The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is the surreal story of a man named Gregor Samsa who awakes one morning to find that he’s turned into a giant insect-like. The story describes how Gregor adapts to his new body, how his transformation affects his family, how his family and other people react to him, and ultimately his death and its aftermath. It is clear that people are scared by his monstrous appearance, though his sister Grete treats him more kindly and compassionately than his parents and other people do. There are several events and elements in the story which contribute significantly to Gregor’s alienation. Gregor’s alienation is in fact a result of the treatment he experiences at the hands of his family, as well as his inability to communicate and interact with them (or anybody else), and his feelings of letting down his family, particularly his sister Grete and her dream of attending conservatory.
The first factor in Gregor’s alienation is the treatment he receives from his family. Not only does his mother tend to faint whenever she sees him, his father treats him as a nuisance, often yelling at him and threatening him when Gregor leaves his room (Kafka). His father causes Gregor to injure himself, and later throws an apple at him which hurts Gregor and gets lodged in Gregor’s back (Kafka). This causes Gregor much physical pain and undoubtedly causes him emotional pain: it is clear that his father has rejected him. Furthermore, Gregor often overhears his family discussing their financial situation, which worsens once Gregor loses his job (Kafka). It is clear that Gregor has become a burden to them and is no longer a valued family member. To have one’s family reject one as a result of something beyond one’s control is harsh and would inevitably lead to alienation.
Another element which leads to Gregor’s alienation is the fact that as part of his transformation, his voice changes, and he becomes unable to talk to his family, since no one can understand him when he talks (Kafka). Furthermore, because of his upsetting appearance, he must stay in his room. He cannot communicate or interact with his family, who were clearly his main social circle prior to his transformation. Furthermore, his family will not let him leave his room at all (Kafka). Therefore, he becomes physically isolated which inevitably leads to psychological alienation.
The last element which contributes to his alienation is the fact that he lets his family down. He was the main breadwinner for the family, and once his loses his job after the transformation, the financial situation of the family worsens, which they frequently discuss (Kafka). However, if that weren’t bad enough, his sister Grete is unable to attend the conservatory, which Gregor had worked so hard to make happen (Kafka). Since Grete remained kind to him for a long while after his transformation, it appears particularly painful to Gregor that his change will prevent her attendance. After overhearing one such conversation, it becomes clear to Gregor that his death would be a blessing to his family. Knowing that one’s family would prefer one to be dead because one has become a burden would be deeply alienating.
Ultimately, Gregor gives up and wills himself to die. This becomes a blessing to his family. However, the events which lead to this decision clearly reflect how alienated Gregor felt. His alienation was the result of how his family treated him, his inability to communicate and interact with them, and his feelings about how he let his family down, especially his sister.
- Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. Trans. David Wyllie. n.p.: Project Gutenberg, 2002. Web.