Loneliness and Alienation in Metamorphosis
Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis is a story that revolves around a lonely and isolated individual Gregor Samsa, who is a traveling salesman, stuck in a boring job, one day he wakes up to find out that he has transformed into a verminous bug which escalates his emotions of alienation and loneliness. Loneliness and alienation are rampant themes in metamorphosis, Franz Kafka through the character of Gregor highlights the alienation that modern man feels. Loneliness and alienation are tied to feeling misunderstood and stifled, a person feels that he does not belong to the place he is in. Franz Kafka in this short story shows how society as a whole contributes to isolating and alienating an individual.
The protagonist of the play is stuck in a job that has limited his interaction with people as his job involves traveling “day in and day out”. The few relations he had were meaningless and fleeting, “Temporary and constantly changing human relationships which never come from the heart”. These lines reveal that although the protagonist was in multiple relations in the past, he did not feel connected to anyone as he felt no one cared for him and understood him, everything was superficial, due to these meaningless relations the protagonist has built a wall of isolation around him, he stays locked in his room at home and hardly communicates with anyone. The picture of the woman in his room symbolizes his desire for a romantic relationship but his tiresome job and his inability to communicate hampers him. The author believes that the society has a substantial role in alienating and quarantining an individual, this has been depicted through the alienation felt by Gregor, the protagonist feels stifled as if he cannot communicate with anyone because no one wants to hear him out, his boss just yells out orders and his family is just concerned with the benefits he provides, the protagonist says “How weird it is to sit up at the desk and talk down to the employee from way up there”, this line sheds light on the destructive attitude of employers who keep so much distance between themselves and their employees that the workers cannot communicate their reservations and grievances to the employer, this alienates the workers at their place of work. Gregor felt no one was there to care for him and help him, it was only his duty to care for others. Rejection and isolation from peers and family made him believe that no one really is there to help him out. People pass by him as if nothing is wrong with him. When Gregor transforms into a bug, instead of feeling utterly horrified, he feels excited at the prospect of diverting everyone’s attention towards himself “At least people now thought that things were not alright with him and were prepared to help him”, the protagonist feels that since now he is showing an anomaly in his appearance so people will try to help him instead of just ignoring him like they used to, this sheds light on society’s attitude towards people with chronic mental ailments, since people suffering from loneliness and alienation do not show any kind of physical change so people do not pay attention to them which creates situations which make people commit suicide. The author through this asserts that people should look after their fellows, who might not show any change in their appearance like Gregor but are in psychological turmoil beneath the happy exterior.
The instance of dehumanization in which the author transforms the protagonist into a bug puts emphasis on the alienation felt by many people in the society when their loved ones shun them. Gregor thought that now as he has transformed into a bug people would give him due attention but that does not happen instead his family isolates him, his own mother is repulsed by him, his father picks up a staff to “drive Gregor back into his room”. Gregor's sister Grete, who was genuinely concerned for him throughout the story undergoes a change to such a degree that at the end of the novella, she declared “we must get rid of him”. This change in the attitude of Grete shows that individuals of society cease to sympathize with the isolated group once it becomes inconvenient for them. Gregor’s mother has conflicting desires throughout the novel, she does not want to abandon her son, “she begged him to spare Gregor’s life”, but she is also repulsed by the sight of his son. The situation of Gregor’s mother symbolizes the idealists in a society who support the alienated people only theoretically but in reality, they fail to support the alienated due to societal pressure. The story highlights the fact that a man is inherently alone in the universe, in time of need even your loved ones will alienate you just like Gregor was alienated by his family. The story talks about both mental and social alienation, before the transformation into a bug, Gregor felt mentally isolated and alienated, the pressure of taking care of his family and paying the debt back was so much that he hardly had time to communicate his feelings to anyone, as Gregor’s mother says “the young man has nothing except business on his mind, he never goes out”, the social isolation before the transformation is self-imposed but the alienation after the transformation is forced on the protagonist. As soon as Gregor stops being useful to the family, his family shuns him and becomes self-sufficient, this conveys that in modern times all human relations are need-based rather than love-based. The death scene of Gregor is highly symbolic, as it points that individuals who are made to feel alienated in the society, gradually lose the will to continue living since they feel they are not welcomed in the society they live. Gregor Gradually realizes that he does not like things that humans like rather he loves hiding in dark, under the sofa like a bug, he is repulsed by human food and his family is repulsed by him. The protagonist still tries to hold onto the last remains of his humanity by clinging to the frame of the woman in the fur “to protect it from being removed”, he still craves attachment but is estranged by his family from human society. The isolation of the protagonist reaches its peak when he decides that he can no longer be a part of his family so he decides to starve himself to death.
Metamorphosis provides an up-close picture of the bitter reality if society, the incessant feelings of being isolated and alienated drives people to the edge of committing suicide and the apathetic attitude of society pushes them over the edge. Kafka has sketched an authentic picture of the reality of human relations, each person in a family lives an isolated life, he is needed for the benefits he provides the family. Gregor is a true representation of people who feel that they are misunderstood by the people who are supposed to love them the most, they feel alone even when they are surrounded by people. The message the story puts forward is that people suffering from alienation and depression do not show physical symptoms rather they die a silent death, therefore it is imperative for people to look after their loved ones even when they pretend to be alright.