Free Dehumanization In Kafka’s ‘the Metamorphosis’ Essay Example
Dehumanization in Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis’.
One of the key motifs of Franz Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis’ (1912) is dehumanization This is highlighted throughout Kafka’s text by constant references to humanity and its variable states, for instance Gregor’s bedroom is ‘a real room meant for human habitation’ (Kafka, 1996 p.11) which contrasts against his non-human ‘animal voice’ (Kafka, 1996, p.19). These distinct references to humanity and the deprivation of, as demonstrated by Gregor’s transformation, allow Kafka to deploy an extended metaphor across the whole text for the effects of capitalism on the individual.
Though Gregor’s transformation from human to insect occurs outwardly in the first line of the text, his inner transformation gradually takes place throughout. He initially has very normal “human” concerns about getting to work, which are followed by concerns about eating, and despite his new form he still exhibits very human emotions and thought processes, the ‘lovely dream’ (Kafka, 1996 p.29) of sending his sister to music school. In fact it is exterior influences that force him to embrace his animalistic traits and dehumanizes him. It is the neglect of his family that forces him to be hidden from sight and it is their final verdict that he must be ‘g[o]t rid of’ (Kafka, 1996 p.47) that causes him to will on his own death. Thus suggesting that the animality of Gregor, or his de-humanization is a reflection of other peoples’ perceptions onto him, which is also represented by his work.
Capitalism is seen as a de-humanizing force in ‘The Metamorphosis’, it is through the overbearing pressure of it that Gregor is unable to continue functioning. A colleague of Gregor’s is described as ‘a creature of the boss’s, spineless and stupid’ (Kafka, 1996 p.12), though not a description of Gregor it serves to show the effect of capitalism on the individual. Furthermore the colleague is only metaphorically a ‘creature’ whereas for Gregor it has become his reality, he has quite literally become ‘a creature of the boss’s’, he can no longer live on his own terms and the burden of being the sole financer of his family has become too much. His mother comments that his work absorbs him, ‘[t]he boy has no head for anything but the business’ (Kafka, 1996 p.16), but Gregor fantasizes at length about escaping (Kafka, 1996 p.12), it is somewhat of a cruel joke that he dies imprisoned in his ‘human’ abode.
The motif of dehumanization is also demonstrated by the use of space. Gregor’s ‘human’ bedroom becomes ‘transformed into a cave’ (Kafka, 1996 p.34). It initially features the elements of a human existence, familiar possessions such as a painting and his personal furniture. Yet he insists on locking the door to aid his own feeling of security, thus creating a clear barrier between his space and the rest of the apartment. The room reflects in a sense Gregor’s own altering mental state, separate from the rest of the family and gradually decaying. The walls become dirty, ‘he left behind traces of his sticky substance’ (Kafka, 1996 p.32), and he starts to lose attachment to his possessions, ‘he wished for his room to be emptied out  at the cost of simultaneously forgetting his human past’ (Kafka, 1996 p.34). Therefore intrinsically linking the decay of his room with the process of de-humanization which has arisen due to the impact of capitalism on his family. Capitalism has oppressed him to such an extent that his whole existence is dehumanized beyond recognition, even his room bears the signs of the decay implicit in this process.
The motif of dehumanization in ‘The Metamorphosis’ can be taken much further, the many descriptions of Gregor’s animal body and the attitudes of the lodgers would provide interesting exploration if pursued. But even at a glance it is possible to see how this notion of animality or dehumanization is a key concern of Kafka’s, especially in the ways it can embody the effects of capitalism and society.
Kafka, F. (1996). The Metamorphosis and Other Stories. (S. Appelbaum, Trans.) New York: Dover Publications. (Original work published 1915).