By Nicholas Lénart
For the course Introduction to College English-Liberal Arts
Instructor: Liana Bellon
Another Approach to Serenity: An Analysis of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis
Much like the Romantics who idealized the act of deliberately withdrawing oneself from society, Kafka, in his novella entitled The Metamorphosis (1915), stresses the remedial benefits of alienation. Throughout the course of the novella, Gregor Samsa, a middle class traveling salesman, having ostensibly been transformed into a “gigantic insect” (Kafka 414), experiences the great tribulations of alienation and yet, despite this, finds great comfort in being shunned by his fellow beings. Through an analysis of plot, imagery, and symbolism, we will see that the alienation that Gregor experiences as a result of his transformation improves his life in a variety of ways.
By means of carefully orchestrated events, Kafka gives his reader the sense that Gregor’s alienating transformation is a beneficial one. For instance, at the very beginning of the novella, Gregor, being afflicted by a “faint dull ache he had never experienced before”, comes to realize that his job is both “exhausting” and “irritating” (414). The ache that Gregor feels as a result of his alienating transformation acts as the catalyst for his subsequent epiphany, which in turn provides Gregor with a sense of “hope” and with the desire to “cut himself completely loose” from the shackles of his monotonous life (415). Following his moment of realization, Gregor, in an attempt to get out of bed, “set[s] himself to rocking his whole body at once in a regular rhythm” (417). The act of “rocking to and fro” (417), facilitated by Gregor’s newly acquired “armour-hard back” (414), is reminiscent of parents who soothingly cradle their young, hoping to comfort them. By this act of rocking, Kafka implies that Gregor’s estrangement is both comforting and soothing. In describing the post-lapsarian Gregor as being calm (420) and as experiencing “physical comfort” (423), Kafka effectively lends weight to the idea that Gregor’s alienation betters his condition. Moreover, the fact that Gregor finds himself in such a “pitiful” and “helpless” state when he first awakens, reinforces the idea that Gregor was quite unwell before he experienced alienation (414). Furthermore, in providing Gregor with unprecedented mobility, Gregor’s alienating transformation helps him escape the confines of his bedroom by allowing him to suspend “himself from the ceiling” (431). The “blissful absorption” that Gregor feels as a result of his new found mobility once again reveals the sense of well-being that Gregor derives from his metamorphosis (431).
Kafka’s use of imagery does an equally fine job of highlighting the benefits of alienation. While staring out of his bedroom window, Gregor, thanks to the strengthening light outside, notices a hospital which prior to his alienating transformation, “he used to extrecate from being all too often before his eyes” (429). By bringing to light an image representing hope and health right after Gregor meets the negative reactions of his family for the first time, Kafka neatly illustrates the fact that alienation gives way to both healing and recovery. Kafka continues to give the reader the impression that good will come of Gregor’s alienating transformation through his repeated reference to rain drops. At the beginning of the novella, when Gregor first experiences his metamorphosis, Kafka includes the image of “rain drops beating on the window gutter” (414). As Gregor begins to experience the alienating effects of his transformation, Kafka describes the rain as “splashing drops” (421). In choosing to describe the rain drops as ‘splashing’ as opposed to ‘beating’, Kafka successfully renders less harsh the image of rain drops. The progressively softer image of rain suggests a bettering of Gregor’s situation. Moreover, by removing the image of the “window gutter” (421) entirely the second time he refernces rain, Kafka once again omits harsh imagery and in doing so incites his reader to think of Gregor’s alienating metamorphosis as positively improving Gregor’s condition.
Kafka’s skilful use of symbolism makes Gregor’s improving condition all the more evident. In the second part of Kafka’s absurdist novella, Gregor, now famished, finds himself drawn to the smell of food; however, much to his dissapointment, after having “dipped his…head straight into the milk”, Gregor finds himself repulsed by that which formerly “had been his favorite drink” (425). In rejecting milk, whose white colour represents innocence and purity, Gregor effectively rejects his former self, thereby proclaiming his preference for his present post-lapsarian state. Evidently then, Gregor finds that his alienating transformation is beneficial to him in one way or another. Likewise, Kafka’s references to “heavy rain[s]” and “spring” which are redolent of rebirth and rejuvenation, emphasize the positive aspects of Gregor’s alienating metamorphosis (439).
Clearly, Gregor’s alienation does indeed benefit Gregor in many ways. An analysis of the novella’s plot reveales that Gregor’s alienation sparks within him the realization that his life is in dire need of rethinking as well as an overall sense of well-being. An analysis of both imagery and symbolism alluding to recovery, comfort, and rebirth further exposes the alleviating nature of Gregor’s alienation. Perhaps the ultimate testament to the benefit of Gregor’s alienation is the “state of vacant and peaceful meditation” that he finds himself in before exhaling his last breath (444).
Kafka, Franz. “The Metamorphosis.” 1915. The Story and Its Writer. Ed. Ann Charters. Boston: Bedford, 1995. 414-447. Print.
1 n.b. While similar analyses are available in online sources such as www.barringtonhigh.org amongst others, this analysis is my own.