Existentialism in Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis

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Existentialism in Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis

In Franz Kafka’s short story, Metamorphosis, the idea of existentialism is brought out in a subtle, yet definite way. Existentialism is defined as a belief in which an individual is ultimately in charge of placing meaning into their life, and that life alone is meaningless. They do not believe in any sort of ultimate power and focus much of their attention on concepts such as dread, boredom, freedom and nothingness. This philosophical literary movement emerged in the twentieth-century, when Kafka was establishing his writing style in regards to alienation and distorted anxiety. A mirror to his own personal lifestyle, this story follows the short and sad life of a man unable to break out of the bonds society has placed on him. These bonds are not only evident in the work place, but at home too. Being constantly used and abused while in his human form, Gregor’s lifestyle becomes complicated once he becomes a giant insect and is deemed useless. Conflicts and confusion arise primarily between Gregor and his sister Grete, his parents, and his work. Each of these three relationships has different moral and ethical complications defining them. However, it is important for one to keep in mind that Gregor’s metamorphosis has placed him into a position of opposition, and that he has minimal control over the events to take place. Conflicts will also occur between family members as they struggle with the decision of what to do with Gregor. In the end they all come to the agreement that maintaining his uselessness is slowly draining them and they must get rid of him.

Grete is a character who appears to have the most tolerance for Gregor shortly after his metamorphosis. Gregor was apparently rather fond of his sister and had hoped to finance her education in a conservatory. He was also rather mesmerized with her violin playing. His inability to follow through with these planned acts of kindness may have led to a faster deterioration of Grete’s maintenance of Gregor’s room. Although she could never get used to Gregor’s new freakish appearance, she was his sole provider throughout his life after the metamorphosis:

“It would not have surprised Gregor if she had not come in, as his

position … she actually jumped back and shut the door; a stranger

could easily have thought Gregor had been lying in wait for her

and meant to bite her.” (28)
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