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Gregor Samsa’s Alienation
“At the office I fulfill my obligations outwardly, but not my inner ones, and every unfulfilled inner obligation turns into a misfortune which does not find its way out of me”. Kafka explores his personal battle between doing what he must to survive in the world and doing what he must for himself. With pressure from his family, he spends his time in the office at work earning a living, but his heart still draws him to what he enjoys doing for himself, which is writing. Kafka’s personal experience in working for the self or for the economy is drawn throughout Gregor Samsa’s life in The Metamorphosis. Gregor is faced with working an unpleasant job that leaves no time for him. The pressure of time and intense monetary ambition of the economy-driven world drives Gregor to feel alienated from himself, as well as his family, through his commitment to providing for them.
Gregor’s removal from humanity transcends from his private dynamic into the public realm by impacting his experience and life of social interaction. Having awakened as a bug, Gregor looks about his room and recognizes it to be the same. “Above the table…hung the picture which he had recently cut out of an illustrated magazine and put into a pretty gilt frame. It showed a lady, with a fur cap on and fur stole, sitting upright and holding out to the spectator a huge fur muff into which the whole of her forearm had vanished!” (428). As a means of creating a social balance in his world, the woman acts as a companion in Gregor’s alienation from the public realm. This void in his life is the result of the immense amount of hard work he undertakes. He must remain devoted to his job to ensure the security of his family. Gregor places this unknown woman in a golden frame, symbolizing how he desires the loving intimate relationship that time does not permit him. This view of Gregor’s on the symbolism of what gold epitomizes clashes with his family’s perception. They see gold purely for its monetary value, a perspective from the economically-driven outlook, where value is determined by financial asset instead of one’s essence and core.
The appearance of the woman is also of great significance and meaning. In the image, the woman is elegantly draped in fur apparel. Literally, it is the material of her clothing, but it figuratively represents an animal. Gregor can emotionally relate to this underlying symbolism because he is given the same treatment and respect from his family that is given to an animal, due to his metamorphosis, which has placed him into a similar state. The missing portion of the woman’s arm is also noted, illustrating something missing in Gregor’s life, reflecting his relationship with his family. They no longer consider him to be of importance since his ability to support them financially vanished, comparable to the woman’s arm in the picture.
At all times in his day, Gregor is focused on his work and family duties. Lying in bed the morning of his metamorphosis Gregor is shocked to see how late it is and a sense of determination overcomes him. “â€˜Before it strikes a quarter past seven I must be quite out of this bed, without fail’... His biggest worry was the loud crash he would not be able to help making, which would probably cause anxiety, if not terror, behind all the doors. Still he must take the risk” (431). Gregor’s tone is calm, but resolute. His altruism engulfs him and his first goal for the morning is to get out of bed so he can make his way to work. Despite his transformation into a bug, Gregor is still focused on what he must do for his family. Falling to the ground to get out of bed is physical pain for Gregor, but remaining in bed and not attending to his job would be mentally painful because in doing so he would be unable to provide for his family. Gregor’s risk follows Machiavelli’s “the end justifies the means”. He will even risk terror to his family if in the end he makes it to his place of employment, which is his means of giving his family the security they need. Although the means is not as important as the end, Gregor still worries about the consequences. He fears that his loud crash will produce anxiety and alarm, but when he falls, the sound is not recognized by his family and noticed by the chief clerk as a simple “thump” (432). Gregor erroneously perceives his value to be greater to his family than it’s worth.
Time is another one of the pressures that Gregor must deal with everyday. The expression “time is money” summarizes the value that time holds in the economy-driven world. Because there is a limited amount of time available and so much to accomplish, any wasted time results in the loss of an opportunity to earn. The value that time holds comes from the drive for capital that the economy driven world dictates. Gregor understands this and sets his life accordingly, working as much as possible. Even as a bug, he insists on being out of the bed before “quarter past seven” so he can get to work. But as time goes on and Gregor adjusts to life without work, the value of time becomes increasingly unimportant as he is freed from the weight time holds.
Gregor is drawn towards alienation from both himself and his family through his efforts that he devotes to them. His aspiration is to aid his family to move on from the catastrophe of his father’s failed business. His approach is to generate income that will fund his family’s needs, even at the cost of a horrid job. “Gregor’s sole desire was to do his utmost to help the family … the money was gratefully accepted and gladly given, but there was not special uprush of warm feeling” (441-442). Empathy, concern, and care for his family are the components in the ambition that drives Gregor’s motivation to work an unpleasant job in order to earn an income large enough to support and sustain his family’s desires. Gregor is filled with a sense of pride and joy, but the warm feelings put forth are never reciprocated. Gregor provides for his family in a loving and warm manner, through the gift of labor, that exemplifies his caring ways. In contrast, the environment Gregor is provided with is very cold and hostile. As humans are hostile to bugs in extermination, his family treats him as they would the creature he embodies.
Gregor’s family’s selfish behavior is the direct product of the economy driven society they embrace , a dissimilarity compared to Gregor’s loving nature. This behavior contributes to the alienation Gregor experiences with his family. Gregor, unlike the other Samsas, has not been overwhelmed by the economy-driven world. While having a different perspective, he desires for his family to move out of despair. Paying off his parent’s old debts is one effort Gregor puts forth, but while working for his parent’s past in an occupation he loathes, he is impeded from moving on with his future, engendering an alienation from himself. His only desire is to help his family, which makes him solely focused on attaining sufficient revenue. In this narrow concentration, he loses perspective of all other elements in the world, fostering his self-alienation.
The core of the father-son relationship between Gregor and Mr. Samsa illustrates the alienation that Gregor experiences with his family. Reacting from the horrid sight of the creature that has appeared to be his own son, Gregor’s father uses his might to rid his family of the spectacle. “…when from behind his father gave him a strong push which was literally a deliverance and he flew far into the room…[t]he door was slammed behind him with the stick, and then at last there was silence” (438). The force slamming the door shut is the hand of Gregor’s father, his own kin. In closing the door on Gregor, the father incarcerates his son in the silence that becomes Gregor’s prison. Throughout his life Gregor has always been imprisoned and when he finds himself within the walls of his solitary confinement, he has been set free from the pressures that had entrapped him -- time, work, and family demands, all creations of post-industrial society. His family perceives Gregor to be the sole provider and a financial machine, blinding them from seeing Gregor as a person with heart and soul. Gregor is literally trapped in his own prison, accompanied only by the discomfort of silence, the sound of isolation and alienation.
Gregor is thrust into confinement by his father with the use of a stick, a symbol of discipline and punishment used on animals. Yet, Gregor is the only member to engage in an occupation to contribute to the family’s financial situation and for this should be rewarded, not chastised. He financially burdens himself with the unnecessary expenses his family generates. This is due to the elevated standards of living and desires for comfort in a materialistic lifestyle that they insist upon. This encounter between the father and his son is dehumanizing to Gregor because his father associates him on a level with animals, creatures that rank below humans on the food chain. However, Gregor proves to be far more human among his family by his altruistic behavior.
Through Gregor’s metamorphosis, his feelings and consideration for others change and he begins to put his own desires and needs before others. Drawn to his sister’s music, Gregor makes his way out of his room to be closer to her. “He felt hardly any surprise at his growing lack of consideration for the others; there had been a time when he prided himself on being considerate. And yet just on this occasion he had more reason than ever to hide himself, since owing to the amount of dust that lay thick in his room and rose into the air at the slightest movement, he too was covered with dust…And in spite of his condition, no shame deterred him from advancing a little over the spotless floor of the living room” (454). Gregor has always taken pride for what he has been able to do for his family. Through his ordeal he has been aware of his family’s repulsion to his own appearance (which in fact is repulsion to his inability to make money) and respects their wish not to look at him. Covered with dust, making his appearance more ghastly than ever, Gregor is a sight not to be seen, but despite his appearance he violates the unspoken family rule and enters into the living room. All alone in his room, Gregor’s alienation becomes more of a reality when he sees himself covered in dust.
The accumulation of dust is inevitable unless one takes time to clean it. Gregor’s family does not give him any care and are more concerned with themselves and their home. While their house is spotless, their son is filthy. Within the same household there is an apparent dichotomy between Gregor and his family that is represented by the spotless portion of the house and Gregor’s room of dust. This separation and contrast defines the bond between Gregor and his family. Within the Samsa household, Gregor is in one world, covered in dust, and his family in another, immaculately clean, yet only inches away. His family has lost sight of the appreciation of family, a blindness directly caused from living and participating in a society driven by greed
Gregor’s metamorphosis and transition reflects the psychological dying process. The first stage is isolation. He is isolated by his family, himself, and his work by the pressures that society places upon his shoulders, especially within his family. The second stage in the progression is anger. Gregor’s metamorphosis is his transformation into a bug, but it also represents his growing awareness of his isolation. Out of this understanding comes rage. Gregor’s wrath is exposed when he becomes infuriated at the way his family neglects him. In addition to anger, despair also comes out of his realization and he transitions into the phase of depression. Watching his family give more consideration to others, such as the lodgers, while he is given no care at all brings about a sorrow that engulfs him. And at last, the final stage is acceptance, which comes for Gregor at the final point in his life. He comes to a full recognition of his isolation with a sense of peace at the moments of his last breath. Gregor’s death symbolizes his acceptance of life and his willingness to move on and let his family do the same. His death gives him the ultimate freedom from all of the pressures and alienation that had entrapped him for so long.