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There is a reason behind the fact that Kafka chose one of the lowest forms of life on the planet rather than any other being. Anti-Semitists of the time viewed Jews as worthless, unwanted and ultimately a blight on society and they decided to eradicate these ‘pests’ before they got out of hand. By locking Gregor in his room, the Samsa family attempt to get rid of the problem as the Nazis thought they were doing by their massacre of the Jews.
By killing them all, they could pretend that they had never existed and they would no longer be a threat to their ordered lives.
To understand the second concept, it is necessary to have some understanding of Kafka’s upbringing and life. He was born and brought up as a Jew and remained one throughout his entire life, yet he never fully integrated himself into the religion and the Jewish society as a whole. In his diary he asks himself, “What do I have in common with the Jews? I don’t have anything in common with myself, and would be content to stand quietly alone in a corner, satisfied that I can breathe,” almost as if he wasn’t one of them.
He continually tried to repress the impact that Judaism had on his life and up until his late twenties, he did not even practice or relate to the religion. This evoked anger in his father who was insulted by Kafka’s lack of religious persuasion.
He felt it was an insult to him and to his family that Kafka would not accept the religion that he had been born into and therefore shunned Kafka, which led to him feeling like an outsider within his own family. In the same way, Gregor’s metamorphosis was an affront to the Samsa family who were ashamed of what he had become and therefore, treated him as an outsider.
Die Verwandlung can be interpreted as a portrayal of the negative mental and physical aspects that Kafka felt were present in his life and especially the lack of relationship that he had with his own father. Kafka’s felt like an outsider in his own family due to their lack of acceptance of him and his decisions, and it was his father who expressed his contempt most openly. This relationship is imitated in the novel, by Gregor and his own father. None of Gregor’s family can accept what he has become, but it is his father who most openly despises him and eventually causes his demise.
The alienation that Gregor experiences is very much based on Kafka’s own experiences of the time. It shows how those people who attempt to express their individuality and refuse to conform to the way society expects them to be are ultimately going to be persecuted or excluded. Kafka himself refused to conform entirely to his father’s wishes and was therefore excluded in the same way that Gregor, due to his appearance, was unable to conform to society in the way that his family wanted him
Other, more subtle references to Judaism are expressed throughout the novel, for example when Gregor’s father throws an apple at him with such force that it becomes lodge in his back and becomes infected. Kafka may have used an apple as it a very important symbol in the Bible. The apple is associated with Adam and Eve and the Biblical story of Original Sin. In conclusion it can be seen that Judaism is a powerful underlying theme in Die Verwandlung even though it is never explicitly expressed.
Perhaps the lack of reference to it makes it all the more obvious, as by trying so hard not to mention it, Kafka brings it to the forefront of our perceptions. Kafka believed that the life and experiences of the writer shouldn’t matter or be relevant to the reader’s understanding of a piece of work but it is impossible to write without expressing a sense of who you are. This is why I believe that Kafka’s repressed anger about his feeling of alienation from a society who hated him for being a Jew, and from his family who resented him for not being one is apparent in this piece of work.
I believe that Harold Bloom, writer for ‘The Western Canon’ sums this up best when he says, ‘Despite all his denials and beautiful evasions, [Kafka] quite simply is Jewish writing. ‘
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