Franz Kafka’s existentialistic perspective on the meaning of life (or rather, the lack thereof), is clearly portrayed through Gregor Samsa in Metamorphosis. Kafka’s belief that there is no meaning to life nor any reason to hold an optimistic outlook towards life, is a dominant force in the story. The author is able to create conflict by portraying Gregor as being the complete opposite of his own personal beliefs: Kafka’s almost paradoxical belief that, though there is no meaning to life, the individual can create one for himself, is entirely missed by Gregor. Kafka’s weighty emphasis on individualism and the corruption that society and the familial infrastructure represent is demonstrated through Gregor’s interactions with the members of his own family and those of society. This leads to the development of Gregor Samsa as more than a sympathetic character, and makes Metamorphosis a novella of fantastical, fable-like proportions, complete with a moral and a superficially happy ending.
Kafka’s Metamorphosis was written in 1912, in the midst of a German cultural, social, and economic metamorphosis. Industrialization had reached Germany, and changed the mindset of the people. The increasing number of factorial jobs available, the numbing shifts and schedules, . . . – all this came with industrialization, and it was to this that Kafka was writing in protest. Through Gregor, Kafka demonstrates the dehumanization that industrialization was bringing to Germany, to the extent that there was little to no difference between humans and animals. By turning Gregor’s physical being into an unnamed and abhorrent bug, Kafka emphasizes the similarities between th…
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… followed by a period of “vacant and peaceful meditation” (Kafka, 127), in which he reflects with new insight his past life, and, while in the process of making tentative plans for the future, dies a peaceful death. Gregor’s death, followed so closely by his dawning comprehension of individuality, closes the story to a full and complete circle, which began with his physical transformation into a bug and ended with his humanization.
Kafka uses Gregor Samsa as almost a fable-istic character, as if to warn his reader “Don’t be like Gregor! Follow your own paths or die a death like a dung bug!” Kafka’s emphasis on individualism and how the corruption that society and familial infrastructure affects a human being develops this story into one with moralistic consequences for the reader, persuading him to review his own priorities and to reset them accordingly.
Metamorphosis of the Family in Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis
The Metamorphosis of the Family
Before the caterpillar can transform into a butterfly, it must go through a metamorphosis. The cocoon in which the caterpillar hibernates is in fact just a conveyance towards another life form. Gregor, in Franz Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis, is similarly a vehicle for such an important transformation, in this case the reformation of his family. The metamorphosis of Gregor facilitates the gradual change of his entire family, demonstrating that an outside source is sometimes needed in order to push people out of stagnation and into life.
Before the family members begin to make their transformations, they rely heavily on Gregor. The dutiful son sets out to provide for his family after the failure of his father’s business. He secures a decent job and the family gladly accepts this new way of life, with a steady income and means of support. Over time, “they had simply got used to it, both the family and Gregor; the money was gratefully accepted and gladly given, but there was no special uprush of warm feeling” (95). Each member of the family becomes accustomed to an easy life in which needs and wants are provided for. This routine causes the individuals in the family to stagnate and live unproductively.
The family begins to follow a path of existentialism because of what their lives have become. Existentialism entails taking responsibility for one’s own actions and finding meaning in life. Through the course of the novel, the family proceeds from a state of senselessness to a gradual form of existentialism. In the beginning, the lives of the family members mean nothing and have no purpose. They are not individuals, but rather mindless drones who take advantage of a convenient situation…
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…ther, and daughter emerging arm in arm” (11). Gregor’s death is a necessary sacrifice, for it is through his loss of humanity that his family is able to find humanity of their own. He forces them to understand their environment and their role in society, creating meaning in their lives.
The transformation of Gregor is a catalyst for the gradual metamorphosis of each member of his family, illustrating the importance of discovering purpose in one’s life. In order to truly experience life, people must find meaning in it. However, sometimes it is only through the changes of another, in this case Gregor, that people themselves begin to transform. The sacrifice of Gregor allows his family to leave its protective cove and journey out into the world, discovering what life has to offer.
Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. Mattituck: Vanguard Press, 1946.