Question: Discuss the dehumanization in The Metamorphosis. Or, Gregor’s metamorphosis is a metaphor of his dehumanization – discuss.
The term ‘dehumanization’ is the process of depriving an individual or a group of positive human qualities. On the other hand, a metaphor emphasizes interrelation or similarity between two things that are not otherwise related. In Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”, we can trace universal metaphoric or allegorical dehumanization.
Kafka’s Metamorphosis covers a strange time in Gregor Samsa’s life. This gets started when he wakes up one morning to discover that he has become a giant insect. This understandably changes the dynamics in his family dramatically. In Metamorphosis, Kafka is interested in examining how Gregor has undergone such dramatic transformations over time, as well as how it affects his loved ones. Over time, as Gregor’s insect condition becomes more common for the family we can see Gregor slowly becoming more like an insect, and his family gradually commencing to look at him not as an individual but as an insect.
At the outset
Just after Gregor is transformed into an insect, he still tries to go through life as if it were a temporary push. Gregor, for example, tries to contact his family and his boss, who appears at the apartment to find out why Gregor missed his morning train. Gregor doesn’t realize that he can’t talk anymore until everyone comments that he is not understandable and that the voice from his room sounds like an animal. Gregor takes some time to face his new limitations.
The initial reaction of his family
Gregor’s family reacted exactly as we expected … with shock and horror! His father seems absolutely incapable of dealing with the situation, and his mother is overwhelmed with emotion and unable to communicate with Gregor in any way. Only Gregor’s sister, Grete, is able to overcome her fears and take care of her brother. Grete realizes that Gregor sees himself as somewhat different, even if he looks completely different. She tries to treat him with dignity.
Gregor adapts to his new reality
After a few days, Gregor gets bored of spending all the time alone in his house and he starts to rejoice with his new insect body just like himself. We can quote from the novel here:
”…it was hard to just lie quietly through the night, his food soon stopped giving him any pleasure at all, and so, to entertain himself, he got into the habit of crawling up and down the walls and ceiling. He was especially fond of hanging from the ceiling; it was quite different from lying on the floor.”
This behavior was unimaginable to Gregor just a day or two ago when he was mostly worried about how he could go back to his work. Though it would be too much to say that he has come to terms, with being an insect, at least at this point he seems to be feeling more comfortable in his new skin at this stage.
Emptying Gregor’s Room
Gregor’s sister observes that Gregor could not walk around the bedroom very well, so she and her mother decide to carry away his things inside to make the room spacious. Gregor; however, is not agreed with their plan; he has a lot of fond memories of his own belongings which is why he doesn’t want them to remove anything. In order to stop them from taking away the picture hanging on his wall, Gregor climbs onto it and covers it with his body. When Gregor’s sister and mother return to the room, his mother gets fainted!
Gregor’s father snaps
When Gregor’s father comes home, he learns that Gregor caused his wife to the unconscious. This is the point when he finally loses his temper and starts throwing fruit at Gregor. This comic brutal scene has been illustrated by the novelist in the following way:
”He had filled his pockets with fruit from the bowl on the sideboard and now, without even taking the time for careful aim, threw one apple after another… Another one, however, immediately following it, hit squarely and lodged in his back…”
The indictment of the family and society
Gregor’s dehumanization contributes to his death because family and society’s expectations put unbearable pressure on him, and he can do nothing but die. However, society is not the only source of Gregor’s dehumanization; more importantly, it comes from his own father and sister. Gregor, in his job as a salesman, feels trapped by his obligations to the family and to the Director. He is dehumanized by his lack of self-expression which is symbolized by his transformation into an insect. The pressure exerted on him builds until his family finally rejects him and he dies.
Finally, it is lucid that Kafka in his Metamorphosis like his “A Late Encounter with the Enemy” has used dehumanization to express the tension that exists in human beings between individualism and social obligation, and also the metaphoric prison inside of which we all exist.