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Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”: Empathy as the Key


Change is one of the concepts that appear both thrilling and frightening to people at the same time. However, even during the most drastic change, those who can keep their humanity intact are capable of surviving the challenge of transformation and even turning it into something beautiful. Examining the ideas of change and the inherent fear that people have toward it, Kafka portrays the character that loses its human appearance as the only character who manages to reconnect to his humanity in Metamorphosis. As a result, the character study that Kafka provides turns into an existential crisis and the further test for his ability to be empathetic and retain his humanity intact.

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Despite Gregor’s transformation and the drastic change in his very species, he manages to keep his general humanity intact, which cannot be said about his family, who detach themselves from basic humanity by refusing Gregor basic empathy.


The presence of general sympathy toward the creature into which Gregor turns slowly as the story progresses makes the idea of transformation all the more difficult both for him and for his family. The role of an obstacle in a doorway is one of the few challenges that he as an actor would have gladly chosen to experience. However, instead, he was made to listen to his daughter’s and wife’s intrusive demands: “Gregor, open the door, I implore you” (Kafka 997). A further look at the unique nature of their interactions would reveal that the ostensibly unresponsive creature that has supposedly lost the touch with his humanity is, in fact, much more ethically responsive than the rest of his family members. Thus, the importance of humanity and the role that it plays in people’s lives, particularly, in their interaction and relationships between them and their family members, is explored in-depth in the novel.

The described change in the portrayal of characters, namely, the introduction of the protagonist with whom the audience will sympathize, yet which seemingly has very little connection to his human characteristics, lends its way to a range of sociocultural issues worth addressing. For instance, the short story encourages one to answer whether the ability to think and be empathetic toward the plight of an individual is introduced as features one’s personality to be regarded as human.

In addition, the choice of the setting, the features of the key characters, and the general tone of the story help to convey the significance of humanity as one of the crucial components of the experience of being a human. Specifically, the novel uses absurd scenarios and settings to make the audience question the image that their imagination has painted for them after reading a specific passage and, instead, allow the short story to lead them: “’ That was an animal’s voice,’ the general manager said” (Kafka 1001). The proposed change in the extent of a reader’s autonomy and agency harkens back to the original problem of offering young viewers the necessary extent of quality over the media that they consume, particularly, the use of television in the house. The outlined source of multiple concerns as far as the safety of children is concerned is worth noting as one of the critical issues to be addressed.

Thus, the detailed descriptions of the transformation that Gregor has experienced serve a very distinct and specific point. Apart from the obvious shock value that the specified descriptions have, they also allow distancing Gregor from the concept of humanity strongly enough to represent the conflict between his inhumane appearance and the ability to retain human thinking and ethics: “I am not obstinate, not a shirker” (Kafka 1003). Furthermore, the contradiction between the morally responsible attitude that Gregor accepts and the decision of his family to abandon any semblance of empathy toward their family member laves a similar impression of disdain for the hypocrisy of the family and sympathy for Gregor.

Thus, the short story provides a unique opportunity at examining the ethical repercussion of failing to meet the basic requirements for humanity. Although the idea of juxtaposing Gregor’s altered body and his thinking, empathetic self to the unapologetically barbaric decision of his family to abandon the creature that they no longer recognize as visibly humane is not quite new, Kafka manages to breathe fresh air into the specified concept. As a result, the author creates a unique source of distress for the lead character to experience: “The door did not open again, and Gregor waited in vain” (Kafka 1006). The effect that the combination of factors listed above produces allows Kafka to represent the struggle of the leading character as symbolic of the issues that people experience when attempting to appeal to their emotionless and less responsive opponents.

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Although it is Gregor who undergoes a transformation that ultimately changes his form into something as far on the opposite forma human being as possible, he is the only character that manages to retain his humanity by retaining his empathy, especially in contrast to his family, who are quick to cast him aside. Thus, the transformation that Gregor experiences and that are described in the book as the central event occurring in Gregor’s life becomes all the more real, allowing one to embrace the complete range of consequences that he would suffer as a result of the specified change.

Work Cited

Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis, 1915. Web.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, May 15). Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”: Empathy as the Key.

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