Gregor Samsa Essay
Gregor Samsa’s metamorphosis is outwardly absurd and grotesque but inwardly meaningful and self-affirming. In this paper, I will argue that Gregor was better off being an insect rather than being human. This is so because in his insect form, Gregor was able to do two things.
Firstly, Gregor was able to transmute his human alienation into a subversive gesture against the very things which alienated him in the first place i.e. his family, his boss, his work. By this, Gregor’s condition was transformed from being tragic (in his human form he was a salesman who was overworked and underappreciated) into something comical (in his insect form he was literally ‘disqualified’ from working and his mere appearance alone invited massive attention from the people who used to ignore him). Secondly, Gregor was able to get in touch with himself. In his insect form, Gregor had a certain sense of self-equilibrium – a condition which was rather absent in his highly-mechanical human existence. Even if Gregor was consequently rendered unintelligible to the external world (his family) by being an insect, internally he was slowly but constantly coming to terms with his alienation.
By his transformation, Gregor was brought to a level of self-awareness which was concerned with validating experience subjectively and inwardly rather than mechanically and outwardly. Ultimately then, it was in the privacy of Gregor’s condition as an insect that inner peace and acceptance were forged, and despair and meaninglessness banished. Kafka illustrates the reaction Gregor’s condition induced from the people around him.
For instance, in the story it is said that “with Gregor’s very first words the chief clerk had already backed away and only stared at him with parted lips over one twitching shoulder…The suddenness with which he took his last step out would have made one believe he had burned the sole of his foot” (Kafka, 101). In this instance, a kind of reverse-violence was being committed albeit in unwitting scale and fashion. His boss, a rather demanding authority-figure, was subjected to an unbelievably off-beat encounter with Gregor, and his (the chief’s/boss’) flight merely shows how oppression and alienation (as represented by the boss) can be effectively offset by way of being directly confronted with radical absurdity (represented by Gregor’s condition). Gregor’s attempt to engage the chief in rational conversation results in a rather comical scenario. Consequently, the attempt to generate any significantly intelligible exchange with Gregor became problematic. By virtue of Gregor’s transformation, he was able to put his boss in a state of “shock” which proved to alienate him as much as he alienated Gregor in the past.
With respect to his family on the other hand, the shock value was often accompanied by an ironic combination of fear and concern – it was as if Gregor suddenly mattered for them all of a sudden but at the same time, his condition also forced them to maintain a safe distance from him. Elsewhere, Gregor also manages to regain a sort of balance within himself as an insect. So the story says that Gregor “experienced for the first time..
.a sense of physical comfort; his legs had firm ground under them; they were completely obedient, as he noted with joy; they even strove to carry him forward in whatever direction he chose” (Kafka, 103). My interpretation is that this instance signifies a certain kind of epiphany for Gregor. The crucial thing here is his establishment of self-awareness, specifically, existential self-awareness. In his insect form, Gregor was able to “embody” himself so much so that he was in complete control of how he actually wanted to experience things (his legs were completely obedient to his wishes). The kind of mobility this consequently procured for Gregor was something which was, in quality, better than the kind of “disembodied” mobility he had as a traveling salesman. This is so because before the metamorphosis, Gregor’s mobility was greatly desensitized by his routine, almost mechanical existence.
However in his insect form, Gregor was at least able to link his movements directly to his own wanting. In the process, Gregor was rendered more autonomous and his existing consequently became a substantive rather than a merely procedural undertaking. In the end, Gregor’s existence was validated rather than invalidated.
WORKS CITEDKafka, Franz. “The Metamorphosis”. The Complete Stories. New York: Schocken Books, 1971. 89-139. Kafka, Franz.
“The Metamorphosis”. Norton’s Anthology of World Literature. Ed. Sarah Lawall. 1996-2030