Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is a masterfully written novella about Gregor Samsa, a man who devotes his life to his family and work, for nothing in return. Only when he is transformed into a helpless beetle does he begin to develop a self-identity and understand the relationships around him. The underlying theme of The Metamorphosis is an existential one that says that any given choice will govern the later course of a person’s life and that a person has ultimate will over making choices.
In this case, Gregor’s choices of his part in society cause him to have a lack of identity that has made him to be numb to everything around him. One morning Gregor awakens to find himself transformed into a beetle. Although the reader is never enlightened on how Gregor morphed into a beetle, or shown that Gregor gives much thought to having a body of an insect, Kafka gives the strong impression that Gregor is very devoted to his work and is the sole support of the family, none of which work themselves.
Gregor devotes himself to a life of work and self-sacrifice, “[d]ay in, day out- on the road” (Kafka 4), following ever order, and expectation to a scurrilous degree. His life could be linked to that of a drone in an ant colony, and thus gives an explanation to Kafka’s logic when he is transformed into an insect, and thinks nothing of it. In fact upon finding himself transformed he immediately prioritizes his work above everything else; The next train left at seven o’clock; to make it, he would have to hurry like a madman, and the line of samples wasn’t packed yet, and he himself didn’t feel especially fresh and ready to march around.
(5) Through his transformation into a beetle, Gregor abandons his mislead obligation to society and instead devotes the rest of his life to himself. Because of this Gregor’s family quickly grows to resent him as a burden to the household. Society and his family had no further use for him, so Gregor starves to death is his bedroom. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Gregor’s father began the story as a lazy and non-productive human being. He relied solely and completely on his son. After Gregor’s transformation, his father followed suit.
He became a proud and productive individual of the lower bureaucracy. He found the balance between work and leisure that Gregor could not. According to Kafka and existentialism, people have both an individual side and a side with the commitment of society. It is our choices that must be in moderation of the two, to maintain balance. If a person chooses himself over society, he will lose the support of society; however, if a person chooses society, he will lose his individuality. Gregor initially chooses society over himself, which in turn transformed him into the working drone he was.
After his physical transformation, he is forced reassert his focus to himself, and society abandons him. Through Gregor’s plight, his family became cohesive and productive in society, each contributing through work and leisure. Gregor learned to live for himself too late to become a whole person. Gregor begins to look for entertainment and fun in the form of a bug, a form that knows nothing but work, by crawling up to the ceiling and hanging from there, or from wall to wall over the various objects, this gave him a feeling of “almost happy absent-mindedness” (32).
Haven given up any hope of returning to his human form or being a civilized working part of society ever again, this was one of the only joys Gregor had left in his life. By ignoring the purpose of being an insect, Gregor defeats the purpose of living in his new form of life, and in effect, dies. The Metamorphosis advances the existential view that choice is the opportune of the individual. It is the responsibility of the individual to maintain a balance between work and leisure.
The Metamorphosis lends the idea that, if one chooses to devote their life entirely to work, they are no more than droning insects, yet if they devote their lives to leisure, they are no better off. A balance needs to be found. As rational beings, the burden of moderation between value to society and value to self must be assumed by the individual. One must be productive in order to be valuable to society, and one must have leisure in order to be valuable to them.