Franz Kafka’s “the Metamorphosis”: a Story of Alienation and Guilt

Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” is a short novel highlighting a Gregor Samsa’s struggle to make ends meet for his family, his struggle to overcome lonely feelings, the loss of his job, and his struggle of waking up one morning as a giant bug - Franz Kafka’s “the Metamorphosis”: a Story of Alienation and Guilt introduction. This short story explores the themes of man’s self imposed alienation, alienation imposed by others, and the guilt imposed upon him when he realizes that, as a gigantic insect, he cannot work and support his family.

This work of short fiction is highly acclaimed for its outright uniqueness, and the insight that it provided into the psyche of a working man, with obligations that rarely, if ever benefited him. I picked this short story because of a literature love affair with Kafka, as well as the fact that it borders on fantasy and horror because of the element of Gregor being an humongous cockroach. The first, and most prevalent, theme in this short story is that of alienation. Gregor Samsa is a traveling salesman, selling textiles, and slowly working off his family’s debt to the company clerk.

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He spends most of his time on trains or in hotel rooms, in absolute solitude. This occupation, which was chosen for him by his indebted parents, rarely provides him with the opportunity to interact with the outside world. Gregor goes on to tell us that he barely even makes appearances at the offices, where he is regarded as an outsider, and only judged by the number of orders he puts in, and not his character. This leaves him in quite a lurch for personal connection outside of work, seeing as he works long hours.

When he gets home he “never goes out in the evenings; he’s been here the last eight days and has stayed home every single evening. He just sits there quietly at the table reading a newspaper or looking through railway timetables” (Kafka, 75-76). This is evidence of the alienation that he imposes upon himself, as well as the constant struggle he lives in, with obligations to provide for his family, he has no time to start a family of his own. Once he has turned into an insect, a form of alienation that he could never have imagined begins to unfold.

Upon finding out that he has turned into a bug, the clerk who came to check on him from the office immediately flees. Shortly thereafter, while his mother is crying, his father attempts to kill him, as if he were a common cockroach. This act by his father exemplifies the shame that his family feels because their son has turned insect, even though he had no control over it. As the story continues on, his family is forced to take on boarders, which he is strictly forbidden from being present in front of. He spends much of his time hiding under a sofa, much like a real cockroach.

At a very intense point in the story, Gregor is drawn to his sister playing her violin for their tenants, and enters the room where she is. He is immediately shunned. This is essentially the final straw for Gregor, who scampers back to his room, and dies soon thereafter, permanently alienating himself. A final theme definitely worth exploring in this story is that of guilt. It was shocking to realize the Gregor never once pondered how he became a gigantic cockroach, but spent much time dwelling on the fact that he was going to be late to work.

His initial thought upon waking up as a giant bug is more concerned with how he is going to support his family, and not why he is an insect randomly. It could be said that guilt is Gregor’s primary emotion in this story. His guilt over not being able to work, guilt over his father and sister having to go back to work, guilt over his interfering with his sisters concert, etc. While reading through a few critical analysis of this work, it came to my attention that an often made claim about this story is that Gregor became happier as an insect than he did as a human.

I believe this is true on certain levels, considering he no longer has to work, and it is much easier for him to entertain himself in his room. However, not having to work is not necessarily better for Gregor in my opinion. As noted earlier, not working is only a source of more guilt for him. He also loses the ability to do the few things he enjoyed as a human, such as his fretwork and watching his sister perform with her violin. Not being able to communicate his needs properly also seems to be a very large struggle for him, especially since he relies on his family to feed him, clean his room, and keep him under wraps.

In my opinion, life as an insect is ten times more miserable for Gregor, even though life as a human wasn’t fulfilling in any way shape or form for him. Franz Kafka’s seminal work, “The Metamorphosis” is a dark and twisted exploration of the human psyche. He goes deep into the subjects of alienation and guilt, and highlights the strife that these two feelings cause for the protagonist. In the end, Gregor dies, not because he is a bug, but because his family no longer seems to love him, or want him around. He dies of a broken heart.

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