The poetic of Kafka consists in endowing the absurd with coherence. The metamorphosis of the protagonist in an insect can be understood as the dehumanization and the alienation of the human being in a Capitalist society. Gregor feels strange and misunderstood in a hostile and incompressible environment. With the transformation, he becomes aware of his loneliness and undervaluation in the scenarios in which he develops; work and family.
The reflection of the individual in his relationship with society and the family is the place where the development of this economic-philosophical problem arises, literarily addressed by Kafka. The transformation by itself does not represent a primary aspect of the novel. If this were the case, the author would undoubtedly have deepened this problem by specifying more clearly what is the transformation and how it occurred. The figure of the insect is just a symbol, an image, a metaphor the author uses to narrate the terrible circumstances surrounding the unfortunate man in his interaction with his environment under his new conditions.
Gregor Samsa embodies and represents the existence of millions of people who, moved by the hidden threads of a programmed, secret and machine mechanism that activates and converts them into enslaved automatons, embody the docility and obedience of the norms. People are shown as passive defenders of the system that exploits and oppresses them. The story is not only about Gregor’s transformation, is about the metamorphosis of his entire family. The Capitalist society transforms them into objects of labor.
Kafka, beyond his own intentions, proposes the work in a Capitalistic society, as an activity external to the worker, where they do not feel happy, but unfortunate. This economic and political regime that has shaped our society, imposes a common order and denies individuality as dangerous. Gregor Samsa is a symbol of the process of alienation suffered by the man who lives in Capitalism, unable to get out of bed without thinking, “What a strenuous career it is that I’ve chosen! Traveling day in and day out.
Doing business like this take much more effort than doing your own business at home, and on top of that, there’s the curse of traveling worries about making train connections, bad and irregular food, contact with different people all the time so that you can never get to know anyone or become friendly with them. It can all go to Hell!” When Gregor sees himself transformed into an insect, he worries about his job and how he will provide money for his family instead of worry about himself.
Overwhelmed with the work and life he has, Gregor wants to be fired. Nevertheless, he has to endure the exploitation to which he is subjected because he supports his family and had debts to pay, “If I didn’t have my parents to think about I’d have given in my notice a long time ago, I’d have gone up to the boss and told him just what I think, tell him everything I would, let him know just what I feel…There is still some hope; once I’ve got the money together to pay off my parents’ debt to him – another five or six years suppose.” Before transforming into an insect, the main character was a cloth merchant.
His task was to make long and exhausting trips to get customers to buy those goods, a job that barely allowed him time because he was forced to use most of his free time to study new itineraries to make more profitable trips. With this information, can we develop the alienation of Gregor? We are in presence of a worker whose job is to sell a strange people a product that he does not produce. However, Gregor has another job as a hobby, carpentry.
From this work, Gregor has produced an object for himself. This item is a frame, with which he framed the photograph of the woman with a fur hat and fur boa, and of which her mother speaks proudly to the manager in the first part of the story, “Above it there hung a picture that he had recently cut out of an illustrated magazine and housing in a nice, gilded frame.” When Grete and the mother intend to remove the furniture from Gregor’s room, he pounces on the photo because he doesn’t want that they take it away from him. The photography is a link with his humanity.
Maybe without a specific purpose, he is protecting an object that is truly human, that is a result of a human work, an object that he has produced for himself, that represents him as a human, “He hurried up onto the picture and pressed himself against its glass, it held him firmly and felt good on his hot belly. This picture at least, now totally covered by Gregor, would certainly be taken away for no-one.”
The same can be said when he mentions that he saw the tools he kept in his closet and his mom and sister try to remove them making him feel more hurt, “They were clearing his room out; taking away everything he loved; the chest in which he kept his fret saw and other tools was already dragged off; they were now loosening the writing desk which had almost sunk into the floor, the desk at which he had done all his homework when he was at the commercial academy.”
Gregor cannot escape the absurd competition between human beings, typical of the Capitalist system that sometimes make the co-worker look like an enemy, “And even if he did catch the train he wouldn’t avoid a row with the chief since the firm’s porter would have been waiting for the five o’clock train and would have long since reported his failure to turn up.
The porter was a creature of the chief’s, spineless and stupid. Well, supposing he were to say he was sick? But that would be most unpleasant and would look suspicious since during his five years’ employment he had not been ill once. The chief himself would be sure to come with the sick-insurance doctor, would reproach his parents with their son’s laziness and would cut all excuses short by referring to the insurance doctor, who of course regarded all mankind as perfectly healthy malingering.
” Therefore, he is affected by the alienation produced by private property, the division of labor and the Capitalist mode of production. With this, the protagonist represents the scheme of the alienated worker, a worker whose life is practically reduced to his work. Under this vision, the whole work would represent the dehumanization of Gregor taken to the extreme, comparing the alienated worker with an insect.
In this way, in The Metamorphosis, we witness the process of total dehumanization of the alienated worker that culminates in death. In the first part, Gregor still feels among humans despite having woken up a while ago and become transformed into an insect, “They had realized, though, that there was something wrong with him, and were ready to help.
The first response to his situation had been confident and wise, and that made him feel better. He felt that he had been drawn back in among people, and from the doctor and the locksmith he expected great and surprising achievements.” During the second part, Gregor is going to dehumanize. When he begins to climb the walls and his sister thinks about removing the furniture from the room to facilitate this, Gregor starts to accepting the animal inside him.
However, at the moment in which the mother reminds the daughter that the human Gregor would not have wanted that the things that tied him to his human side were taking away from him, Gregor begins to realize that he is becoming an animal and resists it. On the contrary, in the third part, Gregor seems to accept his transformation in an animal. He is even aggressive with the new assistant, and he no longer cares about the consideration of others when he stops cleaning himself.
He is even dazzled by the violin his sister is playing, thinking that maybe he has become an animal because he attracts so much music. It is important to remember that Gregor in the first part mentions that he has never been linked to music, which leads to the idea that an alienated worker does not have time for anything beyond his work, making him unable to appreciate music, “Was he an animal if music could captivate him so?” “With his sister alone had he remained intimate, and it was a secret plan of his that she, who loved music, unlike himself.” Capitalism prevents people from living their own life. It deprives them of freedom and independence.
The exhaustion and resulting disinterest in doing things you would normally take great care to do may seem familiar to capitalist workers. Grete is not free from alienation and the effects of work. Gregor’s sister, who before the metamorphosis was quite immature, had only one mission in life, sleep as much as she wants, take care of herself, and play the violin. She was the one who was closest to her brother, and he was thinking of paying for music studies at the conservatory for her. The girl’s life turns upside down when Gregor becomes an insect. Little by little, she goes from worrying about his beloved brother to completely repudiate him.
An example of how the alienation of work consumes people and transforms them into individuals with no feelings is when Gregor hears his sister crying in the next room in the first part of the story and think about the possibility that she is doing it just because he can lose his job and not because something really serious had happened to him, “Why was she crying? Because he wouldn’t get up and let the chief clerk in, because he was in danger of losing his job, and because the chief would begin dunning his parents again for the old debts?” The foundation of the relationship of this family seems to be solely monetary, no love or affection. When Gregor stopped providing for his family, they become aggressive and distasteful toward him.
The father is even aggressive with him, “It was an apple; a second apple followed immediately; Gregor came to a stop in alarm; there was no point in running on, for his father was determined to bombard him. He had filled his pockets with fruit from the dish on the sideboard and was now shying apple after apple, without taking particularly good aim for the moment.” In the second part, Grete worries about the food, hygiene, and well-being of her brother transformed into a bug. She still not working.
But in the third part, she starts working as a sales assistant while studying shorthand and French with the aim of obtaining a better job, spending a lot of time on all these tasks of work and study. By not having so much free time, she does not devote the same attention to his brother and manages to ignore him. So, once she transforms into another alienate worker, she does not care about the small but important things in life like taking care of her brother, “We have to try and get rid of it,” said Gregor’s sister, now speaking only to her father, as her mother was too occupied with coughing to listen, “it’ll be the death of both of you, I can see it coming.
We can’t all work as hard as we have to and then come home to be tortured like this, we can’t endure it. I can’t endure it anymore.” Another example is her music. In the end, she plays the violin for the three visitors in the house, but after a while, it ceases to interest them. Is it possible that they really did not like it because she played badly? Maybe since she works, she is not able to play the violin as long as before. She has been able to lose practice because of the work that prevents her from developing her human ability, what is really important for her, “Indeed, they were making it more than obvious that they had been disappointed in their expectation of hearing good or enjoyable violin-playing.”
Karl Marx once said, “The devaluation of the human world grows in the direct ratio of the valorization of the world of things.” Gregor’s father is a man who went bankrupt in his business and contracted a series of large debts that his son was responsible for paying with effort. While Gregor supported the family, he spent five years without work. Although we do not know the age of the father, it must be an older man. He no longer has the vigor that he once possessed.
With the metamorphosis of Gregor, the father is forced to work. In the second part, the father gets a job in a bank where they make him wear a blue livery as a uniform. Something changes in the father when he starts working. First is the is the shift from a kind of vagrancy to an attitude always ready to work. This is evidenced by his obstinacy of never taking off his uniform. Constantly wearing his uniform, degrades him as a human being exemplifying another object in the Capitalistic society, “With a kind of mulishness his father persisted in keeping his uniform on even in the house.”
Also, the day of Gregor’s transformation, the father seems to be only worried about family’s finances. He attacks Gregor in some many ways, for example, throwing apples and forcing him to go back to his room, “Perhaps his father noted his good intentions, for he did not interfere except every now and then to help him in the maneuver from a distance with the point of the stick (…) One side of his body rose up, he was tilted at an angle in the doorway, his flank was quite bruised, horrid blotches stained the white door, soon he was stuck fast and, left to himself, could not have moved at ale his legs on one side fluttered trembling in the air, those on the other were crushed painfully to the floor-when from behind his father gave him a strong push which was literally a deliverance and he flew far into the room, bleeding freely.”
The next quote also represents how the alienation of the father with the work, makes him think that working could be more important than taking care for his own son, “Who could find the time, in this overworked and tired out family, to bother about Gregor more than was absolutely needful?” Everything seems to indicate in the story that as the characters enter in the world of the alienation of workers in a Capitalist system, they dehumanize and forget the important things that make them special.
Kafka had a specific mission with his story. He had no mercy with the bourgeoisie. With a petulant language, the manager appears during the first part, in Gregor’s house, just knowing that he has been absent. Even it is obvious that Gregor can be seriously ill, he releases the classic speech, with an educated appearance, that denotes falsehood and hypocrisy, about the unproductiveness of the absent worker, and that if he is still in the company it is because of the magnanimity of the boss. He does not hesitate to expose Gregor in front of his entire family if he manages to subject Gregor to his authority.
Although he tries to make us believe that he is an honest man who asks Gregor what is right, he does not stop showing himself without shame as the representative of a greedy bourgeoisie, who demands from his workers, the same functioning as a machine. For him, they are not more than other merchandise, “I hope it’s nothing serious. Although on the other hand, I must say that we men of business-fortunately or unfortunately-very often simply have to ignore any slight indisposition, since business must be attended to.”
The setting also has an important role. The dining room is the representation of bourgeoisie morality. This moral, place special emphasis on the image, the appearance. Although the family is affected by the drama of the metamorphosis of their son, in the dining room they try to pretend that they are a family like any other.
The mother is a weak woman, who suffers from respiratory problems and is easily impressionable; seeing his metamorphosed son, causes her to faint. She is the only person who cares for Gregor from the beginning. She is the one who notices in the first part that it is getting late and asks him constantly if he is okay. When the manager arrives, she tries to excuse her son, defending him against the accusations. In the same way, in the second part, she shows concern for Gregor and helps the daughter to prepare her son’s room.
While there, she is the only one who thinks about the humanity of her son; removing the furniture could be harmful to him. Perhaps the only thing that can be reproached is the fact that she didn’t defend his son in the third part when she had already begun to work. When Grete sentences that his brother must leave, she did not object.
The metamorphosis could be considered a metaphor of the fate that Kafka gave to the alienated workers; become dehumanized animals. A metamorphosis not only of Gregor but of his entire family, which goes from living in a bourgeois way to being part of the productive system with all that this implies for their lives and dreams. Therefore, the changes that occur in the family correspond more to the effects of work than to the tragedy of Gregor’s metamorphosis itself, without rejecting its importance as a trigger for change.