Patriarchy in Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis

Patriarchy in Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis

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Patriarchy in The Metamorphosis

 

Patriarchy, that is, the supremacy of the father in a family and the reckoning of

descent and inheritance in the male line, plays a major part in family

life. However, the institution of patriarchy is not just limited to

European cultures. In this essay, we will examine the instances of

patriarchy in "The Metamorphosis" and compare it to instances in Japan.

 

      In the beginning of "The Metamorphosis," we can tell from the way

Gregor's family is organized that Gregor is the 'father figure,' in that

he is the primary breadwinner and the one who makes most of the decisions

for his family. On page 1781, we can see Gregor thinking that me would

"take charge of the family's affairs again," hence showing that before he

turned into a bug, he was the dominant person in the family. He is the only

person in the family who actually goes out to earn money. His father has

already retired, while his mother and sister, following the standards of

that time, do not go out and work. Gregor is the only one who goes out as

a traveling  salesman, and is responsible for earning money for the whole

family. His father stays at home and only "lies wearily buried in

bed"(1778) while Gregor goes out on business trips. From this, we can see

that Gregor has taken over his father's responsibilities as head of the

household. He is earning money and supporting the family while his father

has retired and only stays at home, doing nothing. This conforms with the

practice of patriarchy in that the son, Gregor in this case, inherits the

position and responsibilitles as head of this household from his father.

 

      In Japan, the son of a family is expected to take over the

responsibilities of taking care of his family when his father retires,

similar to how Gregor takes over in his family. The son is also expected

to look after his parents after they grow old and retire, similar to how

Gregor looks after his retired father and mother. If he does not look

after his parents, he is thought of as being 'unfilial' and seen as a bad

person. In contrast, daughters are expected to go out and find a good

husband and get married, similar to Grete at the end of "The

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Metamorphosis."

 

      Another aspect of patriarchy is the supremacy of the father in the

family, that is, the 'father figure' is the most dominant person in the

family. In "The Metamorphosis," we see this in Gregor when he mentions

casually that he had "declared inedible"(1769) a piece of cheese that Grete

brought in for him. Although this seems to be a minor point, but the fact

that special mention is given to this fact emphisizes Gregor's dominance in

his family, espically since there is no other reason for mentioning this.

That he had "declared" the cheese inedible makes it seem like there is no

question of his declaration, no matter what the rest of his family thinks.

 

      Another example of the dominance of the father is in part 3 of "The

Metamorphosis" where we can see Grete begging her father to get rid of

Gregor. Although she wants to get rid of him, she still has to convince and

beg her father to make the decision. Even though Grete is the one who

initiates the notion of getting rid of Gregor, she still has to get her

father's approval, hence showing that the father is the one who is supreme

and makes decisions in this household.

 

      Comparing the role of the father in these texts to that in an

Japanese society, we find similarities even to the modern Japanese family.

For example, in an average Japanese family, it is expected for the father

to go out and earn money for the household and become a "salariman" while

the mother stays at home and looks after their children. Also, generally,

whatever the father decides usually becomes law, just like how Gregor's

father's decision about Gregor and Orgon's decision for his daughter to

marry Tartuffe are final.

 

      Patriarchy is a major part of Western culture, and can be seen in

"The Metamorphosis." However, it is also a major part of Japanese culture

as well, and the way that patriarchy is practiced is similar to what is

illustrated in the texts we have read.

 
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