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In his novel The Metamorphosis, Kafka writes about a man who transforms into a big cockroach one day. The story was shaped into this unique concept following Kafka’s feelings of nothingness. On page 299, Kafka writes, “The dream reveals the reality, which conception lags. That is the horror of life – the terror of art.” He stated this as a confutation to his friend, who tried to interfere with information about The Metamorphosis out of him. When Kafka begins the story, and the plot begins to unfold, the reader becomes curious to see what is about to happen next. However, the characters and the story are made even more interesting when the author goes against the reader's expectations.
The transformation of Gregor from a man to a cockroach seems ridiculous and exaggerated. This is more evident throughout the story, with actions building up and emotions getting more charged. However, Kafka intends to explore and expose human psychology impoverishment regarding how changes in the conditions and circumstances of an individual reshape the notions of mercy and justice. There will be a further analysis of these themes while analyzing the character Gregor in “The Metamorphosis.”
Whereas Gregor, who has been mysteriously reduced to the lowest animal life form, is the subject of this character analysis, the psychological development of his family is least humane and human in “The Metamorphosis.” Even though Gregor has changed in his physical form, Kafka still clearly portrays him to be an essential being who has not changed in any fundamental way. Gregor still has human qualities. With the urge to relate with his family members and other people from society, he still has needs and feelings and wishes to be responsible. As suggested by Gregor's character analysis, his father, mother, and sister have not transformed. Still, they have the most profound metamorphoses by their demonstration of how easily the values, beliefs, and basic treatment of others by an individual can get compromised due to failure to adapt psychologically.
When Franz Kafka opened the story “The Metamorphosis”, he portrayed the character of Gregor to be someone who is a complex and whole human being. Like any other normal person, Gregor is not happy with his job, but he is in senses and recognized that he needs the job to be able to provide and support his family. According to Kafka, Gregor applies himself with “great earnestness” to his demanding work as a traveling salesman (35). He does this not only to pay off a debt they incurred and provide to his family but also to enable him to send his sister Grete to a conservatory where she can professionally learn how to play the violin (Kafka 37). In fact, at this early stage in the novel by Kafka, there is little that can get yielded in terms of character depth by Gregor’s character analysis. Nevertheless, devotion is a show of how compassionate and thoughtful Gregor is.
However, in a brief time, it will be portrayed in Gregor’s character analysis and the Metamorphosis that his family members are not as considerate and kind. They completely lose their capacity for mercy and justice. When one morning Gregor wakes up to find that he has transformed into a cockroach, he gets into disbelief and shocks just like any other human being. However, he accepts, since he had to, the irreversibility of his new nature. Gregor is now unwanted, but there is completely nothing that he can do to change or reverse his situation, but only left with one option, which is to adjust his attitude towards his new unbelievable change. However, his family members are not in the position to make such a psychological adaptation to accept Gregor’s new situation.
According to Johnson in his broad study and analysis of “The Metamorphosis,” he contends that symbolically speaking, the transformation by Gregor from man to a cockroach represents his “judgment on himself by his defeated humanity” (153). The reason by Johnson here is that Gregor cannot find a way of leaving behind his job and assert his own identity and needs due to his sense of obligation and love to his family. However, after conducting a closer analysis, it is clear that the judgment by Gregor’s family is even more severe and distorting.
While Gregor’s family members initially try to accept him, Gregor's external characteristics (now a cockroach) impede their fair treatment of him. They get irrational in their reaction and exercise neither mercy nor justice in their response to Gregor’s condition. It comes to a point where Gregor’s family members cannot connect his new situation with whom he was previously, and though he has only changes in is physical characteristics, they still view him without compassion and with disguise. While Gregor has been dehumanized, the symbolic and psychological dehumanization of his father, mother, and sister, Grete, is more severe and profound.
Gregor, in his new state, is particularly vulnerable to the abuses by his family members. He is now getting abused the most by those who, according to the traditional family code of relationship, should accept his and protect him unconditionally. He gets deeply wounded by his father, who used a stick and a newspaper but remains undeterred. He repeatedly attempts to connect with his family even though he is deeply wounded and still capable of being moved by human expressions and beauty. One of the most emotional scenes about Gregor in “The Metamorphosis,” not to mention the demonstration of lack of mercy and justice, is when he creeps from his room and goes to hear how his sister Grete plays the violin.
As mentioned in one of the quotes by Kafka, Gregor listening to Grete’s music made him feel “as if the way were opening before him to the unknown nourishment he craved” (37). Gregor is mistaken to think that he is capable of connecting to Grete by expressing his appreciation for her music. The stage is ready for his complete condemnation and dismissal by his family. Essentially, one can say that Gregor is given a death sentence.
“The Metamorphosis” by Kafka is an exaggerated symbolic tale tackling several themes. One of the essential themes is the collapse of justice and mercy from those who are expected to be even the most compassionate and fair. Gregor's metamorphosis is a terrible experience, but Gregor’s family's physiological corruption is the most terrible thing. Gregor’s inability to adapt to the changes that have occurred is a show of total breakdown in the structure of the family, and it offers a cautionary story about the fragility justice and mercy notions.
Johnson, Scot. "Structural elements in Franz Kafka's the metamorphosis." Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 19.2 (1993): 149-157. www.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1752-0606.1993.tb00974.x
Kafka, Franz. The metamorphosis. Schocken Books, 1948.
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