable to see Gregor in fear of his appearance and their unbelief of the matter, all a cruelty of how people treat others as a product of their own fears. They begin to push him away from society and from them, in this time Gregor began to feel a since of guilt, in one point of the story when Gregor began to connect the dots and realize that his mother and sister might have to work “he was quite hot from shame and sorrow… he didn’t sleep a moment” (46). There was no turning back from the transformation that life had granted him and in order for Gregor Samsa to find meaning in life, he first had to lose the life others laid on him to live by. He had to involuntarily transform from who he used to be as the individual that he was to an individual that fully represented him as he liked.
There was a dramatic shift from who he used to be to who he was now, unrecognizable to others, mainly to those that were the ones who gave him the life that he originally lived to begin with. As Gilbert Ryle said, “Man need not be degraded to a machine by being denied being a ghost in a machine. He might, after all, be a sort of animal, namely a higher mammal. There has yet to be ventured the hazardous leap to the hypothesis that perhaps he is a man” (Greve). Living a life without self-esteem leads to a life without a feeling of purpose and meaning, one way or another life helps you find its meaning and purpose, even if it is by taking the most important things away from you.
The desire of existentialism never fails in an entity and Gregor Samsa was no exception. Another way to determine the ideology of existentialism, is that “existentialism is a philosophy concerned with finding self and the meaning of life through free will, choice, and personal responsibility. The belief is that people are searching to find out who and what they are throughout life as they make choices based on their experiences, beliefs, and outlook” (“Existentialism”). In the short story, “The Metamorphosis,” Gregor Samsa grieves because of his inability to prove his existence in accordance to what existentialism is, he is uncapable of finding self-meaning and meaning of life, all leading to his extinction in life as a living entity.
As a traveling salesman, he has always really only lived a simple and monotonous life. The role of an existential life lies within the response of the mind, how it is that the individual views themselves? The more positive the mind tends to view itself, the livelier the person maintains to be. Except that in Gregor’s case, he viewed himself as his work, all he ever did was work, work, and work, and he believed that continuously working was truly his life, although he did have illusions of quitting, he knew he had to maintain his job. With his completely, life-changing, transformation from a human to a bug, his whole existence was challenged, he now had to adjust to the new life and find out who he was in order to survive. Cohn explains this matter in his book by stating,
“The word transformation often suggests a reversible change,
a change that can be best described as noticeable but impermanent. However,
the word metamorphosis suggests a change that is permanent, irreversible,
such as the change we may experience as we become self-conscious, as
we start to ask the type of questions that alter the way we view ourselves,
our actions, our being-in-the-world” (Cohn, 1997).
Gregor had to ask himself mentally over and over, “who am I?” in order to figure out his capabilities and extents. In the process he did end up figuring out new parts of him that helped him identify who he now was. He found out that he was no longer fond of the same food he used to eat; “did not appeal to him at all” (34), his new abilities; “Gregor preferred to set himself moving and crawled up and down in his room” (35), and he learned to value new parts of himself; “his feelers, which he now learned to value for the first time” (33). Although Gregor was lining up more and more up with existing, he was uncapable of balancing out a social life and a personal side, the more he found himself the more he lost his social life. He knew who he was and that no matter how hard he tried, his family would still not accept him for who he has now become. This revelation pushes Gregor back into extinction as his self-confidence diminishes. His father is angry with him and his mother can not even stand for one second at his presence without going bonkers and raising her blood pressure. Gregor’s existence is continuously challenged at every moment in the story, “The Metamorphosis.”
What suffering could push all of these of the edge and be the ultimate end? To Gregor, that ultimate suffering was the suffering of isolation. Gregor was already isolated from his family to the extent that when he transformed into a bug and would watch his family from his room he realizes, “what a quiet life the family leads” (34), keeping in mind that he does not represent them as his family but rather as “the family.” The only true relationship that Gregor had within his family was with his sister, Grete, she was a lovely musician and violinist. Gregor loved Grete so much that he was willing to work his hardest to make her happy, he had always hoped to be able to send Grete “to the conservatory, regardless the great expense” (44).
But now he is trapped in his room as a helpless bug uncapable of fulfilling his fantasies, this forces Gregor to the realization of how he is trapped away internally as well, from all that he is; desires, dreams, and goals in his life. His family is terrified of Gregor’s new features and appearance and in order to calm them down, Gregor does his best to isolate himself even more from his family and hiding away so that they do not get terrified. Throughout this whole chaos, “only the sister had remained close to Gregor,” (43) and this meant a lot to Gregor, that Grete was truly and sincerely concerned about him. She regularly went in to Gregor’s room to feed him and clean his room, at a point she convinced her mom to take out all the stuff in Gregor’s room to give him more crawling and living space. The suffering of his isolation begins to kick in when Grete begins to detach herself from attending and caring for Gregor, she has begun to work at a store to help out financially and by the time she gets home she is too tired to assist to Gregor.
Grete was Gregor’s last hope, she cared and loved him regardless even after the transformation she did her best to overcome her own fear of seeing his transformation by always going in and out of his room. Her disinterest towards Gregor worsened when lodgers began to rent a room in their apartment but then cancelled their room without pay because of Gregor’s appearance. Grete finally bursts and suggests to her parents that they “must try to get rid of it” (85), after this change that Gregor sees in Grete, he finally hit the last level of suffering and understood what it meant to feel all alone in life. Gregor’s evolution into a bug represents how he is seen throughout the story as a simple parasite to his family, he cared the most for his family, but they ended up being the ones who hurt him the most. Yet, in the midst of all his pain and suffering, Gregor still found some form of hope and happiness in his last hours, which consisted of seeing and recognizing that his family could move on and live a good and happy life without his help. Gregor’s life is a controversial life that relates to many people, chaotic with hidden hope, better explain:
“His world is a world of hope and a world that is
doomed, a hermetically-closed universe and one with unlimited horizons, the
world of injustice and the world of guilt” (Kafka’s Appropriation of silence).
To conclude, the short story, “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka, is a remarkable story of a man named Gregor Samsa who transforms beyond recognition of others, yet it serves him a purpose because throughout the process of his transformation he was able to find himself individually. His evolution from man to insect depicts a great symbolism of how he himself also viewed himself, lower than a human, without a purpose. A parasite, which is exactly how many people in society end up seeing themselves. Although knocked down by many obstacles such as the struggles of losing self-esteem, the desire of existentialism, and the suffering of isolation, Gregor was able to find small hope in his last moments. This is a story a timeless piece that still lives and touches many with understanding. ?
Greve, Anniken. ‘Fiction as a source of self-knowledge: cognitive narratology faces the demands of Franz Kafka.’ Knowledge Cultures, vol. 3, no. 6, 2015, p. 64. Academic OneFile. Accessed 20 Oct. 2018.
Sadigh, Micah. “The Nightmare of Becoming Human: Metaphors and Reflections For Individuals In Search of Authentic Self.” Existential Analysis: Journal of the Society for Existential Analysis, vol. 28, no. 2, July 2017, pp. 362–373. EBSCOhost
‘Existentialism’. Allaboutphilosophy.Org, 2018, https://www.allaboutphilosophy.org/existentialism.htm. Accessed 22 Oct 2018. GALE Cohn, H.W. (1997).
Existential Thought and Therapeutic Practice: An introduction to existential psychotherapy. London: Sage Publications. ESCOhost
“Kafka’s Appropriation of Silence.” Value Inquiry Book Series, vol. 308, Editions Rodopi BV, 2017, pp. 123–128. EBSCOhost
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