In Franz Kafka’s enigmatic novel The Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa lives the life of a bug. The traveling salesman awakens one morning to find himself incredulously transformed into a “monstrous vermin.” At First, Gregor is apathetic towards his “metamorphosis” and immediately begins describing his room and slight discomforts in great detail. At the same time, Gregor incessantly comments on unimportant aspects of his – almost dismissing the fact that he is now a cockroach. When his family starts knocking on his door, Gregor immediately begins conjuring scenarios in which he imagines that his family genuinely cares for him. This illusion is soon shattered after the reader is exposed to the true nature of the Samsas. Gregor’s metamorphosis symbolizes what he is and has always been in society – a cockroach. Through Gregor’s physical transformation, Kafka communicates that people are oblivious to how alienated they are from society and humanity in its entirety.
First off, in The Metamorphosis, readers are immediately exposed to the absurd atmosphere Kafka has created when he describes how “…Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams … [to find] himself transformed into a monstrous vermin” (1). At first glace this statement may sound normal, but after analyzing this and many other statements, it becomes apparent that Kafka has purposely placed the Samsa’s in an unreal environment. For example, in the sentence previously mentioned, the third-person narrator speaks casually of Gregor’s metamorphosis as if it were nothing. In his article, Johannes Pfeiffer says that Gregor “does not truly realize his new position in all its gravity” (55).
Gregor’s inability to acknowledge his transformation might represent people and their apathy towards the more significant things in life. Throughout the story, the narration alternates between first and third person – suggesting that the narrator of the story constantly shifts from Gregor to an unknown entity. However, the baffling narration in The Metamorphosis is no mistake. Through this bizarre style of narration, Kafka brilliantly demonstrates how alienated people can be from themselves – for Gregor is alienated to the point where he must tell his story in a third-person perspective.
Moreover, it has been speculated that society manipulates people by having certain ideals. As a result of his father being unemployed and his mother and sister not being able to work, Gregor is left with the burden of holding his ‘family’ together by reluctantly taking a job as a salesman. The following excerpt describes the Samsa’s financial situation: In the course of the very first day his father explained the family’s financial situation and prospects to both the mother and the sister. From the time he got up from the table to get some kind of receipt or notebook out of the little strongbox he had rescued from the collapse of his business five years before. . .
In those days, Gregor’s sole concern had been to do everything his power to make the family forget as quickly as possible the business disaster which had plunged everyone into a state of despair (25). The excerpt is describing Gregor listening in on his family discuss the financial situation at hand. We learn that the Samsa’s massive debt is a result of Mr. Samsa’s failed business. Being the concerned son he has been brainwashed to become, Gregor – with good intention – took a myriad of jobs to appease his family and restore peace in the chaotic household the Samsa’s inhabit. The significance of this is that it identifies the reality people choose to live in – a reality where people abandon aspirations and conform to the desolate society that surrounds them.
Lastly, Gregor’s transformation itself is ironic. A ‘metamorphosis’ suggests ascension into a higher form; but in Gregor’s case, he has devolved into one of the most insignificant form that comes to mind – a cockroach. However, Gregor’s bug form is simply an illustration. After close analysis, it can be said that Gregor’s metamorphosis is his inner state surfacing into the physical world. With that said, one can come to the conclusion that Gregor has always been a bug and has been alienated from his family prior to his transformation. The Samsa family loses faith in Gregor recovering (as if they ever had any) and begins discarding remnants of his past. Gregor is addressed as “it” (Pfeiffer 55) later in the book when his family dehumanizes him. Reading about how Gregor and his family are so alienated from one another that they do not see it is powerful on its own, but seeing Kafka’s message and understanding how people live in a world not too different from Gregor’s is a harsh truth that only a handful of people come to realize.
All in all, Gregor’s metamorphosis symbolizes the alienation, which has always (and may always) exist. It is a powerful symbol that reveals how alienated people are from themselves and society in its entirety. After reading Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, one cannot help but question whether his own life is real – or a deviation that has spawned and thrived in the alienated society man has given birth to.