Monday, April 21, 2014


Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis includes many different ideas and concepts. Some may even say that it is very similar to the parable, with its moral lessons and theories. Modernism seems to be the biggest theme. There are many ways to interpret those pieces of Kafka's writing, however; David Foster Wallace suggests that humor may be the way to go. Kafka may seem quite depressing and gloomy, but Wallace says that therein lies the humor, because the reader is only proving Kafka's point that things are sad. That is a twisted, dark sense of humor, but can still be considered funny in a way. Modernism is all about moving forward and leaving the outdated ideals of society behind. What better way to show that than to have a miserable character that does nothing about his situation, despite the fact that he can see just how bad he has it? Now that's funny. Kafka's stories are also far ahead of his time, which is another important part of modernism. Thomas C. Foster uses things that are also very forward-thinking, like the idea that vampirism doesn't need to include literal vampires. And Kafka's ideas that Gregor's parents are simply sucking the resources out of Grete and Gregor were new, since in his day and age parents were meant to be doting and helpful. A slightly different perspective of modernism is that humans have the power to do and create, and that means looking at everything that exists in a new light. Which means reexamining the power of a simple meal. In The Metamorphosis there are many meals, all of which symbolize different things in the story. Gregor on the outside looking in is one of many of powerful representations of his loneliness. Thomas C. Foster explains the dynamics and strength that a meal provides. Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis is a dominant story that teaches lessons in modernism through a variety of methods, which are humor, vampirism, and communion.

Modernism, especially in writing, is often hard to find humorous. But David Foster Wallace is correct in thinking that humor may be one of the best ways to interpret modernism and Kafka, regardless of how difficult it is. The things he sees in Kafka are difficult to understand, but Kafka honestly does have some humorous bits, though. They're just really difficult to pick out. And when they are finally discovered...they're just not funny anymore. "The neurology of jokes can account for part of the problem in teaching Kafka. We all know that there is no quicker way to empty a joke of its peculiar magic than to try to 'explain it'" (Wallace 1). This is quite unfortunate, since to understand Kafka and see the modernism symbols it is necessary for humor to play a part. It's the little ironies that the reader has to see and relate to modernism or just to their own lives. Like when Gregor is trying to get out of bed. He doesn't even notice he's a bug because he already felt that way. "'O God,' he thought, 'what a demanding job I've chosen! Day in, day out, on the road'" (Kafka 1). He is so deprived by the work that he chose. In a way, he is the reason for his own misfortune. Gregor is quite modernist, because he feels so done with society's ideals and the lifestyle that it forces him to lead. But he does nothing about his problems, and that is where the humor comes in. It's funny that Gregor is willing to put himself through all of this nonsense in order for his family, the horrible people that do nothing for him, to live a happy life. Wallace puts it slightly better. "The claim is that Kafka's funniness depends on some kind of radical literalization of truths we tend to treat as metaphorical" (Wallace 2). But what he's saying is that Kafka's humor is all about the metaphors. Gregor was sad and lonely. His loneliness was a metaphor for how he wanted everything to change. And the way he did nothing about it showed that although he may have thought like a modernist, he was really nothing but a symbol of one. 

Symbols are really everything in Kafka's story. Gregor's parents, for example, are metaphorical vampires. They also represent how forward-thinking is a big part of modernism. Gregor's parents use a variety of tricks, usually guilt, to suck all the resources out of Gregor and are working on Grete when Gregor dies. " struck Mr. and Mrs. Samsa, almost at the same moment, as they looked at their daughter, who was getting more animated all the time, how she had blossomed recently...into a beautiful and voluptuous young woman" (Kafka 27). That is not only a super creepy way to describe their daughter but a disturbing metaphor. They see her young life and they want it. They know that if they can get more from her, they can get more out of society and their lives, simply by not caring about their daughter and taking all that they can from her. This is certainly creative and very modernist of them. Foster says of this, "So vampirism isn't about vampires? Oh, it is...but it's also about things other than literal vampirism: selfishness, exploitation, a refusal to respect the autonomy of other people..." (Foster 16). All of these things are what Gregor's parents did to him. They were selfish and used Gregor to further their desires. They are vampires that feed on youth and wealth, like ticks, growing fatter and draining their host. The parents are like parodies of real people. They pretend to care about something other than themselves, but they don't. Parodies are an important part of the theory of modernism as well. Foster sums it all up pretty well. "Using other people to get what we want. Destroying someone else's need to live in the face of our own overwhelming demands. Placing our desires, particularly our uglier ones, above the needs of others. That's pretty much what a vampire does, after all" (Foster 21). To a vampire, they just want to be better, and who cares if anything gets in their way. They are hardly real. Gregor's vampiric parents embody a host of modernist traits, like being parodies, and moving forwards to make their lives new and better, so much so that they aren't even people anymore. They are vampires, and ones that can change to be whatever they need to be. They never cared about Gregor or Grete, much as it may have seemed they did. They are simply modernist vampires.

In Kafka's writings, there are a few scenes that include meals. They may not seem important at first, but under a modernist light, everything must be reevaluated. And with the help of Thomas C. Foster, the symbolism of a simple meal means so much more. Foster talks about how sharing a meal is very important in the real world, and is as important, if not more, in any written piece. " the real world, breaking bread together is an act of sharing and peace, since if you're breaking bread you're not breaking heads" (Foster 8). In The Metamorphosis, there is not any breaking of heads. But in modernism, it is clear that perhaps some heads must be broken if they are standing in the way of progress. The family gets rid of Gregor, who is inhibiting their progress, by isolating him. Throughout the story, people spend less time with Gregor, leaving him lonelier than ever, and more time talking about him at meals. Gregor himself spends increasingly more time eating alone and listening to his family through the door when they are at mealtimes. "For two days at all meal times discussions on that subject [Gregor] could be heard on how people should now behave..." (Kafka 11). Another part of modernism is changing specific reactions towards things. The family does not know what to do now that their sole benefactor has been put out of use. So they must discuss how to proceed, how to deal with Gregor, and how to change their behavior for the sake of success. Everyone in this family has a modernist mindset - making progress, moving forward, having the greatest possible success. And they discuss these things at meals, making them less of a meal and more of a planning session. They're certainly not eating anyway. Foster says that a failed meal is as powerful a device as a comfortably happy meal. "What if we see two people having dinner, then, but one is plotting, or bringing about the demise of the other?" (Foster 11). This plotting is all that Gregor's family is really doing when he's not around. They don't think of him as a human anymore, now that his exterior has changed. That is modernist as well, thinking that Gregor has changed and now can't be brought back, that he must only be dealt with as best they can. And without modernism, the symbolism of all the mealtime planning and mealtime isolation could never have been brought to light.

The Metamorphosis is full of metaphors and symbols. Throughout everything, though, modernism is the common thread bringing everything together. With modernism, Kafka can be funny. Without modernism, there never would have been the vampiric parents with their modernist ideals  or the discovery of the deeper understanding of the simple meals. Though it was a difficult journey through Kafka's work, and a sad one at that, modernism helped make everything actually make some sort of sense. Modernism is what propelled the story forward on its most basic level, and in the higher levels of understanding it helped The Metamorphosis have a deeper, more profound meaning. Gregor Samsa isn't just some guy that got turned into a bug. He was the victim of modernist vampires, he was held prisoner by his own way of modernist thinking, and he was privy to some of the most modernist people ever holding conversations about him and about their situation and how to move forward in their modernist way. Gregor himself had to keep moving forward, and keep pushing himself harder, despute breaking himself in the process. Modernism. That's all there is to it.