The Metamorphosis Essay, Research Paper
Gregor s metamorphosis is a metaphoric journey through the basic points in Freudian psychoanalytical thought. Freud includes three levels of consciousness in his works, the super-ego, ego, and the id. The ego is concerned with reality, id with the subconscious, and the super-ego is a link between the ego and the id.
The Metamorphosis is a story by Franz Kafka about a man named Gregor Samsa who one day wakes up to find himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin . The mutation occurs the night before in his unsettling dreams and appears to be solely physical because Gregor maintains all of his human mental capacities.
One level of consciousness, the super-ego, is the link between the other levels of consciousness. It contains human emotions. Gregor lacks several aspects of life that are essential to people s emotional stability. One presence he is deficient in is love. Throughout The Metamorphosis, evidence of Gregor s love by his family, or lack there of, is constantly present in the story.
Gregor may be in separation emotionally from his family before his metamorphosis even takes place. Walter H. Sokel says in his work Die Erziehung zur Tragik that Gregor s locked door indicates that Gregor was previously removed from the Samsa circle of family union. He also states that the physical aspects of Gregor s room, such as the confined feeling that the furniture creates, is a microcosm of Gregor s life. The furniture traps Gregor in his room, just as the Samsas have trapped Gregor for financial stability (Sokel, 169).
The only source where Gregor receives love after his metamorphosis is from his sister. One example which expresses Gregor s craving for love appears directly after he wakes up. Kafka writes, In fact, Gregor felt fine, with the exception of his drowsiness, which was really unnecessary after sleeping so late, and he even had a ravenous appetite (Kafka, 5). Alexander Taylor explains in his work The Waking: Theme of Kafka s Metmorphosis that the hunger which Kafka is feeling is really not a hunger for food, but for love (Talor, 273). There are several instances in which Kafka reveals Gregor s hunger in The Metamorphosis. Gregor s sister, Grete, temporarily extinguishes Gregor s hunger for love when she feeds him. The food that Grete feeds Gregor is a metaphor for the love that she is giving him.
Another aspect of human relationships that Gregor lacks is understanding. Nobody really knows who his true self really is. William H. Sokel shares in his Die Erziehung zur Tragik that Gregor s metamorphosis reveals many of Gregor s subconscious thoughts (Sokel, 173). Lack of understanding between him and his family is evident in his thoughts regarding his new speech. Kafka writes, It was true that they no longer understood his words, though they had seemed clear enough to him, clearer than before, probably because his ear had grown accustomed to them (Kafka, 13). The phrase clearer than before shows that Gregor only begins to understand himself after his metamorphosis is complete.
Martin Greenberg mentions in his Kafka s Metamorphosis and Modern Spirituality that Gregor s job doesn t allow him to have real human relationships (Greenberg, 274). As a travelling salesman, Gregor must work very hard and with only artificial human contact. For instance, when I go back to the hotel before lunch to write up the business I ve done, these men are just having breakfast (Kafka, 4).
A feeling that Gregor experiences is a need to escape. In The Waking: The Theme of Kafka s Metamorphosis , Alexander Talor says there are several indications in the opening thoughts of the story that Gregor doesn t enjoy his job and is forced to do it to support his family (Talor, 273). Gregor says:
what a grueling job I ve picked! Day in, day out-on the road. The upset of doing business is much worse than the actual business in the home office, and, besides, I ve got the torture of travelling, worrying about changing trains, eating miserable food at all hours, constantly seeing new faces, no relationships that last or get more intimate. To the devil with it all (Kafka, 4)!
Heinz Politzer says in his work Franz Kafka: Parable and Paradox that Gregor is a slave of his family until his metamorphosis frees him (Politzer, 276). There is one statement in The Metamorphosis that blatantly represents Gregor as a material object instead of a human being. Kafka explains to the reader, He was a tool of the boss, without brains or backbone (Kafka, 5).
Another level of consciousness, the ego, takes the reality principle into account. It allows the id urges to take place when an adequate circumstance comes into play. There is constant representation of Gregor s ego through his relationships with his family members. Perhaps the most obvious example is his involvement with his father. The underlying conflict between Gregor and his father is in regard to a struggle for dominance. With Gregor taking a job and supporting the Samsa family comes a title of leadership that Gregor s father once possessed. Walter H. Sokel points out in his Die Erziehung zur Tragik that to his father, Gregor is an obvious threat to his manhood and masculinity (Sokel, 178). Sokel goes on to assert that as a product of Gregor s metamorphosis, his father becomes master of the house again (Sokel, 170).
Gregor s Oedipal Complex is a greatly dominant aspect in his family life. Webster indicates in his Franz Kafka s Metamorphosis as Death and Resurrection Fantasy that Gregor has sexual dispositions towards both his mother and sister (Webster, 159). The portrayal of Gregor s incestuous feelings for his mother is indicated both by Gregor s affiliation with his family and by his conflict with his father. In Die Erziehung zur Tragik , Sokel shows that the struggle between Gregor and his father indicates that Gregor has sexual feelings for his mother (Sokel, 180). Gregor s fondness towards his sister is more obvious. Sokel indicates that Gregor wants to take his sister away from his father and wants to even before the metamorphosis takes place (Sokel, 178). Kafka says:
Often during Gregor s short stays in the city the Conservatory would come up in his conversations with his sister, but always merely as a beautiful dream which was not supposed to come true, and his parents were not happy to hear even these innocent allusions; but Gregor had very concrete ideas on the subject and he intended solemnly to announce his plan on Christmas Eve (Kafka, 27).
It is possible that those innocent allusions may not just be referring to a proposition to send her to a Conservatory, but also a reference to his passion for Grete.
The relationship between Gregor and Grete is not only of sexual feelings, but of sibling love too. In fact, Grete is the only person in the family who treats Gregor well after his metamorphosis. His hunger expresses his appreciation for the understanding that Grete provides him with. Kafka writes, There he stayed the whole night, which he spent partly in a sleepy trance, from which hunger pangs kept waking him with a start (Kafka, 23). Gregor isn t waking up from hunger, but from lack of love. However, after he feeds, Gregor is quite content. Kafka says, One right after the other, and with eyes streaming with tears of contentment, he devoured the cheese, the vegetables, and the sauce (Kafka, 24). Grete s gift of food to Gregor represents the love Grete pours on to Gregor.
Even though it may seem as if Grete might be able to comfort Gregor forever, she betrays him in the latter part of the story. Her first sign of duplicity is when she moves out his furniture. Kafka writes of Gregor s thoughts, They were clearing out his room: depriving him of everything that he loved; they had already carried away the chest of drawers, in which he kept the fretsaw and other tools (Kafka, 35). Eggenschwiler asserts in his The Metamorphosis, Freud, and the Chains of Odysseus that the furniture in Gregor s room is one of the only things he has left that makes him feel like his old self, and Grete is taking it away from him (Eggenschwiler, 204). Also, the fretsaw, which is Gregor s only hobby is removed along with the chest. The moving of Gregor s furniture is not even the most aggressive sign of betrayal. Grete s announcement of her increasingly growing dislike for Gregor is too much for him to bare. She says, I won t pronounce the name of my brother in front of this monster, and so all I say is: we have to try to get rid of it (Kafka, 51). Soon after Grete loses hope for Gregor, he dies.
The last aspect of Freud s theories is the id. The id is the unconscious deposit of natural drives and instincts that are constantly influential in people s daily actions and choices. Emrich says in his Franz Kafka that the dung beetle is a representation of Gregor s id (Emrich, 124). Since Gregor s inner self is so much more prevalent in his character than before, there are constant occurrences in which Gregor is completely misunderstood.
Gregor s rebellion is greatly prominent throughout The Metamorphosis. In his The Metamorphosis, Freud, and the Chains of Odysseus, Eggenschwiler asserts that the metamorphosis of Gregor is purely an act of rebellion against his current life (Eggenschwiler, 203). When Gregor wakes and shares with the reader how he feels about his job, he says, If I didn t hold back for my parent s sake, I would have quit long ago, I would have marched up to the boss and spoken my piece from the bottom of my heart. He would have fallen off the desk (Kafka, 4). Soon after sharing his thoughts he really does drive the boss out of his house. Kafka says of the manager s actions, He was already in the foyer, and from the sudden movement with which he took his last step from the living room, one might have thought he had just burned the sole of his foot (Kafka, 16-17). Gregor s true self frightens his manager, just as he says he would like to.
Gregor s metamorphosis is a liberation from his unbearable life, says Sokel in his Die Erziehung zur Tragik (Sokel, 173). Gregor doesn t enjoy his work as a salesman, but he does it because his parents force him to. There is much aggression built up inside of Gregor towards his family. Evidence of Gregor s aggression is in the scene where he comes out of his room for the first time. Kafka says, For a minute the manager had completely slipped his mind; on the other hand at the sight of the spilling coffee he could not resist snapping his jaws several times in the air (Kafka, 18). Sokel goes on to assert that the action of Gregor snapping his jaws is a subconscious demonstration of his frustration towards them (Sokel, 176).
Gregor s sexual drives are intensely influential in most of his actions. Gregor has a large amount a sexual frustration built up inside of him, almost to the point of obsession. His intention to steal his sister away from his parents for sexual purposes becomes more obvious during her violin playing. Kafka says of Gregor s thoughts:
He would never again let her out of his room-at least not for as long as he lived; for once, his nightmarish looks would be of use to him; he would be at all the doors of his room at the same time and hiss and spit at the aggressors (Kafka, 49).
Then Kafka later says, Gregor would raise himself up to her shoulder and kiss her on the neck which, ever since she started going out to work, she kept bare, without a ribbon or a collar (Kafka, 49). Gregor begins to share his true incestuous feelings towards his sister as he grows increasingly used to his id.
The woman in the fur clothing is also referred to several times in The Metamorphosis. The picture serves as a type of sexual vent that soothes Gregor. Kafka writes, he really didn t know what to salvage first, then he saw hanging conspicuously on the wall, which was otherwise bare already the picture of the lady all dressed in furs, hurriedly crawled up on it and pressed himself up against the glass, which gave a good surface to stick to and soothed his hot belly (Kafka, 35). When his sister and mother are moving his furniture, he can only grab one thing and he chooses to salvage the picture. Another example which shows his obsession with the picture is the fact that his only hobby is carving with his fretsaw, and he carves out a frame for his beloved picture.
Gregor Samsa is not the only character in The Metamorphosis who changes dramatically. The Samsa family s attitude transforms throughout the book, and Peter Webster points out in his Franz Kafka s Metamorphosis as Death and Resurrection Fantasy that the whole family experiences a metamorphosis (Webster, 157). Gregor s sister, Grete, shows the largest change in attitude. She feels sorry for her unfortunate brother and continues to show that she still cares for him. Even after Grete sees her changed brother for the first time and she became so frightened that she lost control of herself and slammed the door shut again (Kafka, 23). Eventually, Grete begins to show annoyance about being in the presence of her brother and finally shares her feelings with her family. Grete says, We must try to get rid of it (Kafka, 51). After Gregor s death she is content to go on with the rest of her life, without the burden of her brother.