How exactly is Franz Kafka’s: The Metamorphosis a story of alienation? Read on to find out.
Merriam-Webster defines alienation as “A withdrawing or separation of a person or a person’s affections from an object or position of former attachment”. Therefore, if Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is labeled as a story of alienation, it must significantly display the preceding statement. The terrifying tale does so in three ways. Hapless protagonist, Gregory Samsa, is alienated from human interaction, the outside world, and most of all, his humanity. This separation only occurs, because he “woke from uneasy dreams one morning to find himself changed into a giant bug” (Kafka 1966).
As a rule, Human beings have trouble relating to/understanding anything that is different from them. That fact explains partly why prejudice exists. Since Gregory is no longer even a person anymore, his subsequent ostracism is an almost expected result. At one point, the chief clerk of his employer is so terrified by Gregory’s appearance that he immediately flees. “The chief clerk…leapt down several steps at once and disappeared, his parting cry of “Shoo!” echoing back up the stairwell. Even the unfortunate beetle’s family is horrified and disgusted by him. His father drives him savagely back into his room on several occasions (1975, 1987). Gregory Samsa cannot defend himself against the injustices of his fellow humans, and he also cannot communicate with them. The transformation ends up changing his voice entirely. “Did you hear Gregory talking just then?” “That sounded just like an animal,” (1972). Rejected, the pathetic young man can only hide in his room, fully deprived of human interaction.
Gregory Samsa’s own tiny room quite literally becomes his prison. For (as alluded to above) whenever he leaves that designated area, he is chased back in immediately. He eats in the room (1978), sleeps there (1981), plays there (1983), eavesdrops there (1979), “does his business” there (1990) and, eventually dies there (1996). From the very beginning of his unexplained transformation the beetle/man never once sets foot outside of the house. Dreams, career, autonomy, all of those things are dashed in one fateful morning. At best, the closest Gregory can get to what he’s lost is by simply looking out the window. “He embarked on the laborious task of pushing a chair over to the window…in order to…lean against the glass, obviously in response to some memory of the feeling of freedom” (1981). Four bleak walls are all that kept Gregory from the outside world.
Although he maintains his human intelligence, Kafka’s pitiful central character does find other aspects of his past life falling away. Obviously, his body is gone, replaced with a back of “shell-like hardness…[a] dome shaped brown belly…[and] many legs”. But, on deeper levels, he has changed drastically as well. Gregory no longer has the same tastes he once had, as evidenced when he is brought a wide gamut of victuals. He discovers that he wants to eat the food that is spoiled and revolting: “The fresh food did not appeal to him” (1978). Not only that, but what he finds entertaining has also changed with his circumstances. “To amuse himself he adopted the habit of crawling all over the walls and ceilings. He was particularly partial to hanging from the ceiling” (1983). Such a simple pastime, had, to the ex-person, become a “blissful state of abstraction” (1983). Gregory Samsa doesn’t realize to what bestial depths he’s fallen until his sister and mother endeavor to move out his furniture. At first he thinks it’s a good Idea (it’ll give him more room to crawl) but then he realizes something. “Did he really wish to have his warm, friendly room… transformed into a cave at the price of rapidly and completely forgetting his human past? Why, he was on the verge of forgetting already…nothing was to be removed; it must all stay” (1984). Gregory began to comprehend that he was being estranged from his humanity. Out of everything taken away from him, that is possibly the worst.
Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is many things, and one of those things is certainly a story of alienation. He is alienated from human interaction, because his family and associates want nothing to do with him. He is alienated from the outside world as well, for his room becomes his cage. Then lastly, he is alienated from his humanity. Gregory Samsa slowly becomes more and more like a bug, emulating their tastes and desires. In every sense of the word, the poor soul’s life turns out just like a nightmarish dream. Sadly though, he realizes from the very beginning that “This was no dream” (1966). By metamorphosing into a bug, Gregory had truly become alienation in physical form.
Lawall, Sarah, ed. The Norton Anthology of Western Literature: Volume 1 8th Edition.
New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006.