Kafka Essay

And Reality Of Change
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.

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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: Ungar, 1968. Kafka, Franz.

Metamorphosis. Trans. A.L. Lloyd. New York: Vanguard Press, Inc., 1946. Pawel,
Ernst. The Nightmare of Reason. New York: Vintage Books, 1984.


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