The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is a story about a young man named Gregor Samsa who is transformed from a human being into a gigantic insect. He works so hard as a travelling salesman so as to provide for his parents, but finds himself in a strange state of affairs. Some critics have praised the way the author of the story has powerfully and symbolically portrayed alienation through the metaphor of a man as an insect. The story begins when Gregor, a salesman, wakes up only to find himself transformed into a 'monstrous vermin.' He is so late that his parents, and his sister Grete, try to wake him up so that he can go to work since he is the sole bread winner of the family. However, there is nothing they could do since he had become an insect. The chief clerk from Gregor's company comes to find out why he is absent at work. When Gregor opens the door after a great struggle, his family goes into shock and the clerk becomes very terrified. Grete is the only one who gathers enough courage to go into his room and take care of him. She handles the situation logically. However, after some time, the worsening economic situation forces the other family members to look for ways to survive. Gregor ends up being neglected in his room except when he is getting out. The family remains traumatized and no one wants to believe the fact that Gregor has become an insect for good. Gregor is also not able to express himself to the family members. His mother becomes disgusted when he tries to get out one day. His father is forced to throw apples at him so as to get him back into his room. This injures him so much and he becomes unable to move for up to a month which leaves him even lonelier. To supplement the family's income, three male lodgers are brought in and Gregor's room becomes a storing room for excess furniture. This adds insult into injury (Kafka, 1996).
One evening though, the lodgers hear Grete practicing her violin and call her into the parlor for a concert. Grete agrees to go. The music she plays is so moving such that it makes Gregor to creep out of his room into the parlor to tell her that he understands her gift and wanted to help it to flourish. However, one of the lodgers observes Gregor and threatens to give notice and depart. This incident becomes the breaking point for the family members. Grete realizes the fact that they must get rid of this giant bug. She no longer views it as her brother. Gregor sneaks back into his room after hearing her say those words and dies that night. After mourning him, Gregor's father orders the lodgers to evacuate at once. The family then takes a walk into the countryside. The story ends with the parents becoming optimistic for the future and thinking of finding a husband for their daughter, after realizing that she had grown into a beautiful woman (Kafka, 1996).
The most important theme that comes out in this story is that of alienation from humanity. Gregor's transformation can be seen as a wish fulfillment or an extended metaphor. The view of an extended metaphor is carried from an abstract concept to concrete reality. Gregor has a meaningless job which makes him alienated from the rest of the human beings around him. Gregor thinks of himself as an insect, others think of him as one, so he becomes one in the end. It's an allegory to Gregor's struggles in life. He sacrifices a lot so as to provide for his family that he practically turns into an insect long before the physical transformation takes place. Gregor becomes so much alienated when he metamorphosed into an insect. The family viewed him as a burden because he no longer served any purpose to them. He is locked up in his room and ignored. After his death, the family feels free of the responsibility of taking care of him. The story could be said to be about Gregor's feeling of alienation and unsaid needs as a result of the authorities crushing, or looking down upon the ordinary citizen in the society. The daily chores in search of a living made him to be alienated. Gregor's metamorphosis makes us see how low he has permitted himself to deteriorate. He has reduced himself to the status of an insect where he is not able to have a voice as a human being to raise his concerns.
From the beginning of the story, we notice that Gregor is all alone. He lies on his bed in the body of a gigantic insect and there is no one to lend him a hand. All of his friends desert him. The clerk comes and leaves immediately after realizing the situation is very bad. Things become worse when no family member gives him the much needed emotional support that he needs. This isolates him further and he ends up locking himself in his room. After the metamorphosis, he talks in a way that no one comprehends. This shows that generally, his ideas and his general outlook have changed. He is not an ordinary man any more, but is in this world without self awareness. He did not look for an opportunity to be free before the metamorphosis. Gregor was being exploited by his company and his parents who relied on him to pay for their debts. This is the main reason that makes Gregor to unconsciously isolate himself even more. After the metamorphosis though, he finds some time to think about himself. This makes him to feel good mentally due to the fact that he starts to discover himself. Besides, the fact that he had changed meant that he was going to be rejected since he could not identify with human beings any more (Kafka, 1996).
We find it interesting when we look at 'The Metamorphosis' through an existential point of view. The existential attitude of a person begins when he/she faces a confused world and cannot accept it the way it is. However, the individual comes to terms with the situation in the long run. Kafka believes that humanity is heading towards alienation where individuals cannot rely on external truth. As such, they end up in an extreme kind of alienation that is forced down on them and not voluntary. In Kafka's own writings, it is wrong not to be authentic (Kafka, 1996). One should assert an identity on him/herself because without an identity alienation cannot be avoided. The idea of alienation in existentialism derives from tension between one's free will and various relationships around them. The metaphysical alienation is expressed by an understanding of faith; that human beings are separated from any understanding of their maker. Hence, social alienation comes about when one person is not capable of understanding the other. Alienation is the way of life that comes the moment people realize that connecting in the post modern world is not realistic. But in Kafka's Metamorphosis, characters have chosen to become individuals who are distant from their communities, but keep on remaining true to their nature.
Kafka acknowledges that our daily struggles are emotional torture. We have many unmet expectations in our life which cause us to become stressed and distance ourselves from the rest of the world. The situation becomes worse when the people who are close to us do nothing to salvage the situation. This story also uncovers some bad behaviors in our society. The society usually appreciates an individual when he/she has something to offer, but he/she ceases to become useful when faced with a tragedy of some sort that will incapacitate him/her. In the Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa hates his travelling salesman job, but he hangs on it because his father has a large debt which he has to pay. Despite the fact that he hates his job, Gregor is proud of providing for his family and enabling them to live a comfortable life. Nevertheless, things change for the worse after he changes into a giant insect since his human wants and emotions are neglected. He struggles to meet his insect needs and the reality of his horrible situation because he is alienated by his family members. Even his sister who at first seemed to be caring for him changes with time. This makes his situation to become worse. He ultimately loses his desire to live and dies in the end. The telling line of the story is when he listens to her sister play the violin. He wants to tell Grete that he plans to send her to the conservatory so that she can study violin, but hears her saying that they must try and get rid of him (Kafka, 1996).
Everyone in Gregor's family feels tired of him. Her sister exclaims that they had done everything possible to take care and put up with him. When Gregor hears this from her sister, he goes back to his room feeling very lonely. By flinging fruits at Gregor, his father made him sick and also escalated his eventual demise. On the other hand, despite the love she had for Gregor, his mother always became ill when she sighted his bug form. One thing that led her to resent her son is the fact that his father and sister had protective feelings towards her.