Existentialism in Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis

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The Metamorphosis – Existentialism


Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis is a masterfully written short story about Gregor Samsa, a man who devotes his life to his family and work, for nothing in return.  Only when he is transformed into a helpless beetle does he begin to develop a self-identity and understanding of the relationships around him.  The underlying theme of The Metamorphosis is an existential view that says any given choice will govern the later course of a person's life, and that the person has ultimate will over making choices.  In this case, Gregor?s lack of identity has caused him to be numb to everything around him.


    One morning, Gregor awakens to find himself with the body of a beetle.  Although it never explains how Gregor morphed into a beetle, or shows that Gregor gives much thought to having the body of an insect, Kafka gives the strong impression that Gregor is extremely devoted to his work and is the sole support for his family, none of whom work themselves.  Gregor devoted himself to a life of work and self sacrifice, following every order and expectation to a scurrilous degree.  He life could be likened to that of a drone in an ant colony, and thus gives explanation to Kafka?s logic when he transformed Gregor into an insect.  Trough his insect transformation, Gregor abandoned his mislead obligation to society and instead devoted the rest of his life to himself.  Because of this, Gregor?s family quickly grew to resent him as a burden to the household.  Society and his family had no further use for him, so Gregor starved to death is his bedroom.  On an opposite note, Gregor?s father began the story as a lazy and non-productive human being.  He relied solely and completely on his son.  After Gregor?s transformation, his father followed suit.  He became a proud and productive individual of the lower bureaucracy.  He found the balance between work and leisure that Gregor could not.


    According to Kafka and existentialism, people have both an individual side and a side with the commitment of society.  It is our choices that must be in moderation of the two, to maintain balance.  If a person chooses himself over society, he will loose the support of society; however, if a person chooses society, he will lose his individuality.  Gregor initially chooses society over himself, which in turn transformed him into the working drone he was.  After his physical transformation, he is forced reassert his focus to himself, and society abandons him.  Through Gregor?s plight, his family became cohesive and productive in society, each contributing through work and leisure.  Gregor learned to live for himself too late to become a whole person.  Gregor begins to look for entertainment and fun in the form of a bug, a form that knows nothing but work.  By ignoring the purpose of being an insect, Gregor defeats the purpose of living in his new form of life, and in effect, dies.


    The Metamorphosis advances the existential view that choice is the opportune of the individual.  It is the responsibility of the individual to maintain a balance between work and leisure.  The Metamorphosis lends the idea that, if one chooses to devote their life entirely to work, they are no more than droning insects, yet if they devote their lives to leisure, they are no better off.  A balance needs to be found.  As rational beings, the burden of moderation between value to society and value to self must be assumed by the individual. One must be productive in order to be valuable to society, and one must have leisure in order to be valuable to themselves.


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