How Might Kafka's Metamorphosis Be Read As A Study Of Identity?
When discussing Kafka's works, the first question that comes up is "why". Why has Gregor Samsa woken up as "some sort of monstrous vermin"? Why can he not speak? I believe that Kafka's intention's are far from answering this question, because he is presenting to the reader with the question "what now?". What effect does this transformation have on Gregor and his family and his work, and his identity. It is by questioning the effects of this transformation and not by wondering about the reasons behind it that we can see how Kafka uses this surreal situation to present truths about humanity and identity. The Metamorphosis is a human piece of fiction, no matter with which perspective you filter it. Gregor is presented with the ultimate challenge to any person: a transformation that strips him of all his humanity for everyone else apart from him, until he starts to doubt it himself. Kafka outlines the fact that this is in fact not a challenge that Gregor can overcome, but a slow time-bomb to the inevitable end.
From the very first famous sentence in this short story, the reader is struck by several things. This vague and often paradoxical description which is maintained throughout the entirety of the story is often questioned. However, it is the fact that Gregor has transformed into an insect that is of paramount importance, not what he looks like. This sudden act of transformation in Gregor's life changes everything he is used to in his everyday life. One possible reason for why this beginning is so peculiar and original is the fact that the main character undergoes a physical anagnorisis from the very outset of the story, rather than towards the end or middle. This transformation becomes a an act of alienation for Gregor, as his humanity, integrity and identity are viciously attacked.
James D. Fearon defines the modern understanding of identity so:
"As we use it now, an “identity” refers to either (a) a social category, defined by membership rules and (alleged) characteristic attributes or expected behaviors, or (b) socially distinguishing features that a person takes a special pride in or views as unchangeable but socially consequential (or (a) and (b) at once)."
Following this modern interpretation of identity, the notion that Gregor was already alienated from his identity can be ruled out, for he lived his pre-transformation life diligently, conforming and accepting the role he has been set to play in the social requirements of the world. We know that for his life, Gregor has always been in this routine, and even in the beginning of this piece, even after he is aware of his transformation, he bizarrely still thinks of getting to work although he is "burdened with the misery of traveling" and hates the "stresses of making deals" and is no longer physically human. "He was the boss's creature, stupid and spineless." With his unique dark humour, Kafka plays on the word "spineless" to create an ambiguous and ironic image of Gregor in relation to his superior and his job. However, he desires to get back to his dull job with a zeal instilled into him by the socio-economic expectations laid down on him. A Marxist interpretation is very suitable with this train of thought - in his Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx says that "The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation." With this interpretation, we can see that Gregor has been given a chance to break free of the totalitarian and capitalist society he has been trapped and living in, but has to sacrifice his physical identity as well. Gregor's father informs the chief clerk "He's not well, believe me, sir. What other reason could there be for Gregor to miss a train! Indeed, the boy thinks of nothing but business." Gregor's parents can be seen as products of this social system attempting to keep their son within the...
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