The Metamorphosis By Franz Kafka

One life changing experience could mean a change in character or outlook on life. Any such change in character or insight can either be a positive or negative impact on habits, lifestyles, and decisions. Regardless of how one’s character develops, society will expect people to act and behave a certain way and that life changing experience can deflect one from meeting those societal expectations or push one into being compliant with them. In the novel, The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka, Gregor Samsa awakes one morning only to discover he has undergone a physical transformation into a bug and it affects the Samsa family. After realizing they can no longer rely on Gregor for financial support, the Samsa’s take on active roles and obtain jobs. On the other hand, The Metamorphosis affects Grete especially because she takes on the responsibility of caring for Gregor and finding ways to support the family financially. After finding work to help earn money, as well as having the duty of caring for her brother, Gregor, Grete shows how as a character she is developing and becoming more mature and by the end of the story, she is expected to meet society’s demands of her as a woman.

In the beginning of the story, Grete is a young, immature girl who hasn’t worked a day in her life, but now takes on the responsibility of caring for Gregor. Grete stops acting like a kid who according to Gregor, spends her time “wearing pretty clothes, sleeping late, helping around the house, enjoying a few modest amusements, and above all playing the violin” (Kafka 21). Before Gregor’s metamorphosis, much like Mr. and Mrs. Samsa, Grete did not do much in her spare time around the house, but maybe help clean a little. After Gregor’s transformation, Grete is forced to change her outlook on what she should be doing to help around the house and she takes the responsibility of caring for Gregor. Grete acknowledges her parents’ disgust of Gregor’s newfound appearance and how they find themselves being too remorsed by Gregor to help him through the transformation. Even the maid is so disgusted by Gregor, she asks to leave early and stay away from Gregor. Due to everyone’s unwillingness to care for and see Gregor, Grete takes on an active role of tending to Gregor’s needs by feeding him and keeping his room clean. When Grete begins to care for Gregor, it becomes the first sign of her metamorphosis of becoming a responsible young woman. Grete is afraid of Gregor’s appearance and what he is capable of now that he is a bug, but still, she sums up enough courage to be there for him. Grete tries to tend to Gregor as long as she can, but when she realizes she needs to start working her priorities begin to change.

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Grete begins to show her developing maturity after she obtains a job as a sales clerk and begins to focus on financially supporting the family. When Mr. and Mrs. Samsa feel that Grete is not doing enough to help around the house, Grete retains the mindset of remaining focused on working instead of only taking care of Gregor. After Grete obtains a job as a sales clerk, she feeds Gregor and cleans up after him less and less over time. Grete realizes there are bigger responsibilities to worry about; such as taking care of Mrs. Samsa, working, and accommodating the needs of the Boarders. Grete assumes these are the responsibilities she should concentrate on as a grown woman and an active member of the family. Grete eventually resents her role of caring for Gregor. Grete loses her love and concern for ‘Gregor-the-bug’ seeing how he does not do much to put the family at ease in their situation. Vexation toward Gregor only grew with the Boarders living in the house as the Samsa family then realize they must conceal him. Although, Gregor still cares for the family and lives in the hopes of maintaining a functioning relationship with them in the future. When Grete works to entertain the Boarders with her violin one evening and Gregor comes out of his room and scares the Boarders off, Grete feels she had her last straw with Gregor. Grete suggests to her father after the violin fiasco, “We must try to get rid of it. We’ve tried to look after it and to put up with it as far as is humanly possible, and I don’t think anyone could reproach us in the slightest” (Kafka 45). Grete feels that Gregor has messed up another good thing the family had going for them. Grete already felt that she and her parents were on their own with financial support, but after the violin incident, Grete realized she lost her brother a long time ago. Grete, now aggravated with the ‘pest’ living in her home, wants to take control of her life and her family’s situation by suggesting to her father that they get rid of Gregor once and for all. Through the initiative of Grete’s suggestion, Grete shows she is evolving into a strong, independent woman trying to take control of the situation and make the best out of her struggles, especially in the Gregor situation.

Towards the end of the story, Mrs. And Mr. Samsa acknowledge how Grete has grown into a beautiful young adult through the metamorphosis journey she endured with Gregor and they retain the expectation that as an adult and woman, she must begin looking for a husband. “Growing quieter and communicating almost unconsciously through glances, [Mr. and Mrs. Samsa] thought that it would soon be time, too, to find her a good husband. And it was like a confirmation of their new dreams and good intentions when at the end of the ride their daughter got up first and stretched her young body” (Kafka 58). Grete endures the struggle of having her brother, Gregor, turn into a bug of which affects the mentality and responsibilities of the entire family. The metamorphosis of Gregor into a vermin allows Grete to obtain responsibilities allowing her to prioritize what she needs to focus on and mature herself. As now a mature woman, Grete will be expected by those around her to follow societal expectations for women. Grete lives in a society where people believe in the concept of the woman staying at home to cook and clean, while the man of the house goes to work to bring in income. Mrs. and Mr. Samsa want to ease their financial issues through Grete. Their hopes lie in Grete finding a prosperous husband who can support her and help Mrs. and Mr. Samsa out with their financial issues.

By the end of the story, all it took was Gregor’s life-changing incident of becoming a bug to change Grete’s life. After finding work to help earn money, as well as having the duty of caring for her brother, Gregor, Grete shows how as a character she is developing and becoming more mature and by the end of the story, she is expected to meet society’s demands of her as a woman. It is clear after Gregor’s transformation into a bug, Grete transformed into a young responsible adult with her own responsibilities to handle. Grete tries to tend to Gregor as long as she can, but when she realizes she needs to start working her priorities begin to change as she begins to focus on financially supporting the family. After Grete has grown into a beautiful young adult, she is expected to follow societal expectations of her as a woman and an active member of her family. Throughout all Grete has endured, she maintains strength throughout her horrifying experience with Gregor which says a lot about her character. Grete’s role in Kafka’s story was significant because the society of Kafka’s time did not value or see the importance behind a woman’s role in society. Kafka emphasizes the importance of a woman’s role in specifically a family. Men are often perceived to be the breadwinners in the family; who are the main support system and backbone for everyone else who is the opposite sex. Although, by taking out the male breadwinner in the family (Which Kafka achieves by creating an extensive metaphor of turning Gregor into a bug), the readers will see how important a woman can be in supporting the family as well.

Gregor’s Metamorphosis

In Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” and Alice Walker’s, “The Color Purple,” we see that the family dynamics of the characters lack a sense of communication, due to an uneven balance of power. In walker’s novel Celie and Albert fail to share crucial life altering information with one another like the fact that Nettie is alive or that Celie is not attracted to men. Albert holds all the power in the relationship and Celie is just expected to do whatever he says. In Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” when Gregor morphs into a bug, at first, he does not know he has lost the power to communicate with his family. When he realizes they don’t understand him and he can no longer work, he loses the power he held in the family, to his father. This leads to his isolation and eventual death. Both authors depict a failure of communication in family dynamics which creates isolation, submissiveness, and a lack of confidence, but the characters ability to overcome that failure depends on their potential to find alternative forms of communication.

The Dominance Albert has over Celie is not entirely out of his need to feel superior. He is a victim of the cycle of tyranny, when Albert marries his first wife and assumes the role of patriarch, he acts out all the lessons his father taught him. He punishes the women in his life and neglects his children. By the time he marries Celie, Albert is truly a hateful, brutish, and lazy man. In this quote we see the way Albert fails to communicate with Celie and his children as a result of the preeminence he has over them; “He don’t say nothing. They try to get his tension, he hide hind a puff of smoke” (Walker 16). He expects her to do all the work around the house, care for his rude children, and gratify his sexual needs upon demand; to make himself feel more important and in control, he regularly beats her. Celie puts up with his cruelty for years because she believes shutting her mouth and doing as she’s told is the only way to survive. Facing the overwhelmingly powerful patriarchal culture, Celie unresistingly places herself under the domination and authority of men, as revealed in her way of naming men, her fear of men and of God.

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Throughout “The Color Purple,” Walker makes it clear that storytelling and communication are crucial to self-understanding. By this point in the novel, we have seen problems due to failed communication between Celie and Albert. Celie’s discovery of her true family history brings about a major change in her pattern of communication, as she develops surrogates for God and her parents, in the form of other women. After learning of her tragic background, Celie feels that she has lost some of her faith in God and closes what she intends to be her final letter to God by chiding, “You must be sleep” (Walker 177). Instead, Celie begins to write letters to Nettie. Likewise, though Celie is unable to locate her parents’ graves, to which she looks for closure, Shug tells Celie, “Us each other’s peoples now” (Walker 183). These strong, surrogate ties that Celie makes with other women allow her to create a new family in the face of the tragedies she has endured. Celie ceases to wait for the kingdom of heaven and begins to search for peace and happiness in her own life.

It is sad to think of how much fear Celie had when it came to communication. Whether it was how she was feeling, something that she wanted, or a question she had, she hardly every communicated it. The reason she is so afraid is because of the Power Albert has over her. He is so dominant and abusive that she knows she must not communicate with him and share her feelings if she wants to remain alive. However, she does freely communicate with God in her letters. It is heartbreaking to see that she does not hesitate in telling him how she is feeling or what she wants, so it isn’t as if she is confused about that. While communication with Albert would not have fixed everything for Celie, it may have made things somewhat easier for her, therefore it is upsetting to think about how she never put it out there, never let on to what she needed. Her life might have been so different had she started communicating early on, by talking about what her father or Albert was doing to her. She would have spoken the words aloud that she wrote in her letters to God. God is Celie’s salvation for most of the book, by communicating with God through letters, she is able to maintain a certain sanity because in this situation she has power because she is the master of what she writes down. But with Albert he is the one with power over her.

Celie writes her story disregarding tradition, structure and language, for herself, rather than to get her voice out to a society that had a history of ignoring the voice of women, the African Americans, and African Americans women. However, finding a listener and finding her voice are inextricably related as the exchange of the letters between the characters in the novel helped her bring out a stronger, dignified self. She was desperate to communicate with someone because she could not so with her husband and her lost sister so she chose God. The irony in this is that it was her father who told her “you better not ever tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy” (Walker 1). In addition to that she visualized God as being a man “anyhow I say, the God I been praying and writing to is a man” (Walker 192). Her only way of escape and communication was still part of the mail dominated society but it worked for her because in this case she was in control.

When Celie finally stands up for herself “you lowdown dog is what’s wrong, I say. It’s time to leave you and enter into the Creation. And your dead body just the welcome mat I need” (Walker 199). Albert cannot believe that Celie is actually leaving him. He cannot understand why she has not been happy, for the only system he has ever known is the patriarchal one that he follows. Now she has communicated with him and rejected this system he is forced to live by himself. Without a woman to serve him, he softens, learning to care for his children, work for a living, do his own housework, love other people, and appreciate the little things in life. When Celie returns to live in Georgia, he comes close to apologizing to her, saying that he did not know how to appreciate her when they were married. He tries to befriend her, helping her in her work and designing shirts to go with the pants that she makes and sells. Still, by the end of the novel, Albert is a gentle character whom Celie can forgive and communicate with because the balance of power is now equal. The moment she stands up for herself is the moment his respect for her begins to bloom, eventually leading to a relationship where they are equals and no one person dominates the other.

Understanding Gregor was something that his parents failed to do. Even before his metamorphosis, there was a communication problem within the family. After he transformed into a bug the lack of communication just got worse. They failed to realize that, even as a bug, Gregor was still there and that he could understand everything they had to say. He was now a nuisance to his family and especially his father who now reclaimed the power I the family because of Gregor’s condition. Many times, Gregor tried to show his loyalty, “but the more humbly he bent his head his father only stamped on the floor the more loudly” (Kafka 86). His sister, whom Gregor trusted most, even tried to convince his parents that Gregor is no longer with them. “My dear parents, she said, things can’t go on like this. I won’t utter my brothers name in the presence of this creature and so all I say is: we must try to get rid of it “(Kafka 124). The inability to communicate with his sister and parents was a major contributor to his downfall.

In “The Metamorphosis,” by Franz Kafka, Gregor’s evolution to an insect symbolizes the loss of thorough communication, representing the disconnection of the individual from his family and his surroundings. Through this metamorphosis, the family begins to remove itself from any past interactions with Gregor. In addition, the setting and surroundings of Gregor completely overcome him and persuade him to lose hope. The family and surroundings, not the change to an insect, lead Gregor towards death. Not only do the uncontrollable surroundings change Gregor, but so does the family. Gregor’s entrapment inside of the bedroom forces the realization of the isolation and alienation from society into his mind. Gregor’s life as an insect. “No plea of Gregor’s helped, no plea was even understood; however humbly he might turn his head, his father merely stamped his feet more forcefully […] he drove Gregor on, as if there were no obstacle […] his father gave him a hard shove, which was truly his salvation, and bleeding profusely, he flew far into his room” (Kafka 30). Again, Mr. Samsa’s behavior toward Gregor is brutal. Instead of trying to understand Gregor, he’s more intent on punishing him. Gregor cannot work anymore so he no longer holds the power in the family. It has now transferred back to his father who refuses to communicate with the creature his son has become. Once Gregor is unable to communicate, he becomes an observer of the world around him. His insect form symbolizes the emptiness, insignificant and an outcast, which he was at work and at home.

Communication is key to any family dynamic; without communication no one knows what is going on and people get isolated. In Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, the family’s communication, or lack thereof, is a big problem. Gregor’s metamorphosis into a world of complete isolation is seen through four stages of communication. Gregor understands what his family is saying when he first morphs into a bug and he assumes that his family can understand him as well. “Because the door was made of wood, the alteration in Gregor’s voice was probably not noticeable, since his mother was pacified by that explanation” (Kafka 13). Gregor has to explain why he didn’t go to work and since his mother never said anything about not being able to hear him, Gregor assumes that his voice has changed in only the slightest way. There are no telling factors to help Gregor come to the realization that his family can’t understand him. Gregor starts to become more isolated from his family because he thinks/assumes that they can understand him. Gregor finally realizes that his metamorphosis into a bug has changed his whole being, including his voice. “He now realizes that his speech was no longer intelligible, even though it had seemed clear enough to him, clearer than before, perhaps because his ears were getting used to it” (Kafka 19). Gregor wants to communicate with his family but he has lost the “only” way of communicating. His voice doesn’t register with his family and because of this slight problem, Gregor is even more isolated from his family. “In order to restore his voice to its maximum clarity for the imminent decisive discussions, he cleared it a little by coughing, but took care to do this in very muffled tones, since possibly even that noise might sound different from human coughing, and he no longer trusted himself to make the distinction” (Kafka 19). Gregor doesn’t want to be different and so he tries to muffle his coughing just in case it sounded funny. That is the first time that Gregor grasps the fact that he can’t even trust his own judgment anymore because he truthfully doesn’t know what he sounds like. Gregor’s lines of communication have been cut off from any other human beings. All is not an utter catastrophe now that Gregor is unable to work. With her new responsibilities, Grete has a new sense of self-sufficiency and independence that her parents appreciate. Gregor’s dismal projection about his family’s life without him is proven false; in fact, it hints that his evaluation of his importance to the family is overblown.

The stages in Gregor’s isolation directly correspond to his stage of communication. The less communication that Gregor has the more isolated he became. The real turning point in the story was when Gregor’s father threw the apple at him, after that there was no coming back. Both parties gave up and it was time for Gregor to die. The communication, verbal, makes it hard for both parties. Gregor and his father enter into a more negative nonverbal communication. The one-time Gregor leaves the room, the father takes Gregor’s actions to be menacing and proceeds to throw things at Gregor. “It was an apple; another flew at him immediately afterward; Gregor stood still in fright; to continue running was pointless, because his father had decided to bombard him” (Kafka 38). The non-verbal communication between Gregor and his sister and Gregor and his father are polar opposites. The sister took a more friendly, humane approach to dealing with the metamorphosis, whereas the father is freaked out, hungry to regain his power in the household, and can’t even deal with the tension anymore. This instance is when the reader first starts to see the family begin to give up on Gregor which is his fourth and final stage in his isolation and lack of communication.

In “The Color Purple” Celie’s ability to find alternative forms of communication is what helps her change her life for the better. She changes her perspective and stands up for herself to Albert, this is how she changes her own narrative as well. Despite her hardships she is able to live in a good sustainable community. Also, her sense of family does not necessarily have to do with blood. Celie finds out what she is good at but she does have to surrender her faith in order to get there. Celie has people supporting her, people with whom she can communicate. In “Metamorphosis” Gregor does not find an alternative form of communication for his life to get better because he doesn’t have the chance. His family is not helpful, even his dad is hiding a secret from him in regards to how much money he has like Celie did he is at rock bottom. His situation is a side effect of all he has had to endure. He does everything for his family as the breadwinner to fulfill his societal role he has a job but he hates it and even at work they treat him as an insect. Gregor does not have a support system, thus preventing him from even finding any other form of communication.

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