Kafka: The Reality Of Change Essay, Research Paper
ENC 1102 ? Lowe
December 9, 1997
The Reality of Change
What is reality? Every person has his or her own ?reality? or truth of their existence. For some it may be a dead-end job due to their lack of education while to others it may be the carefree life of a successful person. The true reality of any situation is that whatever direction is chosen in life a person brings the same inner self, motivational levels and attitudes. Unless they are willing to change the way they perceive and react to a situation they are forever trading one set of problems for another. As readers of literature we too seek to escape our ?reality? and experience life through an author?s imagination while gaining valuable knowledge about ourselves. In Franz Kafka?s Metamorphosis, the nature of Gregor Samsa?s reality changes insignificantly in spite of his drastic physical changes.
Gregor?s life before the metamorphosis was limited to working and caring for his family. As a travelling salesman, Gregor worked long, hard hours that left little time to experience ?life.? He reflects on his so-called life acknowledging the ?plague of traveling: the anxieties of changing trains, the irregular, inferior meals, the ever changing faces, never to be seen again, people with whom one has no chance to be friendly? (Kafka 13). Gregor, working to pay off his family?s debt, has resigned himself to a life full of no pleasures only work. Kafka himself paralleled this sentiment in a quote taken from his diaries noting that no matter how hard you work ?that work still doesn?t entitle you to loving concern for people. Instead, you?re alone, a total stranger, a mere object of curiosity? (Pawel 167). Gregor submerges himself in work and becomes a stranger to himself and to life. Any type of social contact beyond porters, waitresses or bartenders was non-existent. He had once met a ?cashier in a hat shop, whom he had pursued earnestly but too slowly? (Kafka 76). There was no room in Gregor?s life for people other that his family and as a result was condemned to a life without love or caring not to mention basic companionship. He worked diligently to provide for his family and that remained his only goal in life.
Gregor?s family relied on him to be the ?breadwinner? of the family, but gave him nothing in return. The life that he had led until now was one fully of obligations and loneliness; he came home to empty hotel rooms or his apathetic family. His parents and ?their dominance thus extends to the system which deprives him of creative life and married love? (Eggenschwiler 54). So concerned with ensuring his parents and sister were taken care of, he forgot his own needs. It was apparent to everyone that he was no longer thought of as a son or an extension of the family, but merely as a ?support system.? The tragic fact is that ?everyone had grown accustomed to it, his family as much as himself; they took the money gratefully, he gave it willingly but the act was accompanied by no remarkable effusiveness? (Kafka 48). It appears that in the course of his hectic work schedule, he overlooks that in return for dedication to his family, he remains unloved and unappreciated. Yet Gregor still ?believed he had to provide his family with a pleasant, contented, secure life? (Emrich 149), regardless of how they treated him. Gregor?s existence before the metamorphosis was much like after it; limited to work and family, he went unnoticed by both.
After changing into a cockroach one night, Gregor is forced to live a life of isolation with a family who is appalled by him. He is placed in a ?dark bedroom, in the jumble of discarded furniture and filth? a ? monstrous vermin, a grotesque, hidden part of the family? (Eggenschwiler 211). Shock and terror, resulting in Gregor being locked away, marked his family?s reaction to his metamorphosis. His sister is the only one that, while frightened, would tend to Gregor?s room and meals. She even took the responsibility so far as to get angry with anyone who wanted to help. Gregor was not allowed any contact or association with the family and ?no one attempted to understand him, no one, not even his sister, imagined that he could understand them? (Kafka 45). So Gregor was left to occupy his time, alone, and contemplate the situation he had been thrust into. He was coming to realize that through his metamorphosis he had not lost anything. He had simply moved from one form to another while his environment remained constant. The actual metamorphosis ?symbolizes a rebellion assertion of unconscious desires and energies? (Eggenschwiler 203). Gregor?s current circumstances understandably left him in search of a way out. It was however, his devotion to his family that kept him working and sacrificing himself right up to the crucial change.
The family unit undergoes radical changes after Gregor?s metamorphosis while he attempts to remain vigilant in caring for his family. In reality from the onset of the change Gregor would not be able to provide for his family any longer. However, he is so consumed with his duties that, even in his ?cockroach? state ?considers whether he can now still catch the seven o?clock train? (Emrich 137). Gregor puts his family first, yet again. During the confrontation with the manager from his office, he begs the manager ?please sir, spare my parents? (Kafka 24). Even in the face of some unknown tragedy that had transformed Gregor, he steadfastly protects his family. As always he concludes ?his duty was to remain docile and to try to make things bearable for his family? (Kafka 42). He carries this out even though it is he who is experiencing this devastating situation, not his family. As time goes by Gregor realizes that his family can get on without him. He has become a burden to them and his days of being provider and protector are over. Near the end of the story, his parents hardly even acknowledge him. Realizing that the situation is hopeless, his father exclaims ?If he could only understand us, perhaps there would be some way of coming to an agreement? (Kafka 89). This ?understanding? the father desires is one that they never allowed Gregor. The family never understood the strain that the current state of affairs was putting on Gregor, and now rather than supporting him when he needs them they desert him. Even his sister begins to resent him, feeding him only occasionally and rarely cleaning his room. The family he gave so much to in return gives him nothing, leaving him in his time of need, alone and despondent. He recognizes that it is time to free his family of the burden of caring for him. Thinking of his family he ?realized that he must go, and this opinion on this point was even more firm, if possible, than that of his sister? (Kafka 92). He dies that night and his family mourns only momentarily before moving on with their life. They decide to go for a ride in the country as if nothing happened, ?they assert freedom and rebellion that Gregor never asserted in his five years as a dutiful salesman? (Eggenschwiler 213). Having responsibility proved to be too much for the family, unlike Gregor who devoted his life to his family. The family distanced themselves from Gregor after the transformation but ultimately, moved closer to the way of life Gregor had been subjected to.
The true reality of Gregor and his family can be seen through the resulting condition of the family itself. After his metamorphosis Gregor learned disturbing information of the financial matters of the family. ?He had always imagined that his father had been unable to save a penny from the ruins of his business; in any case, his father had never said anything to undeceive him? (Kafka 47), and he was shocked to learn the family had money. For five years he had struggled and remained a ?slave? to his own family to find out they could have bought his way out of bondage long ago. Upon hearing this though Gregor, still wanting to take care of his family, is not upset but rather glad his father had the foresight. The current situation also led to the members of the family to gaining employment to make ends meet. Seeing the father returning from work, dressed in his work clothes, Gregor wonders if ?it was really the same man who once had lain wearily in bed when Gregor had been leaving on his journeys? (Kafka 64). Not only has the father found employment, but the mother and daughter as well. Though they are a seamstress and sales clerk respectively, they are forced to partake of the ?daily grind? to ensure the success of the family. While the family maintains their existence, they are no better off than they were when Gregor was at the helm.
The tragedy of the situation is that the family comes full circle, enduring exactly what Gregor had for years. After observing a family who lived on the fruits of someone else is labor, we are shown a ?family exhausted and depressed from laboring at menial jobs ? messenger, seamstress, salesgirl. They live much as Gregor did before his metamorphosis? (Eggenschwiler 209). Finally, they are forced to work and earn their own keep. Gregor had slaved for them right up until the metamorphosis and now it was their turn to do for themselves. We watch ?this petty bourgeois family that once had its own business? as it falls ?in to the laboring class, where its strength, pride and independence are lost? (Eggenschwiler 210). They must begin, yet again, working their way back to economic freedom with no help from Gregor. After the nightmare of Gregor?s transformation passes they look to the future, longing for normalcy and the possibility of marriage for their daughter. In the Metamorphosis, we tend to believe that Gregor?s change into a cockroach is the main purpose, but after further consideration we see that the ?true? metamorphosis was in that of his family. Gregor?s reality never changes; his life is as worthless as a cockroach as it was as a human. The family as a unit is the ones who go from being ?freeloaders? to able-bodied workers for the good of the family. It is possible that had they realized this earlier the suffering Gregor had experienced for years could have been avoided.
Franz Kafka asks us to fathom if only for a moment, the thought of our lives changing due to some radical change. Do we feel like Gregor, beaten down and alone? Are our daily struggles for naught? And, if so, would we fair better as a cockroach? The answer is, of course, ?no? but, through the Metamorphosis we observe as one man?s life is proven to be in vain and no better as a human than a cockroach. Gregor?s family is a burden that he respectfully accepts and carries but the family reciprocates by neglecting him and longing for his demise. Can anyone be sure that their lives are good and perfect and that their families would understand and accept any change that could arise? The fact is that above and beyond all things a person must consider themselves first, however selfish it might appear. Sense of self will keep you through all the adverse times in life and be a companion to rely on when no one else cares.
Eggenschwiler, David. ??The Metamorphosis?, Freud, and the Chains of
Odysseus?. Franz Kafka: Modern Critical Views. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986. 199-219.
Emrich, Wilhelm. Franz Kafka: A Critical Study of His Writings. New York:
Kafka, Franz. Metamorphosis. Trans. A.L. Lloyd. New York: Vanguard
Press, Inc., 1946.
Pawel, Ernst. The Nightmare of Reason. New York: Vintage Books, 1984.