“He discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug.” : The Critical Approach Towards The Metamorphosis by: Franz Kafka
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is a novella that is based on the transformation of a salesman, Gregor Samsa, who struggles to live with his new insect body. Gregor Samsa was already struggling in his previous life and had a debt he had to pay off for his father. He worked and provided for his family but was never appreciated for it. His transformation proved to him he was nothing but a bug to his family. They were humiliated and ashamed to call him a part of the family, which brought out the truth of how self-conceited, unappreciative, and greedy they were. In this novella, there are many types of interpretations and structural analysis that can be portrayed. Using hermeneutics and the concepts of formalism is the essential focus of this essay. Hermeneutics focuses more on the “deeper meaning” and hidden form of a text whereas formalism focuses on how certain effects are created upon the reader. In this essay, the main purpose will be on how the transformation of Gregor Samsa allows its audience to use hermeneutics and how the structure of the novella shows formalism in The Metamorphosis.
Formalism is shown by formal unity in this story. The story starts off with the transformation of the main character. “When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin”(Kafka 1). Kafka introduces the audience to the main character first in the story and not as a human but a “monstrous vermin” (Kafka 1). He also introduces his audience to Gregor’s emotions and feelings, creating a third-person omniscient point of view, but as we read along we realize that the point of view is third-person limited omniscient because the audience is not given access to the emotions and thoughts of other characters in the story. The audience hears from Gregor only and becomes biased to Gregor’s emotions, leaving us with no choice, but to think of Gregor’s family as the evil ones. When readers are given access to Gregors’ thoughts, they realize that he is more focused on how he will get to work rather than his state of being. This brings questions upon Gregor’s work ethic along with the question of why he is so worried about his job. The readers are later introduced to his mother, father, and sister. His mother is described to have a soft voice, whereas his father is portrayed to be ruthless. Gregor’s sister, Grete, seems to be the only one who truly cares for Gregor.
At the end of Section 1, when Gregor’s family finally sees him in his new transformation and when his father begins to abuse him shows the turning point in the story. This then leads to Section 2, where the climax takes place. The climax is shown when Gregor starts to behave more like an animal and begins to go through a metamorphosis. This section also shows how Gregor’s father has metamorphosed from a lazy, unemployed man with no power to having authority and control over the house again. He shows his power by throwing apples at Gregor until one lands on his back and severely injures him. As said in the novella, “However another thrown immediately after that one drove into Gregor’s back really hard” (Kafka 52). In the last section of the story, we see the metamorphosis of Grete. Her metamorphosis is that she went from her childlike dreams of becoming a violin player to a “blossomed” grown woman (Kafka 77). Grete is the only other character in the story who is referred to by a name. She is also the only character who really shows sympathy for Gregor. She helps take care of him after his transformation, but she becomes very controlling over Gregor and his needs. She does not want her mother to help her with anything involving Gregor’s new state. As the story moves forward, she becomes an adult and takes responsibility to provide for the family. Her matureness leads to her pity towards Gregor fading, ultimately leading to the death of Gregor.
To have a more formalist approach, Kafka uses dull tones in the beginning of his story. He describes his scenes using words such as “fog” and “rain” to indicate sorrowness and hopelessness (Kafka 3,9). The setting of this story is in an apartment where Gregor and his family stay, an apartment Gregor picked out himself. Most of the story takes place in the apartment, mainly in Gregor’s room. It is shown in the story that Gregor’s room is near the living room, but he is still isolated in his room throughout the story. This isolation shows the separation of Gregor from humanity. Because of this isolation from society, The Metamorphosis shows personification. Gregor is given the mindset of a human while he is in the form of a vermin. Throughout the story, Gregor is mentally more humane than his family members even when he is inhumane externally. This brings up the question of whether it is Gregor who is inhumane or is it his family? Gregor and his family are also personified in this story because they are externally humane but internally inhumane, therefore proving why Gregor and his family do not get along. They have completely opposite personalities, which shows the audience the dynamics between them.
We can see these dynamics between them through the realism shown in The Metamorphosis. It shows Gregor’s life in a new form and shows the reality of how his family reacts to his transformation. In the story, it says, “He lay on his armour-like back, and if he lifted his head a little he could see his brown belly,slightly domed and divided by arches into stiff sections”(Kafka 1). This shows the new transformation of his body and highlights the realism portrayed in the story. We can also see beastification throughout the novella, a process where a character is more “beast-like” externally but humane internally. Beasts usually go blind, start to climb from here and there, and start to eat unsanitary food. All this happens to Gregor. This trails to how there is a scenic and panoramic narration in this novella. There is a scenic narration where all the events are described in a certain pattern. Accompanying that, there is also a panoramic narration where the events that happen for a long duration of time are covered within a paragraph or two.
There is always a “deeper meaning” to a story. The Metamorphosis also has a deeper meaning to it. As seen in this novella, society today has separated humans from each other. They are too busy with work and they start to realize they do not have time for other things in life, we can see this pattern in The Metamorphosis. Gregor and his job as a salesman before his transformation shows how isolated Gregor is from the world. He is not close to his family, he does not have friends, and does not go out anywhere. Matter of fact, the only thing he is close to is a photograph of a woman, who is not even real. His family was really the only human connection he has and after his transformation, he does not even have that. This highlights the separation he has from society and humans in general. He is ignored and treated like he is not worthy. His isolation from the world became the literal portrayal of the allegorical separation he encounters when he was a salesman.
There can be many different interpretations taken from this story. One of many is that Gregor’s transformation occurs because he is trying to escape the pressure that he has of being the only source of income in the family. There are many symbolic details in this novella that show a connection to Gregor and his previous life. One main being the photograph of the woman in furs, that symbolizes Gregor’s inhibited desires. The woman in the photograph is sexually alluring to Gregor and shows wealth and affluence through her fur material. He has a very strong attachment to the picture and holds it very dearly when his sister and mother try to throw it out. Gregor feels as if this photograph is a part of his before life and is something he wants to save. Before his transformation, Gregor was always busy with work and trying to provide for his family. Due to this, he lacks the opportunity of having romantic relationships. He seems to be very anxious about losing his job even after being transformed. He is extremely worried about his boss being upset. From this, it is very noticeable that Gregor is thinking more about his family before himself.
Gregor is not the only one who went through a transformation in this story. His sister Grete does also. There can be many different ways The Metamorphosis can be interpreted. In this essay, the concept of formalism and the practice of hermeneutics are used to understand this complex literary work. There are important transformations and characterizations that make The Metamorphosis such a suspenseful and dramatic story. Reality and reflection play a huge part in this novella. Many of its events and occurrences can be incorporated into modern-day society. It is similarly relatable to many modern-day families and relationships. Just like that, Franz Kafka, the author of this novella, had a complex relationship with his family, especially his father.