Comment on the dehumanisation in 'Metamorphosis' by Franz Kafka and 'One day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich' by Aleksandr Solzhenitsn

In the novella ‘Metamorphosis’ and the novel ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’, there is lots of dehumanisation, some of which is comparable in both of the texts.

In ‘Metamorphosis’, the first sentence is proving dehumanisation:

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“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”

This is a blatant aspect showing dehumanisation. In “Metamorphosis” Gregor Samsa is rejected by his family:

“He must go,’ cried Gregor’s sister, ‘ that’s the only solution, Father. You must just try to get rid of the idea that this is Gregor. The fact we believed it for so long is the root of all our trouble. But how can it be Gregor? If this were Gregor, he would have realized long ago human beings can’t live with such a creature, and he’d have gone away of his own accord.”

This quotation shows his sister saying that the insect is not Gregor and the insect should be driven out, however it appears obvious to us as the reader that no one entered the room and Gregor did not leave the house.

In ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’, dehumanisation is even more present. They have numbers, not names and were treated like slaves:

“Look here, you, 854. Just wipe it over lightly to make it moist and then bugger off.”

Here the prisoner is being made to scrub floors and is spoken down to, that its self is dehumanisation, but then he is called by his number, which adds to the ordeal. The prisoners in the camp were only allowed one pair of boots, which meant that if the pair wore out they would have to continue wearing them:

“It was against the rules for a prisoner to possess two pairs of footwear at the same time.”

The inmates were given the same food every day, which would be very boring, and making them feel more animal like:

“The skilly was the same every day.”

The food they did actually get there was little of so some days the prisoners had to go short:

“They’ve cheated us again at the supply-hatch, the slimey rats: they should have given us four nine-hundred-gramme loaves and I’ve only got three. Who’s to go short?”

This shows the hardship that was faced everyday in the camp. Not just between the guards and the prisoners, but between the prisoners themselves.

It is very horrible to work whilst ill, this is exactly what happens to Shukhov, he goes to sick bay feeling feverish, yet he is sent away because yet he was clearly ill, sick bay had its maximum holding capacity, two people:

“H’m, neither one thing nor the other. Thirty-seven point two. If it had been thirty-eight it would have been clear to anyone. I can’t exempt you. Stay behind at your own risk, if you like. The doctor will examine you. If he considers you’re ill, he’ll exempt you. If he finds you fit, he won’t. Then you’ll be locked up. You’d do best to go to work.”

This shows that although Shukhov was clearly ill and feverish he still had to work.

To make it virtually impossible for the prisoners to keep track of time no watches or clocks were allowed:

“Prisoners were not allowed to carry watches, the authorities knew the time for them.”

By taking away watches and clocks, the authorities could easily wake you up an hour earlier, or finish an hour later, no one could quibble because no one had a watch.

All of the prisoners had to wear a uniform:

“Shukhov was in regulation dress.”

This is branding every person the same. This is how a farmer would treat his cattle.

Say you wanted to stay that little bit warmer thus making you work better you might wear extra undergarments but if you were to be caught, you could end up in the cells for ten days and no food.

The two texts can be compared with the dehumanisation they both feature. In ‘Metamorphosis’ Gregor is trying to speak but he is just not comprehendible:

“Did you hear how he was speaking?’ ‘That was no human voice,’ said the chief clerk.”

In ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’, the prisoners were not allowed to say certain words:

“What for, citizen* chief?’ asked Shukhov” with a footnote saying “*Prisoners were not allowed to use the word comrade.”

This is a very good example of dehumanisation because although Russia was supposedly communist were everyone related to each other as comrade, the prisoners were not allowed to say it, therefore declaring them not human.

In both of the texts, the main protagonists are isolated, however in ‘Metamorphosis’ the family do not want to see Gregor:

“She did not see him at once, yet when she caught sight of him under the sofa… she was so startled that without being able to help it she slammed the door shut again.”

In ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’, the family would love to see Shukhov, but it is impossible, so Shukhov decides to forget about them because thinking of them will make things much worse:

“And Shukhov’s wife nursed with strong hope that when Ivan returned he too would become one of those painters.”

Shukhov is also isolated in the fact that:

“I was taken from my woman in ’41 citizen chief. I’ve forgotten what she was like.”

The main protagonists in the texts both suffer dehumanisation in the manner of food they are given to eat, as Gregor eats:

“There were old, half-decayed vegetables; bones from last nights supper covered with a white sauce that had thickened; some raisins and almonds; a piece of cheese that Gregor would have called uneatable two days ago.”

This is obvious he treated like an animal because he is being fed decaying food and scraps. In ‘One day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ Shukhov eats very bland foods all year round:

“The worst time was July when they shredded nettles into the pot.”

Both texts show us a threat of being beaten up which is sociably not human like. Gregor’s father physically abuses him:

“An apple thrown without much force grazed Gregor’s back and glanced off harmlessly. But another following immediately landed right on his back and sank in.”

Here Gregor is actually hurt. In ‘One day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ the inmates at the labour camp are also under constant threat of being beaten up, or even killed:

“Attention, prisoners. Marching orders must be strictly obeyed. Keep to your ranks. No hurrying, keep a steady pace. No talking. Keep your eyes fixed ahead and your hands behind your backs. A step to the right or left is considered an attempt to escape and the escort has orders to shoot without warning.”

This is an extremely intimidating thing to say.

The texts both deny pleasure to the main protagonists, for Gregor he is denied the pleasure of being free to move around in his room, because his family put all the unwanted things in there, this also makes Gregor seem unwanted:

“It had become a habit in the family to push into his room things there was no room for elsewhere, and there were plenty of these now.”

Shukhov in ‘One day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ has been denied the pleasure of seeing his family and being free to wear his own clothes.

Gregor is locked up because his family are actually scared of him and do not want visitors to see him. Shukhov is imprisoned because the Russian government put him there.

I think there is a countless amount of dehumanisation in the two texts, which makes them very interesting to read. Gregor is actually a beetle so, in a way dehumanisation is not a great deal for him, yet Shukhov over comes the attempts of dehumanisation by the guards by keeping up his spirit in other ways such as removing his hat when he is eating.

The lack of cigarettes or even food in the labour camp Shukhov is in forces the prisoners to turn against each other in order to survive, which is what animals would do in the animal kingdom.

Gregor felt apart from his human life before the transformation. And he actually preferred being the insect state where he need not worry about work or family, so, had he actually dehumanised? In physical state yes he had, but mentally he still had rational deliberation, and other aspects that humans have.

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