The Metamorphosis is an expressionist novella by Franz Kafka that is considered one of the most intriguing and absurdist pieces of fiction while presenting an intricate psychological and philosophical analysis of modern realities. The complexity and inherent meaning of the plot have been a widely debated literally topic. Kafka is able to capture the transient and existentialist nature of industrial urbanization. The transformation of Gregor represents a metaphor for liberation from the chains of society which ultimately highlights the estrangement, immorality, and degradation of life in modernity.
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The plot maintains a certain level of absurdity. As an expressionist writer, Kafka does not explain or justify many of the motifs in the story. The metamorphosis occurs, and neither Gregor nor his family’s reactions indicate that the described world is realistic but rather exists in a state without any structure or integrity. However, this may be a reflection of the realities of life in modernity which creates conditions that perpetuate alienation, loss of fundamental human values, and dysfunction. Hierarchical social relationships overwhelm the concept of family and biology. Despite his years of support and care, Gregor’s transformation becomes a topic of shame for the family. His eventual death arrives not due to the physical effects of the insect body but because of the abuse he suffers at the hands of those for whom he dearly cared. The family’s emergence as a working unit is a perverse form of redemption which is the product of Gregor’s demise.
Estrangement is a common aspect of modern times. Despite complex technology which enhances connectivity, many feel alienated. Gregor felt similarly in the story, working an interpersonal job but having no real relationships. Superficial relationships are a critical factor in the story. Gregor’s metamorphosis further alienated him by creating a psychological divide with even his family. The inability to communicate and his physical state becomes a point of isolation which was simply an extension of his human form. Gregor feels strange in his own room, personal tastes, and relationships. The metamorphosis simply confirmed the environment of alienation which is created by the modern social order.
Through metamorphosis, Gregor was reduced to a primitive creature. Human history suggests that society has evolved into a sophisticated state. However, Kafka created the effect of reverse evolution in Gregor by making him an insect suggesting that species can change into primitive forms. This is a commentary on the realities of modernist society which highlights that the attitudes of the Samsa family are an indicator that humans may not have evolved that much. In modern urban society, identity is derived down to economic contribution, only having value as long as one can earn a salary at a dehumanizing job. People are artificially isolated, and ethical or familial values are degraded, especially if one is different.
Gregor’s humiliating demise is an accurate reflection of humans in the current modernity of the technological era. Information systems and complex computer networks highlight the importance of material existence and the speed of its deterioration as more aspects of life move into cyberspace which is a “subversion of an ethical universe” (Michaelides 101). The insect, which is some horrendous vermin acting purely on automatic instinct is symbolic of the degradation of the human spirit which is disappearing within the modernity of technological achievement and social structures. However untenable the thought, humans are being reduced to digital files of information. Automation and such inorganic reality make humanity similarly primitive to that of an insect’s existence.
The Metamorphosis creates doubt about the assumptions of daily life. Relationships, social status, and materialistic success may be ambiguous and not matter in the end. Gregor’s transformation highlights the transitory nature of human life that can be affected by the slightest change of fortune. In the realities of modernity, self-identity has become dependent on societal roles and external approval.
Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 1915. Planet E-Book, Web.
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Michaelides, Pavlos E. “Modernity and The Existential Metaphysics of Life and Death in Kafka’s Metamorphosis.” International Journal of Arts & Sciences, vol. 9, no. 4, 2017, pp. 101-118.