For generations society has been separating and categorizing mankind into stereotypes. Everyone and anyone on earth has been placed within a prospective category. If not by race, then appearance, income, or by social standing. Although sometimes mankind takes these separations to an extreme, like trying to dispose of a thousands of people, just because of their religion and beliefs. These separations and categorizations can wreak havoc on the human mind. Some even hallucinating in order to cope with the stress of what everyday life has caused them. Feeling trapped in a label you can’t seem to shed no matter how hard you work to change can be infuriating, and that constant battle of back and forth within the mind can do dangerous things. Although Wiesel writes a memoir and Kafka writes an expressionist novella, both stories use symbols to further their themes of alienation and dehumanization.
Night is a memoir by Elie Wiesel. Within his enthralling narrative he depicts his period spent within Auschwitz during World War two, and how he managed to endure and outlive the camps ill-treatment. He describes his first experience in Auschwitz, upon his entrance into the camp. “Men to the left! Women to the right! Eight words spoken quietly, indifferently, without emotion. Eight simple, short words… I didn’t know that this was the moment in time and place where I would be leaving my mother and sister forever” (Wiesel, 29). As soon as you step foot in that appalling camp it is no longer of any
St. Germain 1 importance that you have a family. The guards don’t concern themselves with the inseparability of you and your loved ones. All that is of any concern to them is that they dispose of the weak. They determine who is deemed fit to live and will be of appropriate use to them. The S.S soldiers alienate the weak from the rest of the camp in order to uphold the highest level of functionality.
After spending months in Auschwitz, Elie and his fellow prisoners are relocated. While on the train transporting them to their unknown location they are forced to fit 100 prisoners per car for days, without food or water. During a stop at a local train station the German citizens amuse themselves by throwing crumbs of bread onto the train and watching the prisoners fight for any scrap of bread they can obtain, for one scrap of bread ensures one more day of survival. Elie watches in horror as a man attacks his elderly father in order to steal his bread. Elie recalls the terrifying events “Meir, my little Meir! Don’t you recognize me…You’re killing your father…I have bread…for you too…The old man mumbled something, groaned, and died. Nobody cared. His son searched him, took the crust of bread, and began to devour it” (Wiesel, 101).
Being in the camp dehumanizes you. Not just in the sense of stripping you of your basic rights, but also of your basic morals. Being dehumanized is more than your lack of human rights, it’s also about the numbing of your feelings and emotional connections. The only thing that separates humans from any other animal on earth is our ability to form emotional bonds with others and to allow our morals to come before our basic instinct of survival. Being in the situation where you kill your father without hesitation shows the true magnitude of the dehumanization within the camps. Still within the tightfisted hands of the S.S soldiers, Elie and the other prisoners are forced to run involuntary to a new hidden camp. Elies father has aged a great deal so the strenuous and demanding route to the new camp is more exertion than his body can handle. Once they made it safely to the camp
St. Germain his father’s health began to diminish rapidly. It wasn’t long until his father drew in his last laborious breath and died in his sleep. Upon waking the next morning Elie was alarmed to find another inmate sleeping on his father’s bed. He soon discovered that his father had died the night before and was taken to the crematorium. By this time, he had already endured so much that he says “I did not weep, and it pained me that I could not weep, but I was out of tears. And deep inside me, if I could have searched the recesses of my feeble conscience, I might have found something like; free at last…” (Wiesel, 112). Elie had already experienced so much turmoil within the confines of the camp, that he was unaffected by the death of his own father. He was relieved that he no longer had the responsibility of keeping his father and himself alive. Elie had once been appalled at the men who abandoned their loved ones in order to ensure their own survival.
He had watched in horror as a man killed his elderly father for a crumb of bread, and vowed he would never become one of those appalling men. Yet when he thinks of his father’s undeserved death, he feels relief. In The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, a successful business man named Gregor awakens one morning and finds himself transformed into a giant roach bug. He responds to his change in appearance relatively calm, for his biggest concern is being late for his door to door salesmen job. While trying tirelessly to get out of bed Gregors mother knocks on the door to remind him of his tardiness to work. He assures her that he is okay and that he’ll be out soon.
When Gregor fails to come into work his manager arrives at his home in order to find the explanation for Gregors absence. While demanding Gregor come out of the room, for he cannot miss a day of work he says “Your job is by no means rock solid… frankly your recent work has been highly unsatisfactory” (Kafka, 7). The manager treats Gregor as though he is a means of making money and nothing more. Gregor is pushed around and mistreated by his manager each and every day, and that kind of emotional and mental abuse can only be endured for so long. Thus explaining Gregors hallucinations of becoming a giant roach, and isolating himself from the rest of society. Being told you are nothing but another cog within the machine of life by your superior makes you believe that you contribute nothing to society. Therefore the manager threatening Gregor with his job is a symbol of the abuse Gregor was put through every day that made him feel like a useless vermin, that he then hallucinates himself to be when he “turns” in to a roach.
After Gregors family discovers that he has become a roach they lock him away in his room and refuse to acknowledge what has happened to him. His sister slowly begins to become more comfortable with his new appearance and decides to leave food out for him. Since Gregors sister Grete decided to take the position as the main care giver for Gregor, his mother never sees him. One day Gregors mother decides she wants to visit Gregor and help Grete move his furniture out of his room. While they are transporting and relocating Gregors furniture to another room, Gregor decides he doesn’t want a poster on his wall taken away. So he lays himself on top of the poster on the wall, with the hopes that Grete would realize he wants it to stay. When Grete enters the room with Gregors mother, the shock of seeing her son as a giant bug causes her to pass out. While the mother remained passed out in another room Gregors father comes home.
He is outraged when Grete informs him that seeing Gregor caused the mothers troubling state. He immediately assumes Gregor tried to attack them and begins to attack Gregor as punishment. Kafka describes it saying “Gregor halted, petrified, any more running would be useless, for the father dead set on bombarding him…a weakly thrown apple grazed Gregors back sliding off harmlessly. Another one, however, promptly following it, actually clung right into his back. Gregor wanted to keep dragging himself along as though this startling and incredible pain would vanish with a change of location, yet he felt nailed to the spot”(Kafka,26). Gregors father attacking him with the apples and injuring him is a symbol of Gregors strained and problematic relationship with his father, it shows that Gregor never felt good or worthy enough.
The apple actually causing injury to his back represents the emotional turmoil Gregors father has put him through and the betrayal he feels as a result. Since Gregor is no longer able to support the family and their lavish life style anymore, Gregors father decides to allow three men to rent out rooms within their home for extra money. The men are vile and self-righteous so upon hearing Grete playing the violin in her room, demand she come and play for them. Grete does as she is told and begins to play for the men. Gregor is watching from his cracked door as Grete plays and is utterly captivated by it. It’s the first time Gregor remembers being happy in a long time. Although he is outraged when he looks around the room and sees the awful men sitting there looking as if they would like nothing more than to leave the room.
Gregor wishes Grete would play for only him because he is the only one who truly appreciates her talents, Gregor states “He was determined to creep all the way over to the sister, tug at her skirt and suggest that she take violin and come into his room, for no one here would reward her playing as he intended to reward it. He wanted to keep her there, and never let her out, at least not in his lifetime” (Kafka, 34). Gregor enjoying Grete’s violin playing symbolizes what little hope he has left, and that he is still human. After all that Gregor has been through, and all that his family has out him through he still loves Grete and wants her to feel appreciated in the way that he never did. He wishes to hide her away from the cruel world that emotionally and mentally scarred him, and alienate themselves from the rest of society by staying together in Gregors room forever.
Throughout both of the writers novels the theme of alienation and dehumanization are thoroughly represented. They depict the hardships and struggles of being wrongfully labeled, and how it affects your life. What may seem like a completely unnecessary and irrelevant sentence in the novel actually has a much great meaning than originally thought. Within those sentences are symbols that help to further the themes in the novel. Although Wiesel writes a memoir and Kafka writes an expressionist novella, both stories use symbols to further their themes of alienation and dehumanization.
Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York: Hill and Wang, 2006.Printed
Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. Columbis, Ohio: The McGraw – Hill Companies, 2000.Printed