In ‘Metamorphosis’ by Franz Kafka, Gregor Samsa, the main character turns into an insect. Although many would argue that this transformation is literal, I would argue that Kafka uses it as a metaphor or some other form of symbol. If my theory is right, this metaphor is used as a means of portraying the dehumanisation and hence insanity of Gregor Samsa caused by the intense stress and demands of his daily job that he worries about so much. I also believe that Kafka uses the particular case of Gregor to represent a whole generation of workers that all fear the same fate. Herr Samsa, Gregor’s father, in particular fears this and having seen what he fears most in his son, he becomes violent and aggressive towards him; eventually delivering him a slow, gradual death.
To support this argument, we find out that, even before the actual transformation, Gregor behaves strangely with regards to his work; studying train timetables for example. It is for this reason that I have decided to carry on with this idea. With Gregor dying at the end of the novella, I decided to use this metaphor of dehumanisation again and apply it to another one of the workers of the same generation as Gregor’s – his sister’s boyfriend that she has found since the Samsa family left their home to start a new life.
In order for my adaptation of Kafka’s extended metaphor to be successful, I have had to adopt his style of writing, something that is very particular to Kafka. Kafka uses long sentences yet keeps the novella moving at quite a fast pace. This is because he pays great attention to detail and turns each detail into something significant. Despite this, he is not particularly descriptive concerning the settings that he has chosen in Metamorphosis. This has the particular effect of rendering the scenes of ‘Metamorphosis’ full of action and gripping for the reader. This is what I have tried to apply in my extension of Kafka’s fantastic tale.
Grete watched her father open the door, pull his feet across the mat, throw his overcoat off his shoulders and drop it on the banister. He took both his daughter’s shoulders, smiled at her for a moment with an expression that could only be associated with pride and then gently kissed her forehead. He then moved on to the kitchen, Grete in his footsteps. Once there, he placed his hand on his wife’s shoulder, squeezed it, asked her what was for supper and, in turn, kissed her.
Herr Samsa presently moved to the living room and with a pleasant sigh of relief he settled into an armchair and watched in amusement as Grete gazed fixedly at the clock on the wall counting down the seconds. At precisely five, the doorbell rang and Grete let out a little squeal of delight before glancing sheepishly at her father and rushing off to answer it. The same routine had not changed one bit for the last two months yet Herr Samsa could not complain. He knew that five was the time when he could afford himself the pleasure of watching his daughter’s face light up, making her even more beautiful; reminding him of the attractive and successful woman she was turning into. He had never been happier.
Simple and polite but pleasant conversation came from the kitchen – a mixture of questions, exclamations and quiet laughter. Following this, Grete entered with Franz who greeted Herr Samsa with a gentle inclination of his head.
“Ah! Franz my son! How are you? And how are things at work?” asked Herr Samsa.
“Well, as you know sir, not too well I’m afraid. We all have a ridiculous amount of work to get through and I, for one, can hardly cope. The only thing that keeps a smile on my face is the prospect of coming to visit your daughter each evening.”
Grete looked up at him adoringly and smiled before turning to her father with a face that begged no more talk of work matters. Accepting this, Herr Samsa looked at them both.
“Very well. Off you go.”
“Thank you, sir” replied Franz and he eagerly scuttled behind the beautiful young woman who led him to the parlour.
Herr Samsa got up and poured himself a small glass of schnapps and settled back down into the warmth of his armchair. As he let his eyes close, he reflected upon how much better life was now. Even going back to work didn’t bother him in the least. He felt healthier and fitter than he had been in a long time and he was now always able to join in with the family walks on Sundays. Franz also came with them. The four of them would walk with their arms linked, talking and laughing with a spring in their step.
Thus half an hour passed very happily for Herr Samsa before he was called to join the rest of his family at the dinner table. Grete was rather sullen right throughout the meal. Her usual manner of vigorously attacking her food was not there. Eventually, whilst Grete’s mother was in the kitchen, clearing the table, he asked her what the matter was. She dismissed the question with another intense stare at the table so her father thought it best to leave the matter alone.
The next evening, the atmosphere at the dinner table was tense once again. Grete insisted on glaring sullenly at her plate. Again, Herr Samsa asked her what the matter was whilst his wife was busy in the kitchen. Once more, she tried to ignore him but this time, her father insisted and she lifted her face, covered in tears, before answering.
“He’s exhausted…I can’t stand it anymore…he puts on a brave face…but with me…” She desperately tried to control herself but burst into tears. Frau Samsa, who had come back into the room, put her arm round her and encouraged her to go on. Grete’s parents watched, bemused and shocked, for this was the first time they had seen her cry since they’d decided to restart their lives. Seeing the discomfort in her parents’ faces, Grete took a deep breath and started again.
“He doesn’t complain about it but when we’re alone, he talks about nothing but work, almost as if he doesn’t know how to talk about anything else. Just last night, instead of talking to me, he spent two whole hours studying a train timetable! And he’s developed a regular twitch…spasms every now and then. He’s not really…my Franz…anymore.”
The following evening, nothing changed. As always, Herr Samsa was met in the hallway by his daughter whom he embraced before making his way to the kitchen, in order to greet his wife. As Grete waited for the clock to approach five, she had the same anxious look on her face. But it faded and was replaced with a frown because as the hands hit five she heard a far-off cry. She glanced at her father but he obviously hadn’t heard it and so she continued waiting. She was silently surprised that Franz hadn’t turned up yet, despite the fact that it wasn’t even a minute past yet. As she continued waiting, now perched on the arm of one of the sofas, she heard another cry, closer this time and it resembled more a scream.
Yet again, Herr Samsa had not noticed but he was watching Grete with amusement as she visibly became more and more nervous as the minutes went by. Once again, a scream came from up the road. This time, it was accompanied by the smashing of a window. Grete rushed to the living room window and pressed herself up against the window to see what was going on. The last cry had even managed to reach her father and he too had jumped out of the comfort of his chair to see what was going on. Both wore anxious looks upon their faces and as more shouts of terror approached their house, Frau Samsa joined them from the kitchen, wiping the backs of her hands in her apron as she walked.
“Where’s Franz?” she asked immediately.
A look of horror crossed Grete’s face as it occurred to her that the angry manifestation outside and Franz’s lateness could be linked. She tried desperately to see what was going on through the living room window but the angle wasn’t wide enough. A couple of flying stones and an apple came into her field of vision and with that she rushed to the front door with both her parents close behind her.
It was as she grabbed the cold brass handle to pull the door open that she realised what this was. She remembered the conversation last night at the table and, sure enough, as she hastily poked her head through the door and looked down the street, she clasped her heart. Franz was there sure enough, scuttling desperately down the street, followed by an angry mob yelling at him in disgust and flinging stones of hatred at him. Before her parents were able to see anything, she ran back in, bolted the door and sunk to the floor.
ï¿½ Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka, translated by Malcolm Pasley, Penguin, 2000