Kafka’s The Metamorphosis
Many literary critics were both awed and puzzled with Franz Kafka’s brilliantly written yet absurd, and often, grossly surreal form of writing. Die Verwandlung or The Metamorphosis is Kafka’s longest work, almost resembling a novel, and is also one of the most acclaimed. From the story of Gregor, who woke up one morning to find himself transformed into an insect (beetle), the readers can slowly see the exploration of an individual’s existence and the pain he experiences due to physical isolation and other people’s indifference.
Using a purely psychological outlook, it is easy to view The Metamorphosis as a mirror of Kafka’s own demons–for every artist is said to impart a portion of his self into his works. Thus, The Metamorphosis may be Kafka’s own struggle with his past and present, a personal process that gradually made its way to the writer’s conscious writings and developed into a nightmarish plot about the life of Gregor Samza who curiously transmuted into a physically hideous creature. This is why Kafka stands to gain the empathy and compassion of viewers when the story is told from the standpoint of Gregor.
First, Kafka is a struggling writer early on in his life. He lived his life in emotional dependence on his parents. There were mixed feelings of love and hate and though he longed to marry, he considered sex as dirty. By choosing Gregor as the main character who experiences the transformation, he elicits the empathy of readers even as he performs a lackluster life.(Franz Kafka. 1883-1924). In the story, Gregor Samza is the pillar that supports his family. He is a fairly successful salesman and earns enough to pay off his father’s debt and bring food on the table. He is the one who strives hard for the family’s upkeep.
When the tragedy happens to him and not to any member of the family, then, the repercussions are greater. The pillar of their family is suddenly gone and they have to strive to go about their daily lives without his help. In fact, they have to bear the burden of seeing a horrible creature in their house and then to think that the creature is Gregor, back to pretending that their lives are normal, nevertheless.
Second, Kafka had no intention of publishing any of his works. He actually wanted it destroyed. It was his friend Max Brod who pursued its publication. Thus, Kafka, actually had all the liberty to create Gregor as the target of all his frustrations and dependency feelings. He gained all the outlet to release these emotions and then destroy it in the end. It gave a vicarious feeling of relief to him. (Franz Kafka. 1883-1924).
Lastly, Kafka felt a certain kind of weakness despite the rebellion he showed. Creating Gregor as the brunt of all his impotence gave an apt target for the same kind of impotence that Gregor had to be imbued with. .(Franz Kafka. 1883-1924).
We find reasons for Kafka’s way of telling the story because Kafka never worked as a traveling salesman nor even experienced acting as a primary financier for his family. Yet a parallelism can be seen between the two men, both before and after Gregor’s transformation. Gregor knows his father’s ruthless temper, and with respect for the old man intermingles fear. There are scenes in the story where the older Samsa demonstrates this merciless attitude towards his son because of the latter’s repugnant appearance.
Mr. Samsa cruelly shoves Gregor into his room using a walking cane, and during a stressful encounter, pelts him with apples wherein an apple lodges into his insect back and begins to rot (Kafka 37-38). Nevertheless, it was through Gregor that Kafka was able to show how goodness permeates in everyone, but only when instances are happy and perfect. When things turn to worst, individuals resort to a coping strategy that alienates the ugly and the useless.
Putting Gregor as the member of the family that is transformed into an insect gives us a glimpse of how Kafka may have felt at times in his life. Apart from the refined and healthy appearance, Kafka was depressed most of the time. It was known that he suffered from migraine, constipation, and boils, which are all products of pent-up stress and unhealthy emotions common to those with troubled pasts (“Franz Kafka”).
No wonder that the bizarre dominated his form of expression, probably as a form of a release from the rigid normality that imprisons individuals into normalness. In fact, there is no other way of invoking from the readers such strong feelings akin to the emotions of the writer than by using frightful and graphic images resembling man’s outlandish nightmares. Then again, Kafka never wanted some of his works published for the entire world to read. Writing is sacred for Kafka, and a refuge from a seemingly menacing and indifferent world (Franz Kafka. Books and Writers).
Gregor’s transformation into a beetle is parallel to Kafka’s acquiring of tuberculosis. The physical degradation means the collapse of a person’s once important status and the revulsion of others. At first, loved ones react with grief whilst trying to be considerate to the afflicted one. In the long run, however, those with debilitating weaknesses are soon scorned. This long-time fear of being weak and being segregated translated into writing, while Kafka tried his best to look normal even when recuperating.
Kafka’s tuberculosis purportedly affected his writings in such a way that his stories show “fear of physical and mental collapse,” which was of course also seen in The Metamorphosis (Franz Kafka). Further, the nightmarish plots pertain to “dehumanization” as exemplified with Samsa’s metamorphosis into an insect. Even more frightening is the effect of this dehumanization, wherein everything beautiful, even Grete’s kind-heartedness, comes to its fearful end.
For some readers, The Metamorphosis is allegorical. Reading the story makes one constantly hope for a totally different conclusion, or if not, for some figurative message hidden behind the lines. Yet what happened in the story is totally literal and blunt: Gregor died as a beetle, his death comes silently in the night. It is devoid of any melodrama or of any dramatic revelations, so that the whole meaning or essence of the story is left for the readers to figure out. Kafka’s literature, The Metamorphosis included, have since served as windows into the late writer’s own life and soul: his experiences, fears and tribulations. His works are full of the complexities that are deemed as representative of the human existence, and most importantly, complexities that endlessly haunted the author until his end.
Kafka stands to be redeemed of his supposedly ordinary existence, even if temporary, in the way he depicted Gregor. All the angst that Kafka experienced in his life poured out on Gregor who had to bear the brunt of his disappointments. He made Gregor useless by transforming him into a hideous insect in order to assuage his own uselessness. It had to be Gregor because he was the breadwinner. When Gregor dies in the end, the impact is great because as Kafka writes it, that there is a heavy weight lifted from the spirit of the family and their mourning is short.
The story ends with the whole family driving into the countryside and their parents’ thoughts wondering about how to find a husband for Grete. There is a great sadness in the way Kafka decides to end his story because Gregor is not missed at all, but instead, his parents just try to find ways of looking for a possible husband for Grete—a replacement for Gregor who was their breadwinner. In the final analysis, Kafka succeeds in getting the sympathy of readers as he wove his story until Gregor’s death.
Kafka, Franz. Appelbaum, Stanley (trans.). The Metamorphosis and Other Stories. New York: Dover. 1996.
“Franz Kafka.” In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 7 Dec 2006. Retrieved Feb. 1, 2007 at:
“Franz Kafka.” Books and Writers. 2002. Retrieved Feb. 1, 2007 at:
“Franz Kafka. (1883-1924).” Retrieved Feb. 1, 2007 at: