“The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka uses the distortions of Gregor Samsa’s current state as a vermin, his invaded space, and the abstract use of time to convey the antagonist’s alienation, isolation, and conformity causing his inaction as the existential hero.
Gregor’s transformation absurdly exaggerates his shape, voice, and senses to exemplify how his physical mutation into a vermin and inarticulate struggles represent his alienation from society. “When Gregor Samsa woke up, […] he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin” (Kafka 2). Because Gregor perceives himself of having the lowest form of life, it becomes appropriate for him to transform into a mammoth insect, instead of any other animal. Gregor’s “painful and uncontrollable squeaking mixed in with the words could be made out at first but then there was a sort of echo which made them unclear, leaving the hearer unsure whether he had heard properly or not” (Kafka 4).
His inability to communicate with the family does not allow him to express any of his own personal needs and thus leaving him to fail in living his own life. Gregor “perceived things with less clarity, even those a short distance away: the hospital across the street […]was not visible anymore” (Kafka 21). His range of vision literally becomes smaller and his new and more suitable state as an insect allows his one track minded nature of only perceiving what is necessary for his family more appropriate. Although Gregor’s human form represents the norm, his selfless mentality and meaningless existence isolates him physically from society.
The living space transforms from a sanctuary to a confined prison in order to illustrate how the physical adaptation of his personal area ironically leads to his isolation from his family and ultimately all of humanity. In the story, Gregor “[pushes] a chair to the window, [climbs] in the chair, [and leans] on the window to stare out of it, [since he] used to feel a great sense of freedom from doing this, but doing it now was obviously something more remembered than experienced” (Kafka 21). Gregor reminisces the past due to his desire of escaping the emotional prison that he is confined in, but he does not leave due to his inactivity. “Gregor needed a lot of room to crawl about in, whereas the furniture, as far as anyone could see, was of no use to him at all” (Kafka 24).
The women strip Gregor of the only remnants of his humanity thus leaving him in a cage, exposing him to any spectators. Gregor also keeps a picture in his room that “show[s] a lady fitted out with a fur hat and fur boa who sat upright, raising a heavy fur muff that covered the whole of her lower arm towards the viewer” (Kafka 2). His overwhelming lust for unattainable women illustrates Gregor’s inability to establish intimacy with a real person and separates him for the reality of possibly interacting with other human beings outside of his family. Because of Gregor’s psychological solitude, he leads himself into an inevitable surrendering of his life to his family.
Time in the novel exhibits an abstract orientation to demonstrate how its meaningless quality leads to Gregor’s conformity into inaction up until the time of his death. The story unravels with a random sequence of time. Because Gregor has renounced living his own life by acting as a servant to the family, he possesses no personal goals and thus does not need to keep track of time. Gregor’s entire life becomes a psychological prison once he succumbs to his family by leading a less enjoyable life.
Gregor’s confinement in a futile existence results from the irrelevance of time. Gregor exists, not for his personal satisfaction, but only for the sake providing materialistic things to the people around him. His surrendering of only acting on the necessities for the family does not allow him to achieve any of his own desires therefore making him an existential failure until his demise.
Gregor liberates himself from the confinement of futility and transforms into the existential hero after death, the only form of escape. By creating a mirror image of Gregor’s alienation and his own endurance of isolation in life, Kafka transcends the amount of the reader’s comprehension of the consequences in leading such a life. “The acts of Kafka’s real history are his stories and novels, which are at the same time reflections on the act of writing itself” (Intro., Corngold xiii).