Kafka's Metamorphosis Kafka's the Metamorphosis Is Not Essay

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Kafka's Metamorphosis

Kafka's The Metamorphosis is not only the story of the transformation of Gregor Samsa; it is the story of the transformation of an entire family. When Gregor suddenly becomes a "horrible vermin" overnight (I), the reader has no choice but to register the effects of that change on Gregor's immediate environment, his family apartment. Because Gregor will never leave that apartment, it is fair to ask how his transformation transforms the others around him. I will concentrate on the chief clerk from Gregor's office, as a representative of the outside world, and Gregor's father Mr. Samsa, as representative of patriarchal authority, and considered as the instrument of Gregor's destruction. I suggest that the transformation which occurs in these other characters is the chief means by which Kafka intends his readers to assess the meaning of Gregor's own metamorphosis.

Gregor's immediate response to his own transformation is to attempt, as best as he can in his new body, to follow his customary routine. As a result, his initial thoughts concentrate less on proprioception within his new insect form, and more on worrying about whether he will be late for work: once he discovers the time is already seven o'clock, his immediate panic is that "Before it strikes quarter past seven I'll definitely have to have got properly out of bed. And by then somebody will have come round from work to ask what's happened to me as well, as they open up at work before seven o'clock." (I). This prediction turns out to be absolutely correct, which implies of course that Gregor's ordinary behavior is so regular that his tardiness is sufficient to require inquiry from the office. But Kafka carefully allows the chief clerk to arrive and begin interacting with Gregor before seeing him -- Gregor is still trying to get himself out of bed, and has not unlocked the door. But by the time Gregor ultimately emerges, the chief clerk -- bizarrely -- has nothing to say:

But the chief clerk had turned away as soon as Gregor had started to speak, and, with protruding lips, only stared back at him over his trembling shoulders as he left. He did not keep still for a moment while Gregor was speaking, but moved steadily towards the door without taking his eyes off him. He moved very gradually, as if there had been some secret prohibition on leaving the room. It was only when he had reached the entrance hall that he made a sudden movement, drew his foot from the living room, and rushed forward in a panic. In the hall, he stretched his right hand far out towards the stairway as if out there, there were some supernatural force waiting to save him. (I).

This is the first external clue as to how Kafka intends us to understand Gregor's transformation from the outside, as it were. The chief clerk's reaction is one of panic and fear, which suggests that the metamorphosis of Gregor is like a contagious disease -- save for his initial calm retreat, which suggests the placation of a threat. The way Gregor's transformation changes his work environment is to render him beyond comment. The chief clerk's silence is in itself an eloquent commentary on the essence of Gregor's transformation: it places him beyond the pale, and society must reject him.

The chief clerk is escorted to Gregor's door by Gregor's own father. In his initial appearance, the elder Samsa appears a model of bourgeois propriety: he is introduced through his polite and apologetic approach to his son: " 'Gregor,' said his father now from the room to his left, 'the chief clerk has come round and wants to know why you didn't leave on the early train. We don't know what to say to him. And anyway, he wants to speak to you personally. So please open up this door. I'm sure he'll be good enough to forgive the untidiness of your room'." (I). Kafka demonstrates in the course of the story what happens to such bourgeois propriety under stress: Mr. Samsa's response to Gregor's metamorphosis is to become transformed himself. Gregor's own recognition of the change his own metamorphosis has wrought in his father occurs at the climax of the novella's second section:

"He really ought to have expected things to have changed, but still, still, was that really his father? The same tired man as used to be…[continue]

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