The idea of human self-alienation has played a crucial role in modern thought from German classical Idealism to Marxism and Existentialism (Seigneuret 19). Kafka’s the Metamorphosis is a striking example. Gregor Samsa’s transformation into vermin presents self-alienation in a literal way, not merely a customary metaphor become fictional fact. The travelling salesman wakes up one morning and cannot recognize himself. Seeing himself as a gigantic specimen of vermin, he finds himself in a fundamental sense estranged from himself.
No manner more drastic could illustrate the alienation of a consciousness from its own being than Gregor Samsa’s startled and startling awakening.
Herman Melville Bartleby, the Scrivener turns about a rebellion into silence in Melville’s own, post-heroic, gestures of quiet defiance (Weinstein 56). The novella could well be described, in twentieth-century terms, as comedy-of-the absurd or Kafkaesque metaphysical expressionism. With its touches of garrulous detailing, Bartleby and Metamorphosis are a parody of pathetic realism.
Bartleby investigates and reveals the uneventful city-world in which the fleshly body’s absence becomes the central, controlling fact of existence for the dryly uninspired scrivener.
Following Melville’s deep connection between the potency of the world’s body and the strength of the writer’s inspiration, Bartleby gives us for the first time a “hero” to whom both body and language have become useless and impotent shadows (Seigneuret 16).
After all, not only does Bartleby appear bloodlessly pale and cadaverously thin, but his behavior refuses to conform to or reflect his diet. Bartleby simply stares at walls and perversely prefers not to do what common sense and custom, selfishness and morality, rationality and hope, dictate – or what the attorney, as conventional benevolent rationalist, thinks they dictate. Kafka’s protagonist struggles against ‘the truths of life and death’; in Gregor Samsa’s case, however, his life is his death and there is no salvation.
For a moment, it is true, near the end of his long dying, while listening to his sister play the violin, he feels ‘as if the way were opening before him to the unknown nourishment he craved’; but the nourishment remains unknown, he is locked into his room for the last time and he expires (Seigneuret 24). What Gregor awakens to on the morning of his metamorphosis is the truth of his uneventful life. His ordinary consciousness has lied to him about himself; the explosive first sentence pitches him out of the lie of his habitual self- understanding into the nightmare of truth.
“The dream reveals the reality” of his abasement and self-abasement by a terrible metaphor; he is vermin (Ungeziefer), a disgusting creature (or rather uncreature) shut out from ‘the human circle’ (Bloom 123). The poetic of the Kafka story, based on the dream, requires the literal assertion of metaphor; Gregor must literally be vermin. This gives Kafka’s representation of the subjective reality its convincing vividness. Anything less than metaphor, such as a simile comparing Gregor to vermin, would diminish the reality of what he is trying to represent.
Gregor’s thinking “What has happened to me? … It was no dream,” is no contradiction of his metamorphosis’ being a dream but a literal-ironical confirmation of it (Kafka 19). Of course it is no dream—to the dreamer. The dreamer, while he is dreaming, takes his dream as real; Gregor’s thought is therefore literally true to the circumstances in which he finds himself. However, it is also true ironically, since his metamorphosis is indeed no dream (meaning something unreal) but a revelation of the truth. What, then, is the truth of Gregor’s life?
There is first of all his soul-destroying job, which keeps him on the move and cuts him off from the possibility of real human associations: Oh God, he thought, what an exhausting job I’ve picked on! Traveling about day in, day out. It’s much more irritating work than doing the actual business in the office, and on top of that there’s the trouble of constant traveling, of worrying about train connections, the bad and irregular meals, the human associations that are no sooner struck up than they are ended without ever becoming intimate.
The devil take it all! (Kafka 20). Not only is his work lonely and exhausting, it is also degrading. ‘What a fate, to be condemned to work for a firm where the smallest omission at once gave rise to the gravest suspicion! Were all employees in a body nothing but scoundrels? ’ He has been sacrificing himself by working at his meaningless, degrading job so as to pay off an old debt of his parents’ to his employer. Otherwise ‘I’d have given notice long ago, I’d have gone to the chief and told him exactly what I think of him.
’ But even now, with the truth of his self-betrayal pinning him on his back to his bed, he is unable to claim himself for himself and decide to quit—he must wait ‘another five or six years’(Kafka 27). He pretends that he will get up and resume his old life. He will get dressed “and above all eat his breakfast,” after which the “morning’s delusions” will infallibly be dissipated (Kafka 23). But the human self whose claims he always postponed and continues to postpone, is past being put off, having declared itself negatively by changing him from a human being into an insect.
His metamorphosis is a judgment on himself by his defeated humanity. Gregor’s humanity has been defeated in his private life as much as in his working life. That Bartleby is a tale about the presence and absence of the body, its domination and power to dominate, becomes immediately evident from the lawyer’s initial description of the office’s Dickensian inhabitants, Turkey and Nippers. Each, it seems, in unique but complementary ways, is a slave to his body and accordingly runs by its schedule.
Turkey, for instance, the ‘pursy’ elder of the two, sees his day divided by the fact that he drinks at lunch; as a result, he operates perfectly well in the mornings, but after the noon libation ‘his business capacities [are] seriously disturbed for the remainder of the twenty-four hours’ (Weinstein 16). On the other hand, his counterpart, Nippers, the ‘piratical-looking young man of about five and twenty,’ appears to the narrator to suffer from a prenoon ‘indigestion’ that further causes Nippers to grind his teeth, hiss, and even struggle with the position of his desk.
The emphasis on bodily comfort, and especially on the power that bodily discomfort exerts over the actions of the cranky scriveners, comically dominates the portraits of the two Everymen of the story, whose guard-like scheduling of comfort discomfort and overall desire to appease the body seem equally to represent their larger world’s predominately physical preoccupations and establishes a notable contrast to the advent of ascetic, metaphysical Bartleby.
Bartleby sleeps his final sleep on the cusp between two worlds: one in which the hero has lost all but a resistant will and language itself refuses either to function or to deceive; and another in which questing has given in to a passive investigation of duplicity and confusion and words can do nothing but tangle, dizzy, and ensnare. Gregor’s profoundly alienated existence prior to his metamorphosis establishes the parallel to man’s fate after the expulsion from paradise (Bloom 240). Like the children of Adam and Eve, Gregor through his sonship in the flesh has been condemned to a perennial debtor’s existence.
The debt and guilt—converge in the fateful consequence of the father’s debt. With it, the father surrendered his family to a world in which the exploitation of man by man holds infernal sway. The world to which the father’s failing has handed over his family is ruled by the principles of capitalist economics. In this world, the family ceases to be a family in the original and ideal sense of a community. Instead the family falls victim to the egotistical principle in which Marx saw the governing principle of human life under capitalism (Bloom 235).The metamorphosis reveals this alienation.
Works Cited Bloom, Harold. Franz Kafka’s the Metamorphosis. Chelsea House: New York, 1988. Kafka, Franz. Selected Short Stories of Franz Kafka. Modern Library: New York, 1952. Melville, Herman. Four Short Novels.
Bantam Books: New York, 1959. Seigneuret, Jean-Charles. Dictionary of Literary Themes and Motifs. Vol: 1. Greenwood Press: Westport, CT, 1988. Weinstein, Arnold. Nobody’s Home: Speech, Self, and Place in American Fiction from Hawthorne to Delillo. Oxford University Press: New York, 1993.
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The stories of Bartleby and the metamorphosis symbolism. (2017, Apr 28). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/the-stories-of-bartleby-and-the-metamorphosis-symbolism-essay