The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka offers much to be critiqued, including the reason why Gregor Samsa was transformed into a hideous beetle. The truth is Gregor had put himself into a position of demise long ago. Over the years, he had worked himself into both physical and mental exhaustion. Gregor was the sole provider, and eventually his family grew less appreciative of him. His relationship with his family had gone south. They were no longer as close, and it were as if he had become isolated. In Education for Tragedy, Walter H. Sokel elaborates on that point.
According to Sokel, the change from human to insect occurred due to the alienation he faced from his family. That alienation continued throughout the novella, eventually leading to Gregor’s death. Several times, Sokel refers to Gregor as being a “prisoner”. For example, he writes “Gregor, an adult, is a prisoner in his own family…. On the other hand, he is a total stranger in the family and lives in their midst in the state of exile” (Sokel 164). This quote can be interpreted as saying that Gregor is trapped in his own house, and stuck there with little hope as he is not close with the rest of the Samsas.
To further show his disconnect from his family, Sokel writes about Gregor’s decision to lock his door. He states “When Gregor wakes up as a vermin, his main problem, since he has locked the door of his room, is reaching the others out of his literal seclusion” (Sokel 164). For Sokel, Gregor locking his door shows that he is living in a different world from the rest of his family. Gregor did everything that he possibly could for his family, and they never really opened their arms for him.
They enjoyed the rewards Gregor brought them from his labor, but never showed gratitude to him. The metamorphosis of Gregor into an insect did not just highlight how insignificant he was to his family after the transformation, but also proved the insignificance he had to them before the transformation. It is very accurate that Gregor was alienated from the rest of his family. This alienation had occurred as a result of the oath that he took several years ago. He had promised himself that he would exert all of his energy toward getting his family out of debt.
Gregor was forced to do this single handedly. Gregor’s physical metamorphosis is a metaphor for the mental metamorphosis of a man alienated from his family. It is no coincidence that Kafka had transformed Gregor into an insect. The insect that he has transformed into is a symbol created by Kafka that shows what Gregor’s true identity had been all along. Many insects, such as ants and bees, have workers that provide for the rest of their group. Similarly, Gregor must provide for his family. He states that he felt his family was no longer capable of working.
His father “had not worked for the past five years and who in any case could not be expected to undertake too much”, his mother could not work for she suffered from asthma, and his sister for seventeen years “was still a child” whose life consisted of “wearing pretty clothes, sleeping late, helping in the house, enjoying a few modest amusements, and above all playing the violin” (Kafka 27). While all three members of his family are at home living their leisurely lives, Gregor is out in the working world. Clearly, there is a huge gap between these two worlds, and that is a factor in why Gregor feels so far apart from his family.
It did not help that his job made him miserable. When he wakes up in Chapter 1 as an insect, he is not overly concerned that he is no longer human- instead he worries that he will be late for work. While he prepares, he thinks about how much he hates his job. “Oh God, what a grueling job I’ve picked! Day in, day out- on the road. The upset of doing business is much worse than the actual business in the home office, and besides, I’ve got the torture of traveling, worrying about changing trains, eating miserable food at all hours, constantly seeing new faces, no relationships that last or get more intimate.
To the devil with it all” (Kafka 4). The working world that Gregor is stuck in is a miserable one where he finds no enjoyment. He is extremely lonely, and feels by himself. Unfortunately for him, those feelings remain unchanged when he does return home. Sokel’s essay also details the role reversal that had occurred between he and his father after his transformation. Sokel writes “through Gregor’s metamorphosis, the father becomes masterful again and reasserts himself as head of the family. Thus The Metamorphosis is the resurrection and rejuvenation of a father held to be senile.
The son, for his part, sinks into a dreadful state, which far exceeds the degradation of senility” (Sokel 165). It is true- Gregor had been transformed into the lowest of life forms. He was imprisoned in his room, and locked away from not just society, but his family as well. His father, meanwhile, became the main provider in the family, becoming a bank messenger. He was not the only one who changed for the better though- the rest of his family did as well. His mother knits clothes to be sold, and his sister has become a salesgirl. By the end of the novel, the Samsas have moved on from their old lives.
They take the trolley into the open country, and are prepared to look for a smaller and cheaper apartment, one that they could manage. They now all understand their capabilities, and are no longer the same Samsas who lingered at their home while Gregor attempted to keep the family afloat in terms of money. Gregor should not be forgotten though, as his change was the catalyst for his family’s transformation. Sokel writes, “Gregor’s metamorphosis is sacrifice” (Sokel 174). He was forced to give up his life in order for his family to find success on their own.
His transformation opened up his family’s eyes that they would not be able to survive living the way they did. Is it unfortunate, but their existence at the end of the novella can be attributed to one thing, and that is the demise of Gregor. Had he not been changed into an insect, his family would still linger and accomplish little to nothing at all. The story of Gregor Samsa in The Metamorphosis seems ridiculous and hard to comprehend at first, but the true message of the story becomes clear toward the end. Kafka wants the audience to see how cruel and uncaring society is.
Gregor gave up on his own life to work nonstop just to keep his family afloat, and they were never really appreciative of him. All he wanted was to see his family be able to prosper. In order for this to occur, Gregor had to be sacrificed. Perhaps it is not fair that he had to be turned into an insect and eventually die for his family to realize what was wrong with them. They exploited him to the point where he could offer them nothing else, and he eventually became a burden for them. Nonetheless, without including physical change, Gregor was the character that changed the least.
He still showed much care for his family despite the lack of care back, and even in his dying moments, he “thought back on his family with deep emotion and love”. Kafka wants the audience to see that Gregor was a martyr. His death occurred for the greater good of the family, and that is shown when they are ready to live their new lives.