Exploring Alienation and Conformity in the Metamorphosis

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In The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka conveys the series of emotional and psychological repercussions of a physical transformation that befalls the protagonist, a young salesman called Gregor Samsa. As the story progresses, Gregor finds himself unfairly stigmatized, cruelly rejected because of his clear inability to financially support his family, and consequently increasingly isolated. Through extensive use of symbolism, Kafka is able to relate the surreal and absurd, seemingly arbitrary events of this short story to a general critique of society-particularly on the alienating effects that conformity generates. On a broader level, the combined themes-which include the themes of conformity, freedom, and alienation--found throughout The Metamorphosis reveal Kafka's attitude toward humanity and his existentialist leanings. Yet another vital device Kafka employs is the unconventional structure, albeit to great effect, that the story is written in. Kafka juxtaposes all three elemen! ts-symbolism, theme, and structure--to ultimately present a sort of critique on humanity by arguing that the desire to conform is a driving force behind the alienation of individuals. Through extensive use of symbolism, Kafka is able to relate the absurd, seemingly arbitrary events of this short story to a general critique of society. Gregor's Cheng 2 gradual physical starvation symbolizes and corresponds to an emotional and psychological starvation. Because of his inability to communicate in a human voice--"that was an animal's voice" (Kafka), observes Gregor's boss at one point--although he able to understand human "speak"--which arguably makes the situation all the more tragic and depressing for him--he is no longer able to socially interact, especially since his family refuses to even acknowledge his presence. Since intelligent communication is such an inherently, undeniably intrinsic part of what defines humanity, and Gregor can no longer communicate, a large portion of Gregor's emotional needs remain unfulfilled. Additionally, since Gregor's needs and wants still remain very much human, he also naturally desires love and attention, which unfortunately are never provided to him-he is subjected to a "lack of all immediate human contact" after his transformation (Kafka). Meanwhile, Gregor is "filled with sheer anger o! ver the wretched care he [is] getting" because of both how he is "treated as an enemy" and the alienation that he describes as an "imprisonment" (Kafka). Thus, the blatant lack of emotional and psychological nourishment is far more frustrating-and ultimately more damaging--to Gregor than mere physical hunger, which is simultaneously occurring. A second major symbol that Kafka utilizes is music, a means of communication that transcends all barriers-here, represented by Gregor's sister Grete's violin. For the both literally and figuratively starving Gregor, listening to music makes him feel "as if the way to the unknown nourishment he craves was revealing itself. (Kafka)" When Grete plays for the three boarders one evening, the beautiful music entices Gregor to gingerly venture out. Nevertheless, Gregor's father chases his son back to his room in an Cheng 3 effort to maintain "normalcy" within the household and to avoid any further stigmatization from the boarders-all for the sake of keeping up with the Joneses, so to speak. When Gregor is prevented from simply enjoying his own sister's music in the name of conformity, it can be interpreted that any remaining vestiges whatsoever of humanity have been severed, cementing and intensifying Gregor's feelings of alienation and growing resentment. The combined themes-including the themes of conformity, freedom, and alienation--emphasized throughout this piece reveal Kafka's attitude toward humanity and his existentialist leanings. Existentialist thinking includes the philosophy that life is essentially hostile and impersonal, a concept that is eloquently established in The Metamorphosis. Kafka...
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