Kafka’s novella is great for exploring existentialist themes. In it, Kafka invites the readers to ponder the essence of existence. Self-sacrifice, estrangement, and duty constitute the primary themes. Gregor Samsa’s fate revolves around these notions. It pushes him to the margins of his family and life.
Self-sacrifice is a central theme for numerous literary works. In the New Testament, for instance, it serves as a culminating plot point. Self-sacrifice demonstrates the protagonists’ humanity and altruism. Gregor Samsa deprives himself of a love-life. He works as a traveling salesman to support his family. Gregor despises his occupation but continues working. He mentions what he hates about his job after his awakening.
Work is only the first part, as the theme manifests in the character’s death. In Kafka’s literature, death is a form of sacrifice. It connects the work to the net of world literature. The change pushes Gregor further from the acceptance by his family. Death becomes the ultimate solution in his eyes. The protagonist sacrifices his own life to not be a burden. This human offering works and rejuvenates the family. Their financial situation improves. Grete, Gregor’s sister, turns into a blossoming lady. The readers see that Gregor’s death was a result of neglect from his family.
Another theme that Franz Kafka explores in-depth is estrangement. The change into an insect is not what estranges Gregor from his surroundings. The protagonist does not have a life before the physical change. Due to work and disregard from his family, Gregor is lonely. The sense of estrangement gets worse with the repulsion that follows the change. Mr. Samsa throws an apple at Gregor which turns to be fatal in the end.
Despite the mistreatment, Gregor remains committed to his family. He devotes his life to the efforts to satisfy them. The character’s main concern after the conversion is returning to work. Gregor does not care to recognize how his family uses him. This detail showcases the theme of burden before one’s family. For Gregor, this sense of responsibility is what drives him throughout the novella.
The effect of devastation in the novella comes from the structure. Self-sacrifice, alienation, and family obligation are the main themes. They overarch the text, creating its particular ambiance. These themes coincide with the dominant existential works. It brings Kafka closer to the literary movement.