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The Limits of Sympathy in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis Essay

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Franz Kafka, an exceptional writer of the 20th century, is the creator of many controversial pieces of literature, which still cause a great deal of debate between scholars in this modern day and age. His collection of works feature many elaborate themes such as labyrinths of bureaucracy, physical and psychological brutality, parent-child conflict and mystical transformations. Yet it is his theme of the limits of sympathy in his 1915 novella, The Metamorphosis, which is arguably his best work. It is Kafka’s extensive use of symbolism that not only vividly illustrates this argument, but also allows readers to understand and appreciate the work as a whole. Kafka thus uses Gregorꞌs monstrous appearance, the removal of his furniture and the shifting attitudes of Grete to portray this critical idea: even sympathy between a given individual and their family has its restrictions.
The transformation of Gregorꞌs appearance into a "monstrous vermin" (Kafka, 3) is the first symbol readers register. Although Gregor remains impartial and unaffected by this radical change, his family immediately shows a struggle between feelings of sympathy and feelings of repulsion upon discovering his changed state. His own mother is said to have taken "took two steps toward” (Kafka, 14) as if to approach Gregor and begin providing the care so desperately needed in this situation. Yet, these two steps are as far as she goes before collapsing (Kafka, 14), since she cannot bring herself to move any closer to him. The physical separation between her and Gregor, caused by his grotesque looks is thus symbolic because it illustrates that the sacrificial love commonly associated between a mother and her child does not exist, as she was unwilling to travel any furthe...


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... because it would limit their own futures. And so, readers can easily interpret how the family is unwilling to sacrifice their own desires and plans in order to aid Gregor in his recover or adaption.
If the family has any occasion where they whole heartedly sacrifice themselves on Gregorꞌs behalf, it fails to appear in the novella. Kafka’s emphasis on symbolism, through his examples of Gregorꞌs hideous appearance, the elimination of his furniture and the shifting attitudes of Grete, adds many layers to the overall depth and meaning to the novella, the audience’s understanding and his principal theme of the limits of sympathy. It is through these means that Kafka successfully depicts how ones family bonds will develop limits, despite the unconditional love excepted by its members.




Works Cited

Kafka, Franz. The metamorphosis. New York: Bantam Books, 1972. Print.


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