I hate the summer. The heat, the sweat, the smells, and especially the bugs. You know what I’m talking about; you’re sitting around a bonfire with your friends, but you can’t enjoy it because of all the bugs flying around your face, biting at your ankles or crawling down your shirt. It honestly sucks, and it’s such an inconvenience when you’re trying to live your life and have fun. Though, what if, you knew one of those bugs personally? Perhaps, as personally as your brother? It’s quite a strange thought, am I right? Well, Franz Kafka actually tackles this what-if in his short story called Metamorphosis.
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The story begins with traveling salesman and breadwinning, Gregor Samsa, waking up in bed to find that he has turned into a huge bug. After realizing he can’t hide it, his boss discovers him right before his family does. Instead of contacting authorities or seeking help like a mentally healthy family would, Gregor’s family dismisses him and doesn’t even speak to him. Initially, his sister Grete brings him scraps to eat, but eventually passes the job onto the cleaning lady. Though Gregor ultimately learns to accept his new body, his family can’t seem to accept him. His father starts to take Gregor’s place as head of the house, before the family is put into a severe financial situation. Along with his newfound manhood, Gregor’s father asserts himself by hitting Gregor, keeping Gregor’s mother from him, and throwing an apple into his shell, severely injuring him. On top of the abuse, after some time Gregor hears his sister say that they would be better without him, so he does what he thinks would be best for his family. The story ends with Gregor ending his life, and his family moving and talking about marrying Grete off. I believe that Gregor wouldn’t have killed himself if it wasn’t for his father, and that his family could have helped or prevented his death.
I will begin with Grete, because though I believe she pulled the final straw before Gregor decided to kill himself, I don’t believe she is at much fault as their father. After Gregor first metamorphizes, Grete begins to bring him dinner and milk. After realizing Gregor doesn’t like regular food anymore and would prefer to have scraps, she brings them to him and talks at him. In the beginning Grete didn’t want to cut her brother off, but the influence from her parents drove her to the point that she believed the family would be better off without him.
One reason I firmly believe that Gregor’s suicide could be blamed on his father is because he never even tried to help him. Shortly after learning about what Gregor has transformed into, instead of looking for help, he physically forced him back into his room. Gregor initially frightens his mother, and in response his father beings to threaten and chase him with a cane and rolled newspaper to his bedroom door, where he then has troubles fitting through it. Instead of helping Gregor, his father shoves him so hard he’s bleeding, and then “the door was banged to with the stick, and at last there was silence” (Kafka, 1404). As stated before, Gregor was the breadwinner, meaning that he was the man of the house. I believe that his father was disappointed in his son for failing the family, and he just wanted to shove him aside and forget that this had happened. I think that his father shoving him in isolation is a good metaphor for trying to forget about crappy things that happen, or just not dealing with them at all. The blood that is coming from Gregor can also represent the consequences of putting shitty things aside. Not only is this repulsive, this is such a cruel way to treat your child, regardless of whether or not he has turned into a giant bug overnight. I wish I could say this is the only example, but sadly for poor Gregor, there’s plenty more.
Gregor’s father seems to have a masculinity that he depends on, and he can’t have damaged. The reason I say this is because we’ve all met guys who have strong egos, and can’t have those egos hurt or it means they are, “less of a man”. This is the type of person I think of when I read about Gregor’s father. Example one of this would be when he keeps Gregor’s mother and sister from seeing Gregor, even though they want to. He is trying to take back control of his house, and he doesn’t want Gregor to get in the way of that or slowing him down. Another great example would have to be at the end of the story, when Gregor’s life starts to come to an end. Gregor’s father chased him down, and started to throw apples at him, until one became lodged up inside of him, nearly making him paralyzed. His family didn’t care, and his father seemed to be amused by Gregor’s pain and immobilization. I feel like as Gregor became more weak and disliked, the family loved and depended on the father more, which he soaked up like water.
In conclusion, I believe that Gregor Samsa didn’t deserve to die, and he definitely didn’t deserve all the terrible things that he had to go through. His family could have stopped his fate, but instead they encouraged and participated in it. I believe what Franz Kafka was trying to get us to understand in this story is that everyone has feelings, and everyone wants to be treated nicely. I believe he wanted us to walk away with the thought of to not judge a book by its cover, and to think before we act.