Franz Kafka is considered by many to be one of the most prominent and influential writers of the twentieth century (Votteler 204). Many of his works, mostly short stories, met with critical acclaim only after his death in 1924. His stories usually present ? a grotesque vision of the world in which alienated, angst-ridden individuals seek to transcend their tormented condition? (204).
One critic has referred to him as ?the classical painter of the estrangement of modern man? (Czermak 7). It is in Franz Kafka?s short story ?The Metamorphosis,? that we meet Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman that awakens one morning only to find himself in the unfortunate position of having been transformed into a giant insect. Despite this fact, Gregor preserves his human faculties of reason and feeling and struggles to maintain his relationships with the family members that depend on him for, if nothing else, financial support. Throughout the story, it is not only Gregor, but also the rest of his family that undergo metamorphoses.
Because ?The Metamorphosis? can be seen from so many different perspectives it is rather difficult to label it in any one way (Magill, Masterplots 4115). ?The Metamorphosis? has been summarized by Marxists, postmodernists, feminists, Zionists, structuralists, and psychoanalysts, each of whom have interpreted the story in a different way (4114). However, no matter which point of view it is seen from, there are several themes that abound throughout the story, such as guilt, change, liberation, sacrifice, and the place of the artist in society, among others (4115). Objective critics even have trouble categorizing ?The Metamorphosis? and argue over the line of attack they should take when breaking it down. Critic Rudolph Binion argues that Gregor?s change into an insect is ?not actually a physical occurrence, but is instead a hallucination caused by mental illness? (217).
Critic Ralph Freedman contends ?that it is best to approach Kafka as a writer of realistic fiction? and that ?symbolism must be taken into account, but it is not the master key to Kafka?s work? (218-219). Yet another point of view is taken by critic Alexander Taylor. He finds Gregor?s transformation to be ?an expression of his disenchantment with the structure of society? (224). Perhaps Freedman put it best when he said, ?Kafka went his own way?No great artist can be caught in the categories set up by literary historians? (219). It has been argued by many that Kafka?s personal life is reflected in many of his works.
To that account, many consider ?The Metamorphosis? to be highly autobiographical. Franz Kafka was born in Prague in the summer of 1883 to rather wealthy parents. His family was very similar to that of Gregor Samsa?s (Friedman 220). He had a strong, overbearing father named Hermann who is very similar to Mr. Samsa, Gregor?s father. Kafka?s mother, Julie Lowy, was well meaning but usually took Hermann?s side when there was a dispute as does Mrs.
Samsa (Czermak 8). The only person in Kafka?s family that he was close to was his sister Ottla, who is strikingly similar to Gregor?s sister Grete in ?The Metamorphosis? (8). Even the names Kafka and Samsa are very similar (7).
As a sickly young boy, Kafka felt very inadequate compared to his robust and successful father (Friedman 221). He ?felt ashamed at not measuring up while at the same time he felt resentful that he had to measure up? (221). Critic Norman Friedman says that Gregor turned into a bug ?in order to spite his father and at the same time to punish himself for being an inadequate son? (221).
Perhaps those are the same motives that caused Franz Kafka to write ?The Metamorphosis.? One of the major themes in ?The Metamorphosis? that most literary critics agree on is that of change. Although many consider Gregor?s metamorphosis to be that of the title, it is the entire Samsa family that undergoes a metamorphosis (Taylor 224).
Long before the story takes place, Gregor?s father had a business failure that left him deep in debt. Gregor has been offered by his father to work for the company to which Gregor?s father owes money. While Gregor is slowly working off his father?s debt, the rest of his family sits at home and lives off of his hard work.
They hardly appreciate the sacrifices that Gregor makes for them nor do they realize how much they really depend on him (Madden 211). However, the lazy family is suddenly mobilized by Gregor?s metamorphosis. ?Mr. Samsa had all but retired, living a slothful and useless existence, when the change in Gregor revived his old interests and ambitions to the extent that he managed to take the family fortunes in hand? (Madden 212). ?He raises his stature once again to reclaim his spot as the man of the house while Gregor withers and dies? (Friedman 221).
Once Mr. Samsa realizes that he and his family can get by without.