Gender Criticism of The Metamorphosis: a Feminist Approach

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Feminism is defined as advocating for women’s rights based on the equality of the sexes. The Metamorphosis, a novella written by Franz Kafka, tells the tale of a man named Gregor Samsa who wakes up one morning to find out that he has transformed into a vermin. Throughout the novel, Gregor suffers to gain trust and love from his family. They keep him in his bedroom and are disgusted with him, beginning to resent him for not gaining any income. Eventually, Gregor dies from starvation and his family leaves the home. The Metamorphosis is a great example of a novel that reinforces the idea of gender roles, feminism, and the oppression of women. Women are oppressed by patriarchy economically, politically, socially, and psychologically. Franz Kafka has received mixed responses and criticism from establishing gender roles in this novel, making it controversial.

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Since his transformation, Gregor Samsa is unable to take care of himself. He can no longer clean himself, cook for himself, or work. The only thing that Gregor is capable of doing at this point is to entertain himself by roaming every inch of his bedroom. According to certain gender roles during the time that Kafka wrote this novella, we can all assume that a woman’s main priority was to: prepare meals for the whole family, clean every nook and cranny of her home, and take care of her children and husband. Gregor’s sister, Grete Samsa was able to portray this perfectly. Women provide the nurturance that keeps men going. Kafka writes, “Now Gregor’s sister also had to help his mother with the cooking; although that was not so much bother as no-one ate very much.” This quote strengthens the idea of what gender roles are and how women belonged in the kitchen. The beginning of this novella portrays Grete as this sweet, vulnerable girl who helps her mother and the maid around the house. Not only that, but at the beginning, Kafka shows how much pain Grete was in seeing her brother being isolated from the family; so, she musters up the courage to care and nurture for him as a woman should.

Not only are the women portrayed as individuals who are obligated to nurture and take care of the men, but Franz Kafka also tends to characterize the women in this novel as weak, sensitive and fragile human beings. Gregor’s mother is often seen fainting at the sight of her horrendous son who is now a giant insect. Kafka writes, “His mother was not used to the sight of Gregor, he might have made her ill, so Gregor hurried backwards to the far end of the couch.” This implies that Gregor’s mother would often get sick and frightened if she were to see him, it also symbolizes how weak she is as a woman. Whenever Gregor would step outside the room, his mother and sister would be seen caressing one another, crying while his father was expected to scare Gregor away or even hurt him. Gregor’s father was automatically given this dominant role, and Kafka made it seem as he was the only character who could physically hurt Gregor and protect the two women. The novella makes the Samsa women seem like individuals who cannot keep themselves together and tend to fall apart easily.

Once Grete becomes stronger and shows her unrestrained side, Kafka shifts his innocent, caring image of her into a more malicious one. Grete slowly begins to turn her back on her brother. You can notice this when Gregor first describes Grete as this angelic woman who, “had become a little more used to everything” and fed him his favorite meals. As the novel progresses, Grete begins to fear Gregor. She begins to feed him rotten food, throwing it at him, showing her more aggressive side, illustrating how she grows as a female character. Gregor says, “It made him realize that she still found his appearance unbearable and would continue to do so, she probably even had to overcome the urge to flee when she saw the little bit of him that protruded from under the couch.” Finally, Gregor can see that his younger sister is no longer the caring girl he used to know. Now she is more independent and stronger, no longer wanting to see Gregor anymore.

Kafka creates the women in The Metamorphosis, so they can just be used as supporting roles to enhance the more powerful male roles and the protagonist. Gregor’s mother cannot even see him because Gregor’s father forbids her from seeing him. As a supporting female character, the mother unknowingly listens to him and assumes that everything he says is correct and good for her and the Samsa family. In most of Kafka’s works, men are the rightful owners of women, especially for their nurturing. This becomes crystal clear when Gregor’s health begins to decline. As he is dying, his wound begins to throb, and he can see that his mother and sister draw, “close to each other and sat cheek to cheek.” Another important thing is that after Gregor’s death, his father is extremely disturbed when he sees his mother and sister holding each other tightly. He comes in between their hug, refocusing the attention onto himself, joining them in the embrace. This shows how the women are never offered an important role, it is the men who are significant. The women are just there as extra characters to help the male characters. A woman does not exist for herself, and she cannot speak in her own name.

Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis continues to portray the male gender role by representing Gregor as the the breadwinner, who took care of everyone, he had a stable income and provided housing and food for his loved ones. He was the only one of the four famimly members who was capable of working and making money, that is why his parents and his sister were all so proud of him. The Samsa family’s life changes after Gregor’s transformation because they financially depended on him. Now that they are not getting a steady income through him, they take their frustration out on him and this can be seen as the play progresses. When Gregor transforms into a bug, he automatically is concerned about his inability to work and supported his family’s enriched lifestyle. He panics and frantically thinks about what he can do to solve this problem, but fails and ultimately lives as a vermin.

Besides being able to provide food and money to support his family, Gregor’s other concern is failing to send his sister off to music school so she can fulfill her dream, polish her musical talents, and become a successful musician. When Gregor can no longer fulfill his role as the man of the house and provide for his parents and sister, Grete comes to play and becomes the last hope for the Samsa family. When the Samsa family realizes that their son is no longer providing enough funds for them, they immediately turn to the lodgers. As soon as the lodgers arrive, the Samsa family begins to empty out Gregor’s room and replace all his items with the belongings of the lodgers. Then they begin to please and satisfy the lodgers by offering them delicious dinners and welcoming music played by Grete. Kafka writes, “Gregor’s father soon appeared with the music stand, his mother with the music and his sister with the violin.” This can also symbolize how they are now hoping that Grete will be the next breadwinner of the family even though she is a female, it is almost as if they are trying to sell her and her talent away to the three lodgers even though they do not appreciate her music as much as Gregor does.

As mentioned earlier, the men get the powerful roles in Franz Kafka’s novel. Men are naturally strong, reserved and rational human beings. Kafka’s heroes have all been spoken of in strictly male terms. The women in The Metamorphosis can hinder Gregor as the protagonist, but they can never play the big, important role of the novella. A woman does not struggle toward writing; she is what is written. The main focus of the novel is to see the protagonist male and how he is strong. Take for example, we all see that Gregor struggles as he is isolated from his family, but as we see him strive to survive and gain his family’s attention, we can see how strong and determined he is to be a part of the family again. Gregor’s father’s power is also shown whenever he orders the women to do something, and they listen to him. It shows how he as a powerful male character can manipulate the women and tell them what to do in order to make him feel and look better.

In conclusion, The Metamorphosis is a great example of a novel that reinforces the idea of gender roles, feminism, and the oppression of women. Franz Kafka’s amazing writing skills as an author gives us readers the ability see his visions and agree with everything he says, which can be quite dangerous. The male figures in The Metamorphosis, Gregor and his father seek and struggle to find their inner selves, but never do. For the men, there is no way out, but to struggle. The females in Kafka’s novella, Grete and her mother are placed in a far more powerless position, for they are not as worthy and important as the male characters, Gregor and his father. The Metamorphosis shows how a man can get whatever he wants and go against whoever he wants to, but a woman on the only can only support the man and almost remain silent. It is almost as if the women in this novella are entrapped in a power system. Therefore, The Metamorphosis written by Franz Kafka can be a novella that is analyzed and criticized through feminism lens because of the many underlying problems within gender roles. 

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