"The Metamorphosis," written by Franz Kafka in 1912, follows several societal patterns that are frequently observed in Kafka's other works. The idea of growth and degradation is one of these patterns. Another is the aspect of human nature that causes deception as a defensive device. Within "The Metamorphosis" these two key patterns come together to create a story that employs magic realism and dream logic to create a drama of illness. It is said in Roy Pascal's book Kafka's Narrators: A study of his stories and sketches that the abstract structure of the story "forces the reader to look beyond the surface network of the story for another symbolic meaning" (39). By taking a closer look at these two together, deeper meaning and insight is found.
The concept of degradation versus growth is central to the meaning of "The Metamorphosis." The story opens at the beginning of Gregor's decent to death with the climax of the story in the first sentence. The story itself is merely the working out of the climax. Unlike some of Kafka's other stories, "the 'metamorphosis' is not manifestly connected with any idea with any idea of punishment or self-punishment, but merely stated without explanation at the beginning; it is now on the punishment itself that Kafka dwells at length" (Luke 105). This punishment that Luke speaks of is that for "the unforgivable offense of self-assertion" (104) of which Gregor is guilty of when he takes over the role of breadwinner in the family. Gregor's deterioration follows another commonly found pattern of Kafka's stories: "the hero falls from corporal self-sufficiency to hunger and then to death and silence [...]" (Thiher 40). This pattern can also be observed in Kafka's "A Hunger Artist" and in "The Judgement." Though at first the reader may want to interpret the metamorphosis as metaphorical, it is meant to be taken literally. The process of Gregor's transformation and decline to death is clearly illustrated by the division of the story into three chapters, one for each of Gregor's outbreaks (Greenburg qtd. in Dixon 400; Luke 103). The first chapter involves Gregor's initial loss of power and influence in the family, which is mirrored by his father's gain in power and authority as, once again, he becomes the head of the family. Gregor's loss of power is not only within his family but also in society as he becomes entirely disconnected and becomes increasingly reliant on his family for his survival. It seems as though the family roles are reversed after the metamorphosis takes place; instead of the family being reliant on Gregor, Gregor is reliant on his family. At the expense of Gregor's life, the rest of his family is finally released from the chains and limitations that Gregor had imposed on them all. Gregor is unsuccessful in his attempt to communicate with his family as his fall to "verminhood" is follwed with a fall from the language that might have been able to explain the original fall (Thiher 41). The second chapter involves the second outbreak where Gregor runs out of his room and is attacked by his fear-filled father. The apple that becomes lodged in his back further illustrates the decay that is occurring in Gregor who is now slowly starving to death as his family begins to neglect him as they all have jobs to deal with. By the third and final chapter, the family has taken on a new form. They are all working and they have taken on three boarders. Gregor's room has become a storage room for those things that are no longer wanted, including Gregor. The third breakout occurs as a result of Grete's playing of the violin. Ironically, it is Grete, who originally is the advocate for Gregor remaining as part of the family, who finally says that Gregor is no longer Gregor and that he must be disposed of (Kafka 407). I suppose as time progressed, she realized that if any of them were to grow and mature then they must rid themselves of everything that stands in their way (i.e. Gregor). As a contrast to...
Cited: Kafka, Franz. "The Metamorphosis." The Writer 's Path. Eds. Constance Rooke and Leon Rooke. Scarborough: ITP Nelson, 1998. 374-412.
Luke, F.D. "The Metamorphosis." Explain to me some stories of Kafka. Ed. Angel Flores. New York: Gordian, 1983. 103-22.
Pascal, Roy. Kafka 's Narrator 's: A study of his stories and sketches. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 1982.
Thiher, Allen. Franz Kafka: A study of the short fiction. Ed. Gordon Weaver. Boston, MA: Twayne, 1990.
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