The Dead Essay, Research Paper
In both Joyce’s The Dead, and Kafka’s Metamorphasis, the central charater is suffering from a severe delusion about their own self. Gabriel, in Joyce’s The Dead, believes he is the one true love in Gretta’s life. When this deception is revealed his world becomse shattered. Similarly, in The Metamorphasis, Gregor Samka realizes that he is only a drudge in society, and his entire life is changed in consequence. The importance of self knowledge becomes apparent in these two tales.
James Joyce, in The Dead, gives us a glimpse into the life of a man fraught with self deception. He is secure in the knowledge that he is smarter than his fellows, more adept than his fellows in his chosen profession, and that he is on a social level far removed from those around him. This easily can be seen through any number of speeches given by Gabriel, but it is particularly evident when he states “He was undecided about the lines from Robert Browning for he feared that they would be above the heads of his readers.”(Dead, 334). He lords his superior knowledge and social niceties above the rest of his family, treating them like some subclass of humanity better left untouched. His wife scoffs at the fact that the majority of the attenders of the party do not even grasp the concept of galoshes, a ‘neccesity’ of life that has not filtered down to the less fortunate. Gabriel’s shame for his famile is readily apparent. He speaks down to them, refuses to learn their common language, and prefers to escape away from their land as much as possible. When he is asked about this shame and it is brought to the forefront, he becomes very upset and even lashes back at his family. “O to tell you the truth, retorted Gabriel suddenly, I’m sick of my own country, sick of it!” (The Dead, 363) All of these illusions come crashing down when Gabriel realizes that even the lowest among his family has the one thing that he lacks, true love. Gabriel realizes that although Gretta cares for him, he does not have the depth of feeling that she has for a young boy that has given his life for her, nor will he ever realize that emotion. We can see this destruction of identity when Joyce describes Gabriel “His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world . . . ” (the Dead, 390). Failing to completely know oneself can have disasterous repurcussions.
In Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Gregor’s subconscious realization of identity and conscious realization of identity are separated and only joined through his physical transformation. When the story is begun, Gregor has been transformed into a large, roach like creature, representative of his place in society. A common laborer, toiling away at his daily routine, Gregor is nothing more than an insect to the powers that be in society. Even his family has no repect for him and forces him to provide, rather than sharing that duty. Throughout the story, as Gregor’s awareness of his true position proceeds, he loses more and more of his human attributes. The culmination of his transformation occurs when he has lost the majority of his humanity. He crawls across the walls with reckless abandon and only cares about his own feelings. This is all destroyed when he comes to the realization that his family is going to remove his last link to humanity, his picture. There is the first and last time he is addressed as a human after he has gone physical transformation. The cries of his sister are followed with an attack on his person. This final straw forces Gregor’s conscious mind to ally with his subconscious mind and he begins to understand his new place in society, which is closely allied with his former place.
Both Kafka and Joyce examine the illusions that permeate our subjective realities, Joyce testing the boundaries of love and Kafka delving into the loyalties of family and place of the worker. Joyce builds up to a climactic reckoning once his character has discovered his illusions, while Kafka starts off with his character understanding his illusions subconsciously and works towards a juxtaposition of both the conscious and subconscious mind. Kafka also takes a drastically more abstract route, transforming his character from humanity to the semblance of an insect. This transformation may not even be physical, just the deranged ramblings of an insane mind. As Gregor became more and more distraught with his lack of advancement and resentment of his family, his outward appearance may have become cold and hostile and less than human, while not being quite as impossible as a transformation into an insect. Joyce, on the other hand, battles a more common subject, love. He takes a typical situation with two typical lovers, and twists the ending from what is expected to show the barriers that exist between the understandings of men and women.
Each author again challenges the reader to look into themselves and to examine their own lives to see if these illusions apply. The impossibility of true love and meaninglessness of life are constant struggles for the cynic and never given thought by the optimist. It takes a very strong person to be able to sweep the illusions of society aside and bare one’s self to the realities of life.