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On the surface Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis is novella about a traveling salesman, Gregor Samsa, who literally transforms into a beetle-like creature. But underneath the surface, on an allegorical level, it is a story about adversity and alienation. As Gregor's condition worsens and he becomes more unrecognizable his family must confront the dilemma of how it is they are to handle the situation. And this dilemma, this point of conflict, this adversity they face, reveals their true character(s). It is the purpose of this essay to investigate not how Gregor's family changes in the story, but how their true colors are revealed by Gregor's metamorphosis.
In the beginning of the narrative Gregor's family is visibly concerned with his inability to get out of bed and ready for work, "At the other side door, however, his sister knocked lightly. "Gregor? Are you all right? Do you need anything?" His mother too, is worried about him when he doesn't leave the room, "Gregor," a voice called -- it was his mother -- "it's quarter to seven. Don't you want to be on your way?" The family continues to worry about Gregor for the first several scenes of the narrative. In fact, the even call the manager over to investigate, to see if he can convince Gregor to talk. "In the middle of all this, the manager called out in a friendly way, "Good morning, Mr. Samsa."
Gregor does not budge. The reason for this is obvious; he's turning into a beetle-like creature! And while this mysterious phenomenon certainly occupies Gregor's mind, he can't help but to think of his family and why they are so worried. Kafka articulates this brilliantly via his free indirect style, "Why did his sister not go to the others? She had probably just got up out of bed now and had not even started to get dressed yet. Then why was she crying? Because he was not getting up and letting the manager in, because he was in danger of losing his position, and because then his boss would badger his parents once again with the old demands. Those were probably unnecessary worries right now. Gregor was still here and was not thinking at all about abandoning his family?"
This passage is crucial for understanding the dynamic between Gregor and his family as well as why his family abandons Gregor toward the end of the narrative. This passage tells the reader that Gregor is important to his family because he is the provider, the breadwinner. He is the vehicle through which their standard of living is maintained. And, of seemingly tertiary importance, he is a son and a brother. Sure, Gregor's family loves him, but only when it's easy to love him, only when there is something to be gained from loving him, i.e. A way to pay down debts or to fund a trip to the violin conservatory. Here Kafka is commenting on the expectancy aspect of relationships. That is, how much of a relationship is based off of what one expects from another? And what happens to a relationship when those expectations are not met (there's a great line in the story that really explains how Gregory's parents didn't truly appreciate Gregory's charity, they expected it, "They took the money with thanks, and he happily surrendered it, but a special warmth was no longer present" -- the reader can assume that warmth is true appreciation).
As Gregor continues to struggle to come to terms with his condition, his family continues to panic. They eventually call over a doctor who enters his room with the help of a locksmith. Upon seeing Gregor in his transformed state the family experiences both shock and sadness, "His father clenched his fist with a hostile expression, as if he wished to push Gregor back into his room, then looked uncertainly around the living room, covered his eyes with his hands, and cried so that his mighty breast shook."
However, and after some time, Gregor's family begins to adjust their way of life not so much to accommodate Gregor, but to deal with their newfound misfortune. After the servant is dismissed, "his sister had to team up with his mother to do the cooking, although that did not create much trouble because people were eating almost nothing" and his father, who had in the five years "put on a good deal of fat and thus become…[continue]
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