Thursday, April 3, 2014

Metamorphosis Reflection

In Kafka's Metamorphosis, the entire family is pretty awful. Even Grete. At the beginning, she could have been okay, but as the story goes on it is clear that she is just as bad as the mother and father. Towards the very end, she says, "'I don't want to call this monster my brother, all I can say is: we have to try and get rid of it. We've done all that's humanly possible to look after it and be patient, I don't think anyone could accuse us of doing anything wrong'" (Kafka Part III 27-28). Grete has begun calling her brother an "it". She clearly no longer regards him as anything but a bug. He has done nothing to deserve this. Yes, his life was turned upside down, impacting the lives of his family. But that is only the more reason to stand by him. His family does the opposite of that, because they are all terrible people. The father in particular is quite awful. When he first sees Gregor as a bug, he breaks down crying, but his second reaction is far worse than a few tears. "Nothing would stop Gregor's father as he drove him [Gregor] back, making hissing noises at him like a wild man" (Kafka Part I 10). Mr. Samsa, from the moment his son is transformed, ceases to view the giant bug as his son. From the moment the human-looking Gregor is gone, everything about Gregor is gone in the father's mind. This shows how awful and shallow the family is. Appearances are everything, and it never once crossed Mr. Samsa's mind that Gregor could still understand and was trapped in the bug's body. But the way Gregor's mother reacts is perhaps the saddest of all. She claims she wants to help him, but refuses to enter Gregor's room until he can no longer be seen. Once he is away, she tries to help make his living situation better, but only succeeds in making Gregor feel like he needs to conform to the demands of others like he did when he was human. And then as soon as she sees even the slightest hint of him, she freaks out. "Gregor's mother already looked uneasy in his room...she stepped to one side, saw the enormous brown patch against the flowers of the wallpaper, and before she even realised it was Gregor that she saw screamed: 'Oh God, oh God!' Arms outstretched, she fell onto the couch as if she had given up everything and stayed there immobile" (Kafka Part II 19). She reacts like this because she has hardly seen her son since he was changed, and she wants to believe that he is still somewhat human. But when she sees him behaving like a bug, she can't handle it. This is what distances her from Gregor for the rest of the story. This is the final straw that makes her believe that her son is no longer her son. It is so especially sad because the mother is the last one to stop believing that Gregor is human. Grete was only helping him out of duty. She saw what he looked like. When he didn't act like a person anymore, she believed he was gone. Mr. Samsa stopped believing Gregor had any humanity when he first saw him. But Gregor's mother only stopped believing when she had adequate evidence to prove that her son was gone. And she could barely take it. All in all, the family as a whole is still not a very good family. Sometimes they have their redeeming moments. But more often than not, they are all a bunch of pricks.

Another major theme throughout the story is Gregor's unwillingness to accept help from anybody and only ever do things himself, despite the fact that he believes he is worth next to nothing. When he is first turned into a bug, he still is ready to get up and go to work. He doesn't even care that he's now a giant bug, though he can't help but at least notice it. He even starts thinking to himself about how much he needs to leave. "'First of all though, I've got to get up, my train leaves at five'" (Kafka Part I 2). He's so used to being a figurative bug that being turned into a real bug doesn't faze him in the least. It probably should bother him at least a little bit, but not being human doesn't bug him until he sees other people's reaction to it. He is overly concerned with what other people think, but that doesn't mean that he wants their help. Gregor is incredibly self-deprecating. As a matter of fact, he is worried about the burden that he is imposing on his poor, selfish family. "...some of the time was spent in worries and vague hopes which, however, always led to the same conclusion: for the time being he must remain calm, he must show patience and the greatest consideration so that his family could bear the unpleasantness that he, in his present condition, was forced to impose on them" (Kafka Part II 12). His lack of own self-worth is symbolized by him being a bug. Now his outer self represents how he sees himself, and the rest of the world treats him the way he feels he deserves to be treated. He firmly believes that he is someone to be looked down upon, and now the rest of the world is doing just that. He must feel that he is nothing but a burden. If he did not, why would he worry for his family, the family that has done nothing to him but push him away and force him to make up for their shortcomings? And yet he still loves them. Even when he is dying, he still seems to wish that he could support them all as he once had. "Gregor hardly slept at all, either night or day. Sometimes he would think of taking over the family's affairs, just like before, the next time the door was opened" (Kafka Part III 23). He really just wants to help everyone. The question here is why does Gregor want to help everyone else so much when the idea of those same people helping him is so repulsive? Does he believe that he is better than them, that he is the only one capable of helping others? He's probably correct, if that was the case. But Kafka is saying that Gregor does not think of himself as good enough to deserve the help and is only capable of doing whatever he can. This is quite a sad thing to think about oneself, and yet if one was turned into a giant bug, it can be assumed that that is how they would feel. Being a bug has that effect. But based on what Kafka tells the reader about Gregor, he was incredibly self-deprecating and had low self-esteem even before he changed. And in this situation, the outer self finally represented the inner feelings.

**I used a slightly different translation so that I could copy and paste it into Google Docs, but I can transfer my annotations to the other translation if that would be better. When I started reading it I was unaware that I could have downloaded and used the translation on the class website, and I had already started annotating the other one, but it is not too difficult to switch now.**