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Transformation in Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”

The theme of transformation is one of the most prominent ones in The Metamorphosis. Franz Kafka implemented various literary devices to illustrate how the central characters changed throughout the novella. Yet, the key aspect the author tried to convey is that Gregor’s physical metamorphosis led to everyone’s psychological transformation, including himself.

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The novella begins with one of the most studied lines in the text, “One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug” (Kafka 3). The reader is not provided any clear background or reason for this occurrence. It is posed as a beginning of a fairy tale, which suggests that the supernatural event is a possibility that Samsa is still dreaming. The mysterious nature of the metamorphosis gives the reader the freedom of imagination in comprehending the event. As the story continues, this allows approaching the plot from a symbolic rather than literal perspective (Feldherr 163).

There has been a significant literary debate on precisely the nature of the creature that Gregor has become. Translation varies from bug to beetle and cockroach. A more in-depth analysis of the original German wording suggests that he turns into an “unclean vermin.” While it is clear that the metamorphosis created an insect-like creature, its exact nature was left to the reader. Supposedly, Kafka prohibited any images, instead, leaving the reader wondering about the opaque grotesque nature of the creature and experiencing new sensory information alongside the protagonist (Jones).

The causes of Gregor’s metamorphosis are never explained. In literary works, such supernatural events occur as a manner of punishment or lesson for a protagonist. Gregor is described to be as an ethical, hard-working man that supports his family despite the hardships that his job entails. Fate has seemingly selected Gregor at random. However, it can be argued that the metamorphosis was a form of release for Gregor who was struggling working long hours at a job he hated. Upon realizing his new state, Gregor cares more about missing a shift than anything else. He was enslaved by the system, not even able to or could afford a sick leave. His insect form was the only real method to escape. The transformation was a rebellion of sorts, liberating Gregor from the ability to work. In a way, it was a pact with the devil which freed him from any social responsibility at the cost of losing humanity. Therefore, in accordance with Freud’s theories, the metamorphosis was not a random accident, but an unconscious motive that Gregor inflicted upon himself as self-punishment for wanted to escape responsibility (McCarty).

Gregor’s transformation has a profound impact on other characters. In a way, his metamorphosis metaphorically has a rippling effect on their transformation. His family members change their behavior and attitude towards Gregor after he loses his humanity, and therefore, his function in society. The Samsa family becomes increasingly independent and creative after realizing that Gregor will no longer be able to support the family. Mr. Samsa steps up to raise his stature as the man in the household. Meanwhile, Grete, who is described as a helpless and naïve girl, in the beginning, becomes a competent young woman by the end. Gregor’s metamorphosis produces a myriad of negative emotions that drives the family’s evolution into contributing members of society. In a manner, it is a sacrifice that had to occur for the liberation of both Gregor and his family from their “prisons” (McCarty).

Kafka wanted to emphasize the theme of metamorphosis as symbolic which occurs when change is forced upon someone. Gregor’s metamorphosis and eventual death was a transformation that allowed the family to independently establish their social status through labor, no longer relying on someone else. This process demonstrates people’s true nature and attitudes when faced with such distress.

Works Cited

Feldherr, Andrew. “Metamorphosis in Metamorphosis.” The Cambridge Companion to Ovid, edited by Phillip Hardie, Cambridge University Press, 2002, pp. 163-179.

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Jones, John. “Franz Kafka Says the Insect in The Metamorphosis Should Never Be Drawn; Vladimir Nabokov Draws It Anyway.” Open Culture. 2015, Web.

Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 1915. Planet E-Book, Web.

McCarty, Elizabeth. “The Dependence and Freedom of Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’.”The Kafka Project. 2011, Web.

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