The Dehumanizing Effect Of Alienation And The Restoration Of Self Identity In Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis

1700 words - 7 pages

In the novella “The Metamorphosis”, Franz Kafka focuses on the topic of alienation and considers its underlying effect on the human consciousness and self-identity. The alienation Kafka instigates is propagated towards the main character Gregor Samsa, who inevitably transforms into a giant cockroach. The alienation by family relations affects him to the extent that he prioritizes his extensive need to be the family’s provider before his own well-being. This overwhelming need to provide inevitably diminishes Gregor’s ability to be human-like. Kafka also enforces the idea of the ability to resurrect one’s self-identity following psychologically demanding events. In this essay, I utilize Gregor Samsa’s metamorphosis to address that alienation, in its various forms, is instrumental in the dehumanization process and can also oppositely induce a restoration of self-identity. The metamorphosis acts as a metaphor to express the inhumane change of state that occurs to a victim of alienation; it also formulates Gregor’s epiphany. He suffers through three forms of alienation: exploitation, violence, and neglect. The joint presence of these three external forces deprives him of a human distinctiveness, but in turn, influences a final realization that enforces the restoration of his self-identity, and therefore human identity.

Prior to his metamorphosis, Gregor already resembles a working cockroach, living an automated life under the conditions of exploitation, discouraging his own life for his family’s basic and materialistic needs. This is shown when Gregor’s mother makes her claim: “You know that boy has nothing but work in his head! It almost worries me that he never goes out on his evenings off” (Kafka 95). This establishes the idea of Gregor’s life being a constant cycle of labor; then again, Gregor hasn’t missed a work day “in the course of the past five years” (Kafka 89). Furthermore, it is also ironic that his mother is “sensible”, a Marxist characteristic of the capitalist class, that the family unit itself is indeed the root cause of Gregor’s lack of societal involvement (Sokel 216). Walter H. Sokel, using Marxist ideology, argues that work must not be merely dictated by the external need or commands of others (Sokel 216). Therefore, Gregor was bound for death when his role as a son and a brother was mistreated and instead, became the role of an exploited laborer in his own family dynamics. In addition, Gregor finds no enjoyment in his obligated occupation as “the travelling salesman isn’t held in the highest regard” (Kafka 101). He speaks of the idea that “if [he] didn’t have to exercise restrain for the sake of [his] parents, then [he] would have quit a long time ago” (Kafka 88). Thus, while enduring the loss of his hard-worked monetary possession, he also has to practice an occupation that gives him no satisfaction, an “externalization” of his “bodily being” (Sokel 217). Therefore, the subjugation of a person, like Gregor, to live an incessant...

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