Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis explores the problems and effects of exploitation from several angles. As Stanley Hill (161) suggests in his study of Metamorphosis, it is a story about estrangement and alienation, with the transformation of the central protagonist, Gregor Samsa, coinciding with his exploitation by both his employer and his family. Albeit subtly, Kafka suggests that Gregor’s transformation in to a “monstrous venomous bug” reflects how his employer and his family members have treated him: he becomes something other than human because that is the way they have perceived him.
Exploitation becomes a concern of the narrative as Kafka develops the context of Gregor’s working life. Although Gregor does not dwell much on the reasons for his transformation, his thoughts imply that he makes a connection between his transformation and the demands of his work: “Day in, day out on the road. The stresses of trade are much greater than the work going on at head office, and, in addition to that, I have to deal with the problems of traveling, the worries about train connections, irregular bad food, temporary and constantly changing human relationships which never come from the heart” (Kafka). This declaration indicates his preoccupation with the problems of his work and suggests how the conditions of his work dehumanize him. The sense of hierarchy implies how little his employers consider him but it also aligns to the idea of how insect communities organize. The allusions to the problems of traveling, bad food, and meaningless human relationships also foregrounds the problems that Gregor will experience as a bug.
Kafka concentrates on suggesting the reasons for Gregor’s transformation indirectly and this encourages the reader to recognize the motives of his family as selfish. After his interrogation by his employer, Gregor becomes subject to his family’s neglect. Although he clearly cared for them for years, working himself into the ground to cover his father’s bad debts, both his father and mother have little regard for him after his transformation. His mother makes excuses for him to the manger, insisting that he is unwell. The impetus for these excuses, however, is that Mrs. Samsa worries about her son’s job rather more than his well being, as indicated by her speech: “‘He is not well, believe me, Mr. Manager. Otherwise how would Gregor miss a train! The young man has nothing in his head except business” (Kafka). Her refusal to go into Gregor’s room once she has seen his transformed state also confirms Mrs. Samsa disregard for her son. Mr. Samsa, on the other hand, injures his son and by throwing the apple at him and also
Through Gregor’s beloved sister, Kafka develops a particular pathos that suggests Gregor as the most human of all the characters, even after his transformation. Although Gregor shows a particular fondness for his sister and Kafka emphasizes that he endeavored to pay for her to go to the conservatory to study the violin, she gradually becomes unsympathetic to his condition as well. She feeds him and cares for him but she treats him as less than human by seeking to remove his furniture.
As a narrative, Metamorphosis functions as an extended metaphor about the dehumanizing effects of work in the modern world. Gregor’s transformation symbolizes the extent to which the value of the individual becomes undermined by modern working conditions and modern relationship dynamics. Gregor’s death at the end of the narrative particularly accentuates this metaphor, too, because the event is almost without significance and it comes as something of a relief to the family that relied on him and pretended to care for him while he was of use to them.
- Hill, Stanley. ‘Kafka’s Metamorphosis’. The Explicator 61.3 (2003): 161–162. CrossRef. Web.
- Kafka, Franz. Metamorphosis. Trans. David Wyllie. Project Gutenberg. 2012. Web.