Franz Kafka’s novella, The Metamorphosis is better described as “Kafkaesque”, which means wholly out of the ordinary or very absurd. The protagonist Gregor, in this novel, changes into monstrous vermin 'When Gregor Samsa woke up, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin' . All his family members including the father, mother, and sister make changes in their lives in an attempt to accommodate the human-sized object that Gregor transforms into. Kafka goes into great lengths to demonstrate how modern families secure time to interact with one another which helps in revealing their true nature. His transformation absurdly exaggerates his voice, shape, and senses to illustrate how his physical mutation into a vermin and inarticulate struggles represent his alienation from society. In this story, the author reveals the four isolation stages through contrasting characterizations, plot and symbolism of Gregor and his family.
The first symbol we encounter in this story is a picture hanging on the walls of Gregor's room. Kafka illustrates Gregor's surroundings in great detail, not forgetting a long description of a picture of a lady “sitting upright, dressed in a fur hat and fur boa”. The lady sits and envelops herself in the animal world which symbolizes that human is civilized. By portraying this lady in furs, the author is able to reveal the first stage of isolation which is “misunderstanding”. Notably, this term may have numerous meanings but for the case of this story, misunderstanding means having “insufficient understanding of Gregor's changes'. Gregor wishes that his family will calmly accept his transformation.
In reality, however, his family finds it hard to comprehend his situation and they avoid associating with him out of fear. His inability to interconnect with the family makes it hard for him to express any of his own personal feelings and thus leaving him to fail in living his own life. Gregor 'perceived things with less clarity, even those a short distance away: the hospital across the street was not visible anymore' . Like the lady in the picture covered in furs as she is isolated in the animal world, so is Gregor. Gregor fails to acknowledge the fact that his family is shutting him from their gaze and he considers himself as a human being. However, he is confused at his familial relations at this first stage of isolation.
The second stage of isolation according to our story is love denial from family members and the author illustrates this by using apples. The fear, confusion and the misunderstanding that Gregor’s family experiences result in a denial of love. Gregor’s father learns that Gregor has led to his mother’s fainting and this enrages him in that he takes apples and throws them to his son in anger, “fills his pockets from the bowl on the sideboard, and throws apple after apple” . Just like Adam and Eve were thrown out from the garden of Eden due to an issue that surrounded a forbidden fruit, and they were forever denied its splendor and riches, Gregor was in turn isolated from his dad’s care and love. It dawns on him that he is not wanted anymore by his family. He, however, does not want to stomach the fact that his family does not love him anymore after the transformations.
By using the plot of this story, Kafka is able to describe the following isolation stage known as “accepting the isolation”. Acceptance stage involves the victim decisively and consciously accepting that he or she is isolated and the victims make no effort to prove their sentiments wrong. The author regards this stage as the most vital stage of isolation as it opens the eyes of the isolator and the isolated. In the Metamorphosis story, Gregor’s sister, Grete realizes that she is required to do more and more work since her parents are growing old. According to her, that is a higher status in the family. That is how her eyes are opened. Gregor, the victim accepts his isolation when his sister removes almost everything in his room. She leaves only the picture of the lady in fur and a desk. This rearrangement now appears to Gregor as if the family has “abandoned all hope of his recovery and callously left him completely on his own”. At this juncture, Gregor realizes that his family is completely not interested in him again. It serves as an “eye-opener” as he realizes that he has been living without warmth and love of his family. He however accepts and realizes that it is isolation which he prefers. He “congratulate[s] himself on the precaution he picked up while traveling of locking the doors” so that he can enjoy his privacy. This is liberation to him as Gregor “finds himself crawling crisscross over the [empty] walls and ceiling” in joy.
The final stage of isolation is capitulation and, in the Metamorphosis, the author talks about this stage by contrasting characterizations of Gregor and his family members. This stage comes after the victim accepts fully his isolation status. This stage comes after total desperation. As Gregor losses hope and become weak, his family members in contrary become strong. We see Gregor’s family hiring an old woman to help in cleaning the house. She is old but very strong and full of life, “old widow who must have weathered the worst in her long life with the help of her sturdy bone structure [and] was not particularly disgusted by Gregor” (Kafka, 40). Gregor’s sister seems to become strong and more independent as he becomes weaker and wasted. She becomes the bread-winner and the leader of their family but still takes her brother as a beast but not a human. She “quickly shuts, bolts, and locks Gregor back in his room” (Kafka, 48). She tells her parents that they should have to “try to stop thinking that this is Gregor' (Kafka, 47). Grete uses her influence to convince her parents that Gregor is not human.
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka may appear out of the ordinary to the reader but it reveals the real implications of the changes that happened to Gregor. Those changes made Gregor different from his family members and they, in turn, start isolating him and above we have discussed the four stages of isolation as Kafka describes them. He describes them using literal devices such as characterizations, plot, and symbolism. By using the picture of the lady covered with animal fur, the author outlines the first stage of isolation which is a misunderstanding. The apples are used to discuss isolation and the plot is employed to illustrate the last stage which is acceptance. The Metamorphosis is truly Kafkaesque in its creative writing and exploration of implications of changes which leads to isolation.
- Kafka, Franz. Metamorphosis and Other Stories. Trans. Willa and Edwin Muir London: Penguin Books (1947),