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The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka occupies the central place among the writer’s works. It impresses the reader from the first paragraph: “One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in his bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug …“What’s happened to me,” he thought. It was no dream.” (Kafka 1)
The reader gets an esthetical shock from the fact of being presented the information of a person turned into a bug in a classical narrative manner. Not only because we are shocked with such an unrealistic situation, but because imagining the bug of a person’s size is physically revolting. Fantastic image created by Kafka seems provocative precisely because of it being conspicuously unaesthetic. And if we imagine a similar metamorphosis in real life, then all subsequent events and the behavior of people do not seem to be surprising. What is surprising is how easily the author talks about everyday life’s inconveniences, which began for the main character and his family from the moment of conversion. Kafka describes them in such a dry and concise language that with time a reader involuntarily forgets about the improbability of the fact, which served as a basis for the story. “You will mark Kafka's style. Its clarity, its precise and formal intonation in such striking contrast to the nightmare matter of his tale. No poetical metaphors ornament his stark black-and-white story. The limpidity of his style stresses the dark richness of his fantasy.” (Nabokov 50)
The story describes in details the feelings, thoughts and fears of Gregor-insect. In the chitinous shell everything human was getting lost – first the speech, then other spiritual qualities that he was proud of, but at the same time he remained a human to a greater extent than the members of his family. He was trying to get up, go to his parents and the manager from work to explain his absence form work, but his efforts were fruitless, his speech was incomprehensible, and he only made his parents frustrated. It was horrible to realize that the parents were scared not of their son’s disease but of the inconvenience that it brought – they now had to look for work and his sister had to take care of the house. They were unhappy that they had to hide what happened from others.
Gregor has realized that his new look was not a dream, but reality, nevertheless, he kept thinking of himself as a person, while for his family his outer shell became the decisive factor in their relationship with him. Gregor’s metamorphosis totally changed the usual life of the family, they were dependent on him before since he was the one who supported the whole family, that is why they only felt disgust and frustration. “Gregor’s family are his parasites, exploiting him, eating him out from the inside. This is his beetle itch in human terms.” (Nabokov 26) Everybody turned away from him, even his sister, who was taking care of him in the beginning, in a month became heartless and arrogant.
Gregor’s inner world was developing in the novel according to the laws of rationalism, but in this work of Kafka rationalism turned into absurd. When Gregor in his new guise finally appeared in the living room in front of the manager, and his family, his mother fainted, his father started to sob and Gregor himself appeared under the picture of himself from the military service: “it was a picture of him as a lieutenant, as he, smiling and worry free, with his hand on his sword, demanded respect for his bearing and uniform.” (Kafka 9) The contrast between the Gregor –human and Gregor-insect was not stressed upon, but it became a background for his further speech:
“Now,” said Gregor, well aware that he was the only one who had kept his composure. “I’ll get dressed right away, pack up the collection of samples, and set off. You’ll allow me to set out on my way, will you not? You see, Mr. Manager, I am not pig-headed, and I am happy to work. Travelling is exhausting, but I couldn’t live without it. Where are you going, Mr. Manager? To the office? Really? Will you report everything truthfully? …I’m in a fix, but I’ll work myself out of it again. “(Kafka 9)
But he did not believe himself, though the people did not understand his words anyway. Gregor knew he would never get out of this situation, he would have to rebuild his life. In order not to scare his sister who took care of him, he started hiding under the couch, where he spent his time only being concerned about relieving the troubles that he has brought to his family with his present state. In Gregor’s attitude to his sister Kafka showed how being ugly on the outside, he is caring and very kind on the inside. “His beetlehood, while distorting and degrading his body, seems to bring out in him all his human sweetness. His utter unselfishness, his constant preoccupation with the needs of others…” (Nabokov, para. 40)
Gregor was isolated in his room and was suffering unbearably, because having become an insect he kept the human mind and human emotions. Realizing that nobody cared about his state of mind, but that his transformation caused his loved ones only hatred and loathing, Gregor still thought of them with love and tenderness. But because nobody understood him, nobody realized that he understood them. He took his father’s hint that his death would be salvation for the family, and therefore refused form food and died of exhaustion.
This is unbelievable, but Gregor’s death was received with relief by everybody surrounding him. This fact clearly portrays them as insects rather than people, they did not have any feelings of compassion or grief, as one would suppose members of the family would have to their dead son and brother. As Nabokov mentions in his notes: “Gregor's dead, dry body is discovered the next morning by the charwoman and a great warm sense of relief permeates the insect world of his despicable family. Here is a point to be observed with care and love. Gregor is a human being in an insect's disguise; his family are insects disguised as people. With Gregor's death their insect souls are suddenly aware that they are free to enjoy themselves. " (Nabokov 63)They made plans for the future, discussed the marriage of Greta, and planned to move to a new place of residence. Nobody was sorry that Gregor was not with them anymore, nobody thought why such a misfortune had happened to him.
The Metamorphosis is the brightest example of the tragic world view by Franz Kafka. The situation of metamorphosis in this work allows for different interpretations. Almost on the surface is the simplest explanation – the alienation in the family and in the society; the loneliness of a person capable of compassion and sacrifice; the loneliness which is also provoked by the realization of his difference from others. The full spiritual isolation of the main character Kafka describes with the help of incredible metamorphosis of his appearance. The theme of alienation and loneliness is as relevant nowadays as it was at the time when Kafka wrote his story, and maybe even more so. Gregor was separated from his family not only spiritually, but physically – being in the insect’s body and closed in his room, whereas it is possible to be lonely today even in the middle of the crowd, or with the closest people. It seems to me that the problem of loneliness is very applicable to today’s reality.
Understanding his character and sincerely sympathizing with him, the writer talks about how defenseless the person is in front of the surrounding reality. He is powerless, helpless, experiencing excruciating pain and doomed to estrangement, even when the closest people surround him, the dreary loneliness and finally death.