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Kafkas Metamorphasis Essay, Research Paper

In both Joyce’s The Dead, and Kafka’s Metamorphasis, the central charater is suffering from a severe delusion about their own self. Gabriel, in Joyce’s The Dead, believes he is the one true love in Gretta’s life. When this deception is revealed his world becomse shattered. Similarly, in The Metamorphasis, Gregor Samka realizes that he is only a drudge in society, and his entire life is changed in consequence. The importance of self knowledge becomes apparent in these two tales. James Joyce, in The Dead, gives us a glimpse into the life of a man fraught with self deception. He is secure in the knowledge that he is smarter than his fellows, more adept than his fellows in his chosen profession, and that he is on a social level far removed from those around him. This easily can be seen through any number of speeches given by Gabriel, but it is particularly evident when he states “He was undecided about the lines from Robert Browning for he feared that they would be above the heads of his readers.”(Dead, 334). He lords his superior knowledge and social niceties above the rest of his family, treating them like some subclass of humanity better left untouched. His wife scoffs at the fact that the majority of the attenders of the party do not even grasp the concept of galoshes, a ‘neccesity’ of life that has not filtered down to the less fortunate. Gabriel’s shame for his famile is readily apparent. He speaks down to them, refuses to learn their common language, and prefers to escape away from their land as much as possible. When he is asked about this shame and it is brought to the forefront, he becomes very upset and even lashes back at his family. “O to tell you the truth, retorted Gabriel suddenly, I’m sick of my own country, sick of it!” (The Dead, 363) All of these illusions come crashing down when Gabriel realizes that even the lowest among his family has the one thing that he lacks, true love. Gabriel realizes that although Gretta cares for him, he does not have the depth of feeling that she has for a young boy that has given his life for her, nor will he ever realize that emotion. We can see this destruction of identity when Joyce describes Gabriel “His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world . . . ” (the Dead, 390). Failing to completely know oneself can have disasterous repurcussions. In Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Gregor’s subconscious realization of identity and conscious realization of identity are separated and only joined through his physical transformation. When the story is begun, Gregor has been transformed into a large, roach like creature, representative of his place in society. A common laborer, toiling away at his daily routine, Gregor is nothing more than an insect to the powers that be in society. Even his family has no repect for him and forces him to provide, rather than sharing that duty. Throughout the story, as Gregor’s awareness of his true position proceeds, he loses more and more of his human attributes. The culmination of his transformation occurs when he has lost the majority of his humanity. He crawls across the walls with reckless abandon and only cares about his own feelings. This is all destroyed when he comes to the realization that his family is going to remove his last link to humanity, his picture. There is the first and last time he is addressed as a human after he has gone physical transformation. The cries of his sister are followed with an attack on his person. This final straw forces Gregor’s conscious mind to ally with his subconscious mind and he begins to understand his new place in society, which is closely allied with his former place. Both Kafka and Joyce examine the illusions that permeate our subjective realities, Joyce testing the boundaries of love and Kafka delving into the loyalties of family and place of the worker. Joyce builds up to a climactic reckoning once his character has discovered his illusions, while Kafka starts off with his character understanding his illusions subconsciously and works towards a juxtaposition of both the conscious and subconscious mind. Kafka also takes a drastically more abstract route, transforming his character from humanity to the semblance of an insect. This transformation may not even be physical, just the deranged ramblings of an insane mind. As Gregor became more and more distraught with his lack of advancement and resentment of his family, his outward appearance may have become cold and hostile and less than human, while not being quite as impossible as a transformation into an insect. Joyce, on the other hand, battles a more common subject, love. He takes a typical situation with two typical lovers, and twists the ending from what is expected to show the barriers that exist between the understandings of men and women. Each author again challenges the reader to look into themselves and to examine their own lives to see if these illusions apply. The impossibility of true love and meaninglessness of life are constant struggles for the cynic and never given thought by the optimist. It takes a very strong person to be able to sweep the illusions of society aside and bare one’s self to the realities of life.


Gregor’s predicament is much like that of any person suffering from severe, particularly disfiguring, chronic illness or disability. Gregor’s life story and personal identity change dramatically when he becomes a vermin. In the new identity his senses are different: the hospital across the street is now beyond Gregor’s range of vision. His abilities change. Shifts in spatial arrangements circumscribe Gregor’s movements. His voice is transformed. Some of Gregor’s changes are generated from within; some are conditioned by the world’s reaction to his metamorphosis.

Other metamorphoses also occur in the story. Gregor’s family see his predicament as an affront to them (after all, they expect Gregor to support the family). They withdraw from him, try to contain the damage, but in the process begin to change their own life stories as well–Gregor’s father, who had been disabled, mobilizes and goes back to work; he changes from being an “old man” to a bank official “holding himself very erect.” Gregor’s sister also gets a job and seems on the verge of a new life.

“The Metamorphosis” can also be seen as a reaction against bourgeois society and its demands. Gregor’s manifest physical separation may represent his alienation and inarticulate yearnings. He had been a “vermin,” crushed and circumscribed by authority and routine. He had been imprisoned by social and economic demands: “Just don’t stay in bed being useless . . . . ”

In a psychoanalytic interpretation, The Metamorphosis prevents the imminent rebellion of the son against the father. Gregor had become strong as a result of his father’s failure. He crippled his father’s self-esteem and took over the father’s position in the family. After the catastrophe, the same sequence takes place in reverse: son becomes weak, and father kills him.

The response to Emrich’s critique of Hans Kafka’s The Metamorphosis

Wilhelm Emrich has presented an unimaginative and misleading critical essay of Franz Kafka s The Metamorphosis. Emrich s failure to make any daring insights provides much protection against any real opposition, but also serves to evince his occasional blunders all the more. The apparent focus of Emrich s essay is the beetle. Emrich comments on various scenes involving Gregor the bug, but never sticks his neck out or attempts to express any views that may spark any controversy. However, the essay is not entirely without merit. For example, Emrich confirms that determining an exact physical description of the bug is unnecessary. The critic also points out just how steeped in denial Gregor actually is. Both of the preceding critiques are valid and helpful to a reader. But in addition to Emrich s tenable arguments, he also conveys a few ideas that are wholly without credence. An example of such a specious critique is Emrich s insistence that the story is a dream. Holistically though, Emrich s critical essay is accurate but lacking of any insight. Emrich makes it quite clear that determining the exact size and physicality of Gregor is an impossible and pointless task. Emrich writes, It would be meaningless to interpret Samsa the beetle as a real beetle (127). The reason it is so necessary for Emrich to point this out is the fact that Kafka seems so intent on proving just the opposite. In the very first paragraph Kafka describes his bug as having a vaulted brown belly… to whose dome the [bed]cover, about to slide off completely, could barely cling (1) But just twelve pages later Kafka has Gregor sliding off a polished chest of drawers and then clinging to a chair with his little (13) legs. So the reader s first description of the bug is one that portrays the bug as being larger than a bed. However, not even twenty pages go by before the bug is described as being smaller than both a dresser and a chair. Kafka mentions other details of the bug s appearance, but such details are trivial. Emrich is well aware that Kafka could have chosen any grotesque beast for his tale, for the beast s only purpose is to exemplify the split between Gregor s self-perception and the reality he faces- the cleavage between imagining and being. (131) Another valid point Emrich makes(no matter how void of creativity it may be), is how this story s hero is living in consummate denial. Gregor never fully accepts his transformation until just before his death. Emrich s statement that Samsa can look upon the… metamorphosis only as a negative phenomenon that disturbs his daily work routine (119) could not be more accurate. When Gregor initially discovers his transformation his first thoughts include his job, his itchy stomach, and the train schedule. He even maintains the presence of mind to wonder, Could it be possible that the alarm[clock] hadn t gone off? (4) A curious fact is how, at this point in the story, Gregor never admits that he has become a monster. Instead he reacts the same way he would react to a minor inconvenience. Kafka even explains that Gregor intended to open the door… [and] be at the station by eight o clock (12) Only a man drowning in denial could possibly consider going on with his day even after he had become a giant beetle. Emrich s essay is well-supported, but it does contain one frequently occurring curiosity. Time and time again, Emrich bases his arguments on the so-called fact that Gregor is in a dream. Earlier I labeled this argument specious because while there is no evidence to negate it, there also exists none to confirm it. Emrich states that In this story the metamorphosis takes place, likewise, in a dream (119). Such an observation may appear obvious to Emrich, but that does not excuse the critic from presenting any examples to substantiate his claim. Far too much emphasis is placed on Emrich s claim that The Metamorphosis is the story of a dream for Emrich to neglect ever supporting his conviction. Wilhelm Emrich s critique of Franz Kafka s The Metamorphosis displays no evidence of any deep understanding of the work. Emrich is consistently accurate, but rarely insightful. No one could dispute his claims that Gregor is living in denial, or that the physicality of the bug is of little importance, but who couldn t reach such a conclusion on their own? Emrich also displayed a bit of sophistry when he attempted to pass off the idea that The Metamorphosis is the story of a dream. No where in his essay does he offer any details to support his claim. What the reader is left with is a timid essay containing vague and general observations.


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