Gregor Samsa, the man-turned-insect central character in Franz Kafka's the Metamorphosis, leads readers to question: who is truly in need of help? Clearly, Gregor needs help with returning to his human form, but other than that he is extremely unassuming and dedicated to taking care of his family. He never misses a day of work at his stressful job, and even when he finds himself transformed into a giant, grotesque bug, doesn't react with shock and self-pity. He simply tries to do the best he can. On the other hand, Gregor's family's actions toward him as an insect are grotesque and inhuman. They know that inside he is still Gregor, yet his outward appearance makes it impossible for them to show any genuine, lasting compassion. His sister tries but cannot maintain her dedication. This irony about who is really grotesque also applies to any situation where a good person has become a social outcast. AIDS patients, homeless people, people with mental disorders that cause them to behave strangely, the elderly, drug addicts, or anyone suffering from a visible illness are all subject to ugliness and persecution from the people who are supposed to be "healthy."
Gregor is an outcast; he must keep his ugliness locked away in his room. From the morning when Gregor did not get up for work -- even before his family saw his "metamorphosis" -- not one person showed any genuine compassion for him. Rather than worrying that he might be very ill, they were concerned he might lose his job -- their source of income. In one scene when he dares to venture out of his prison, he is pelted with apples in cruel fashion at the hands of his own father. He tries to return to his room but is shut out by his sister and forced to endure the physical abuse; one apple even gets lodged in his back and nearly cripples him (Kafka p. 48). This is the same sister who feigned compassion at the beginning, trying to care for her brother until she grew tired of the work and abandoned him like the others (Kafka p. 56).
Also like a social outcast, Gregor is treated as sickly and no one can bear the sight of him; certainly no one will dare touch him. His sister "...immediately opened the door again and walked in on her tiptoes, as if she was in the presence of a serious invalid or total stranger " (p. ) and when he is finished eating, he watches from under the sofa as " ... his unsuspecting sister swept up with a broom, not just the remnants, but even the foods which Gregor had not touched at all, as if these were also now useless, and as she dumped everything quickly into a bucket, which she closed with a wooden lid, ... " (Kafka p. ) Like anything in a hospital which may have come near a sick person, Grete treats Gregor's untouched leftovers as hazardous waste. Grete could not even bear to be in the same room with Gregor unless a window was open, no matter how cold outside. And when Gregor spent four hours trying to cover himself up with a sheet completely out of compassion for his sister's disgust at the sight of him, she was relieved rather than worried he might be unhappy (Kafka p. ) and while his father wanted nothing to do with him whatsoever, Gregor's mother did attempt to reach out to him at first. But when she was finally allowed into his room, she was naturally horrified at the sight of him and never attempted to make a connection; she did not attempt to console him or discover whether he could understand her if she talked to him. She just ran away from the situation like the others.
Research shows that human beings have a need for human touch like any other need. While an infant will actually die if not touched and held, adults may survive only by enduring severe depression (Jantzen). To socially outcast someone is the ultimate form of rejection and punishment. Unfortunately, compassionate people seem to be the exception; "Princess Diana was a good role model when she reached out to landmine victims, alcohol and drug addicts, the homeless, those with leprosy and many more. She was photographed talking, touching and hugging the untouchables, the social outcasts and those who needed it most" (Jantzen).
This compassionate behavior is atypical for "healthy" people who have to cross paths with social outcasts. Many people attempt to appear comfortable with the "damaged" person, yet cannot hide their true fear and distaste. AIDS patients and people who've lost their hair from chemotherapy treatments for cancer are common examples. These people are judged at face value and rejected out of an irrational fear that they might be "contagious." One expert has stated that human beings naturally draw certain illogical and unfortunate conclusions about people who are suffering, imposing social isolation upon them. Pertaining to AIDS in particular, people are highly judgmental and associate the disease with unacceptable behaviors such as "homosexuality, drug addiction, prostitution or promiscuity" (AIDS). AIDS is then thought to be a fitting punishment for immoral behavior, and the patient faces rejection (AIDS). Moreover, people are more comfortable outcasting someone who is unhealthy because they can then lump that person with all the "others" -- the "bad" people who are being punished (AIDS). This makes "healthy" people feel as though they are not at risk of facing the same fate (AIDS).
What Gregor felt and suffered as a result of being outcast from society is similar to the experiences of AIDS patients and other social outcasts: loss of job, loss of meaningful relationships with loved ones, poor health care, loss of hope and feelings of worthlessness, and loss of reputation (AIDS). And as with Gregor, AIDs patients face rejection even within their own home and family; one survey revealed that "avoidance, exaggerated kindness and being told to conceal one's status -- was a significant predictor of psychological distress" for the patient (AIDS). The fact that an illness can change their family's attitude so dramatically must leave some patients wondering whether they were every truly loved unconditionally at all.
Homeless people are also automatically judged as immoral and responsible for their demise. Like Gregor, they are comparable to the "Lepers of the middle ages, they are unwanted and in some cases even hounded from town to town" (Dominguez). A former homeless man himself stated in 2007: "That feeling of loneliness that you get as a homeless person as you crawl into your sleeping bag, on a cold winters night after having spent the day walking the streets, is one that I will never forget. I was a social outcast, a modern day Leper, as far as society was concerned, and as I laid awake feeling isolated, lost and abandoned, I still knew that there were people who were a lot worse off than myself" (Dominguez). Clearly, even at this very low point in his life, this man was attempting to hold a "glass half full" outlook. He was a compassionate person desperately in need of human contact and acceptance, yet he couldn't find any among all the "healthy" people walking the streets around him. This is the same loneliness and desperation that Gregor must have felt as he was locked away in his room with no human contact. And Gregor's pain is a mirror of Kafka's own feelings of social isolation as a Jew in the early 20th century with health problems and poor luck in love (Amos).
Even the elderly in America today face ugliness and rejection for no reason other than their age. Workers trusted to care for these people are often overworked and underpaid, and are…
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