The Theme of Change in The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

The Theme of Change in The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is a novel with many levels of meaning. It can be difficult for comprehension for unprepared reader as it contains a lot of symbolism, hidden irony and metaphors. Different readers find different meaning in this story. Change is one of the main themes of The Metamorphosis. Changes occur to everything and everybody in the novel. Gregor, the main character changes mentally, physically and emotionally and attitude to him changes accordingly. The title of the novel “Metamorphosis” has a very close connection with the main theme explored by the author. Metamorphosis is another word for change and this theme becomes in the focus of Kafka’s attention. Metamorphoses in the novel occur on several levels. First of all there is a physical change, which occurs to Gregor. “When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.” (Kafka, 12) This transformation becomes only the first impulse, which causes a lot of changes in his internal and external world. After physical change, transformation passes to higher level and changes mental structures of Gregor. So caring to his family, he becomes surprisingly indifferent to their opinion. “It hardly surprised him that he was showing so little consideration for the others; once such consideration had been his greatest pride.” (Kafka, 24) In the beginning of story Gregor Samsa, the protagonist, appears as a young and energetic man. He has family and dear ones who seem to love him, good work and respect in the society. Metamorphosis turns him into insect and this event reveals real attitude to him. His family, so loving and caring, very soon becomes indifferent to a bug, which cannot earn money to support them. Gregor, who dedicated his life to his parents and sister was simply used by them. He cared about them and placed their interests behind his own ones. He worked in the job he didn’t like to earn money to support his family. For many times he wanted to quit his work but each time he said to himself, “Besides, I have to provide for my parents and my sister.”(Kafka, 84) Gregor’s, dissatisfaction with his job symbolizes his dissatisfaction with the place he occupies in the society and attitude of people they express towards him. Discontent with his job Gregor transmits to the entire society. Kafka was interested in the problem of social stratification and dedicated a lot of time to the study of social structrue. “Kafka’s lifetime his reputation was based just as much, if not more, on the reforms he helped to enact as a lawyer with the Workmen’s Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia, than it did with his importance as an author.” (Wasserman, 65) When Gregory didn’t let anyone into his room he thought that family was worried about his condition but in reality relatives were worried that Gregor would lose his job. After terrible changes Gregory couldn’t earn money and the life of his family has significantly deteriorated. “The house soon started to fall apart; the household was reduced more and more.” (Kafka, 115) Mr. and Mrs Samsa had to find jobs to earn some money. They had also to rent one of the rooms. Even Gregor’s sister had to think about earning money now. The roles changed and now Gregor not only ceased to be the provider of the family but has also became a burden for his parents and sister. Step by step real attitude to him was discovered. Gregor stayed days and nights locked in his room nobody bothered to clean and got poor food. All his good deeds were quickly forgotten and he was treated like nobody but brainless insect, which feels nothing and only bothers everybody around.
It seems that the attitude of relatives and colleagues to Gregor changes significantly after his metamorphosis. But it’s only illusion. In reality the attitude is not changed, it’s only uncovered by the transformation, which happens to him. Relatives, who seem to be caring, turn away from him as soon as he gets in trouble.
The theme of alienation is one of one of central themes of the novel. This theme was deeply explored by existentialists Kafka belonged to. Metamorphosis is nothing but a symbol. The author uses unreal subject only to attract people’s attention to the problem of alienation. In reality it’s not necessary to turn into insect in order to become an outcast rejected by the society. This happens every day to millions of people but we simply do not notice that until it happens to us. The beetle, Gregor has turned to, symbolizes everything rejected by the society. Kafka uses this change, which occurs to Gregor in order to show the measure opinion of the people depend on the social roles we play. This symbol is used to show how successful and energetic man can turn to social outcast during one night. Metamorphosis, which happened to Samsa couldn’t be expected or predicted and it’s a fate nobody can escape in the society based on the craving for profit and reciprocal use of each other. What is notable, alienation doesn’t start after Gregor is turned into insect. Metamorphosis only shapes out the problems, which have existed before. After close look we understand that each character of the story lives in the vacuum and it’s only codependence, which keeps them together and makes them communicate with each other. Easiness with which relatives forgot about Gregor shows their true feelings to him. Grete, his sister, who played little role in the family before the accident grows in the eyes of her parents as soon as they realize that they can get profit from her successful marriage.
Changes, which occur to Gregor only reflect his inner feelings, pain and fears. Kafka believed, that these feelings are presented in each of individuals, who have to live in the society (Smith, 1997).
Committing suicide Gregor does a last favor to his family. Feeling like a burden for his family he doesn’t believe that anybody needs him and chooses to stop such a miserable existence. Alienation from the society and other people is only a part of the problem. Kafka saw alienation of an individual from himself as the most serious problem. People loose their identity in the chase for money, popularity, and wish to correspond to the expectations of others. This chase can never make them happy and revival can make them suddenly realize the uselessness of their existence. That is exactly what happens to Gregor Samsa. Discontent with his life and false expectations from the people who surrounded him grew inside of him till the time they have reached their limit and finally destroyed him. “The Metamorphosis” can also be seen as a reaction against bourgeois society and its demands. Gregor’s manifest physical separation may represent his alienation and inarticulate yearnings. He had been a “vermin,” crushed and circumscribed by authority and routine. He had been imprisoned by social and economic demands: “Just don’t stay in bed being useless.” (Bloom, 98)
The Metamorphosis is one of greatest examples of the existentialist thought, which reflects the mood of the people in the beginning of the twentieth century. Full of symbolism, this novel shows difficult relations between an individual and the society and alienation, which slowly transforms the lives of people and make them beasts, detested by others.


Annotated Bibliography

Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis: Critical Interpretations Ed. Harold Bloom, Chelsea House, 1988
This book edited by Harold Bloom contains unique essays, which explore different meaning of Kafka’s best known masterpiece – Metamorphosis. Different authors, such as Stanely Corngold, Evelyn Torton Beck, Ronald Gray, Walter Sokel et al. give their visions of the Kafka’s immortal work. Essays are arranged in chronological order which reflects the order of their publication. It seems that there is nothing left behind the attention of literary critics. They give detailed analyses of the literary style used in Metamorphoses, and themes and images created by the author. Different essays center on different aspects of the novel and thus help the readers to uncover new layers of meaning in it.
Boa, Elizabeth. Kafka: Gender, Class and Race in the Letters and Fictions. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.
The problems of race, class and gender do not lose their actuality through the centuries. Elizabeth Boa gives a very interesting study of the way the problem of gender, race and class are depicted by Kafka. She analyzes his personal correspondence and literary works. Boa not only describes male and female images from Kafka’s writing. She studies them in the context of the ideological, political and social systems, which existed at the time when Kafka lived and created. The author uses innovative approaches, such as post-Freudian psychoanalyses and post structuralism, which give the readers new vision of the topic explored.
Wasserman, Martin, Changing Minds, Saving Lives: Franz Kafka as a Key Industrial Reformer. East European Quarterly, Vol. 35, 2001
Wasserman explores social credo of Franz Kafka. He depicts Kafka as social reformer and gives argument to support his active political position. The author centers on the part of Kafka’s life, little known by the admires of his literary talent. Wasserman sheds light to another part of Kafka’s life and describes his career as lawyer and reforms he helped to enact during his work. Social position of the great author and his political activity can provide a better understanding of his literary works.

Martin Greenberg, Don’t Draw the Bug! New Criterion, Vol. 21, October 2002
Understanding the author is impossible without knowing about his cultural, social and geographical background. Greenberg explores native town of the writer, and the way it influenced his works. He also gives a study of Kafka’s literary prophesy and the way it’s kept by his admires. He gives a description of the museums and exhibitions, dedicated to Franz Kafka and his immortal works.

Smith, Barry, Brentano and Kafka. Axiomathes, 8, 1997, 83–104.
The author gives a deep survey of psychological and philosophical basis of Kafka’s writings. Kafka was interested in psychology and used its principles in his works. He attended the courses of psychology at the Charles University and Anton Marty and Christian von Ehrenfels, the students and followers of Brentano, were among professors who taught Kafka. Barry Smith explores the idea from Brentano’s psychological credo used by Kafka in his works. He describes ideas and principles, adapted by Kafka from his psychological teaching. The author of the article sets up a thesis that stylistic devices, used by Kafka are partially determined by the ideas, borrowed from Brentano. The study of the connection between Kafka and Brentano can give a better understanding of the message, Kafka put in all his literary works. This article sheds light to the basis of the Kafka’s psychological credo.
Corngold, Stanley, The Commentator’s Despair: Interpretation of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Associated Faculty Press (1973)
Stanely Corngold presents his vision of the themes and ideas, put by Kafka in his powerful literary work Metamorphosis. The author proposes certain keys, which help to interpret the Metamorphosis correctly and get all the author’s messages. The author regards the novel as a metaphor and interprets it accordingly.
Kafka, Franz, The Complete Stories. Nahum N. Glatzer Ed. Pp. VII, 486, New York: Schoken Books, 1971