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The Metamorphosis, a Novel by Franz Kafka Essay

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Updated: Nov 13th, 2021

The Metamorphosis by Kafka, like many of his works, is highly complex and characterised by intricate and oblique symbols and metaphors. The plot is based on Gregor, a traveling salesman who wakes up one morning and finds that he has been transformed into a huge bug. He has a hard time relating to his family. However, he seems to enjoy the freedom and flexibility of an insect. Eventually, his alienation and injuries caused by his family result in his death, and the family seems to improve after his death.

Kafka’s substantial use of symbolism in this text is evident in the immediate context of the transformation that appears to be a reverse anthropomorphism, where a human character is personified as an insect (Kafka 34). This initial symbolism is important to the plot of the overall story because, essentially, if one considers the Gregor life before and after his transformation, he or she would realise that Gregor’s transformation had begun long before he turned into a beetle.

His metamorphosis is symbolic of the fact that his previous life was not that of a normal human, although he lived in a human body. He did not have friends and a social life outside his family. He seemed to have no other purpose in his life save for slaving for his family, just like a worker bee. When he transforms to a bug, his family treats him in a manner that makes him realise the true role he played in their lives. Thus, it is apparent that he did not just turn into a bug on that day.

He had been one for quite some time. The metamorphosis that alludes to the life circle of an insect can also be viewed symbolically about the change that takes place in the family. When he changes, family members seem to be on the path to ruin, but they gradually adapt. After his death, they improve, which is not unlike what happens to insects when they undergo the same.

Food is another overt symbol in the story. In a way, it is a reflection of the attitude of his family towards him. Grete, who appears to be closest to him, is the only one who bothers to feed him. Afterward, just as the rest of the family, she loses interest and the task of feeding him is left to the servant. To Gregor, and indeed universally, food is a key representation of familial love and concern.

Therefore, when his family members stop feeding him, Gregor’s rejection is complete since it symbolically means that they have no more interest in his being alive. Ironically, he is maimed by his father with an apple. His father could probably have benefited more from eating it.

Furthermore, food is supposed to represent sustenance, but the epitome of neglect is realised in Gregor’s case. The apple is used to hurt him, as demonstrated in the text. Also, his father attacks him with apples. It is indicated, “…another thrown immediately after that one drove into Gregor’s back really hard” (Kafka 51).

The uniform worn by Gregor’s father is symbolic because it represents both his dignity in the eyes of his son as well as the intermittent sentiments, which Gregor feels for him. The sentiments vary from pity to respect. The symbolism is appreciable since the father is seen from Gregor’s eyes. When he overhears his father discussing his failing business, Kafka gives the reader a window through which to see the older man as his son.

In this picture, he mostly embodies instability and bad luck that evokes Gregor and, by extension, the reader’s pity. However, when Gregor sees him in his new uniform, he is impressed, and the uniform appears to signify that his father has metamorphosed from an object of fear to a dignified man who deserves respect. He is standing up straight, dressed in a tight-fitting blue uniform with gold buttons, like the ones servants wear in a banking company (Kafka 50).

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The music has a much-unexpected effect on Gregor. One may expect that, in the same way, he has become averse to foods he used to like and other human sensations, he would inevitably lose interest in it. Ironically, he appears to have gained a better appreciation for it after he transforms and ends up enjoying it more than his family and friends. As a symbol, the music brings out a dichotomy in Gregor’s human nature despite his animal form and the non-human elements of his family.

This is evidenced in the fact that only the animal in the house has the humanity to appreciate the redeeming power of art (Kafka 38). He uses it to try to mend fences between him and Grete, although it eventually serves to worsen the relationship between him and his family because he ends up scaring the lodgers in his eagerness to enjoy the music.

Ultimately, one can argue that his alienation from the human realm serves to help him to appreciate his humanity because before the metamorphosis, he was no more capable of enjoying music than his family (Kafka 52).

In conclusion, the instances and examples mentioned herein serve to support the assertion of Kafka’s rich application of various objects and occurrences to bring out deeper meaning and subtext. Otherwise, the overlying literal meaning would have little practical value to any reader judged purely on the figurative context.

Works Cited

Kafka, Franz. The metamorphosis. New York, NY: Start Publishing. 2013

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