The Metamorphosis By Franz Kafka Essay

1727 words - 7 pages

In The Metamorphosis, Kafka establishes, through his religious imagery and gospel-esque episodic narration, the character of Gregor Samsa simultaneously as a kind of inverse Messianic figure and a god-like artist, relating the two and thus turning the conventional concept of the literary hero on its ear. The structure of the novel reflects that of the Gospel of Mark in that it is narrated in individual events, and in this it is something of a Künstlerroman - that is, the real metamorphosis is over the course of the novel, rather than just at the beginning, and that change is a heightened sensitivity to the world in an artistic sense. The motif of change is a rather theological one as well: ...view middle of the document...

Kafka reveals very little about Gregor's life prior to this incident: all we know of him is that he had been a traveling salesman who was constantly "busying himself with his fretsaw" and who "never (went) out in the evenings," instead spending his time "sitting . . . at the table quietly reading the paper or studying" (Kafka 12-13). This imagery of Samsa as a studious carpenter characterizes him as humble and, in this, somewhat unlikable to the toughest audiences. Even imagery as simplistic as this conjures the image of Gregor as a bookish, studious milquetoast. At the same time, the carpenter characterization connotes Christ, and thus immediately hints at Samsa's eventual heroism, even before anything significant has happened. So when the book's first "metamorphosis" occurs in the first sentence, Gregor's prior circumstances make him fertile ground in which a change in spirit can occur. Samsa even acknowledges the metaphysical change enacted in himself: when he tries to explain to his family and the head clerk why he cannot leave his room, his audience can "no longer (understand) his words, even though they (are) clear enough to him, clearer than before even" (15). It is as if he is in another dimension from them completely and therefore a sort of "immortal" at heart, before the knowledge is even imparted upon him in the form of his metamorphosis into an insect. Only as a "vermin" can Gregor, thoroughly isolated from the world, be truly human. In this alternative humanity Kafka incorporates James Joyce's assertion that an artist "remains ... invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails," "like a god" (Joyce 9). In other words, a prophet as lofty as the one that Kafka depicts Gregor to be must be completely detached, and only can that happen after a metamorphosis, as the "prophet" "abandon(s) his minds to obscure arts." In this loftiness sparked by a conversion experience, Gregor's metamorphosis resembles Christ's baptism, the moment in the Gospel of Mark when Christ is informed by a vision that he is the son of God as he sees the "heavens torn apart and a spirit descending like a dove on him" (New Revised Standard Version, Mk. 1.10). In other words, Christ has had the whole world opened to him for the purpose of leading men. Samsa's metamorphosis has a similar effect. Both conversions, at first glance, open their respective heroes to a world of opportunity.
But Gregor, unlike Christ, never gets to experience this new world. Soon after his conversion, Gregor descends into a sort of aloof melancholy, highlighted by the sparseness of his limited dialogue and interior monologue. The effect of this scarcity is to further characterize Gregor as the cool, emotionally strong and silent emotional archetype, a characterization which, juxtaposed ironically with his physical frailty, challenges the conventional characterization of the hero in the Western literary canon as a near-perfect but human born leader. In this way...

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