Crossing of the Boundaries in “The Metamorphosis” and “The Nose”: a Comparative Analysis

December 4, 2017 September 1st, 2019 Free Essays Online for College Students

Awaking to a brutal change in their lives, the protagonists of “The Metamorphosis” and “The Nose”, written by Franz Kafka and Nikolai Gogol, reveal the most intimate features of their identities. There are boundaries that they cross; there are some others that they don’t. Through surreal stories, the authors uncover the unkind reality hidden in the everyday routine. Under the stress of the cross physical transformation, the protagonists of “The Metamorphosis” and “The Nose� experience revelation, which in turn leads to them traversing their mental boundaries and crystalizes their virtues and vices.

In both of the novels, the protagonists experience severe physical transformation, which makes an adverse impact on their social status and their way of life. Prior to his transformation into a bug, Gregor is a humble slave of the circumstances created by his family, work, his colleagues and his boss. Gregor never gives a thought to anything beyond this narrow context. During the course of the novel he never thinks about himself and devotes his life wholeheartedly to his family. “What a quiet life the family leads,” Gregor said to himself, and while he stared ahead into the darkness, he felt very proud of himself for having been able to provide his parents and sister with a life like that, in such a beautiful apartment” (Kafka 25). After his transformation, Gregor does not stop thinking about his family but he also understands that he is no longer needed to his relatives. A similar change to a predetermined life is portrayed in Gogol’s “Nose”: the protagonist Major Kovalev cannot imagine himself outside of his customary social context.

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His only life path is to live for himself and for his personal benefit. Kovalev’s only life goals are – to climb up the bureaucratic staircase and/or to marry to a wealthy bride: “Major Kovalev came to Petersburg on business, to wit, to look for a post… girl with a fortune of two hundred thousand” (Gogol 208). Losing the nose prevents him from succeeding on both counts and destroys the entire model of his future life. Thus it can be derived, that beyond the change of social status after severe physical transformations, there is another similarity between the protagonists: they both cannot live their customary life anymore and this poses a huge challenge to their identity. Gogol and Kafka forcibly put their protagonist under severe stress and force them to cross the boundaries of their former lives.

The two protagonists face their challenges in their own ways: it helps the reader to understand their true characters. Gregor simply accepts his tragedy in a humble and a submissive way. He is hiding away and self-reflecting, but continues to think only about his family. However, life around him changes dramatically. He is no longer loved and needed. This leads to unexpected revelations, a breakthrough in his understanding of family relations and to a final epiphany. He is betrayed and his prior sacrifices are not appreciated, “…he felt pinned down and he surrendered, all his sense fully bewildered” (Kafka, 38). Despite the unexpected truth, Gregor quietly remains in the boundaries of his decency, even at the face of death. On the contrary, Major Kovalev faces his dilemma in a most serious manner: he investigates the posts classified ads and he complains aloud.

There is no moment in the novel when he stays inactive. He does not accept his destiny and is ready to make use of whatever means are available to him in order to return his nose. With every step, Major Kovalev reveals what are the true values for him: not love, but a lucky marriage; not work, but a successful career; not close relations with friends and family, but formal social status: “Of course-er-you see-I-I am a major… according to the rules of duty and honor er-you can understand yourself”(Gogol 210.) Without realizing it, he crosses the boundaries of decency and reveals himself as a man without true human values by his erratic behavior. Through the context of absurdity and grotesque we learn about the protagonists in a short period of time much more than in normal circumstances, and can now see how different these characters are.

For both protagonists, the physical transformation symbolizes an awakening. The authors underline this by the actual awakening in the beginning of each novel. “When Gregor Samsa awoke from troubled dreams one morning, he found that he had been transformed in his bed into an enormous bug” (Kafka 1). By reading the novel further, one can imagine that it is a fake awakening and the protagonist continues to sleep; yet it is an awakening from a long, long sleep. Gregor awoke to realities that he didn’t see before or pretended not to notice. He is not loved even before he became a bug. His family needs him only because he is enslaving his life away for them. His physical awakening also signifies his moral awakening as if he has crossed the boundary from a dream to reality. At first glance, the case for Major Kovalev is not much different: the situation is so absurd, that he and even the reader does not believe that this is just a continued dream. Only in dreams, bodily parts live their own live, independent of their master.

Only in dreams one can imagine that the nose can become more successful and imposing than the owner. However, the further the story goes, the more the readers understands that this is indeed a grotesque reality of the St- Petersburg society. Major Kovalev, however cannot awake to that fact: he continues to live his everyday life and does not experience the moral shake-up. Moreover, Gogol allows him to return to his sleep at the end of the novel: “This happened on the seventh of April. Waking up and looking quiet accidentally into the mirror, he saw – his nose!” (Gogol 229). One protagonist (Gregor) crosses the boundaries of his dream and ends up in a brutal reality and the other (Kovalev), is kindly sent by the author back to “sleep” because he is not capable of a true epiphany. He will continue to live as he sleeps and sleep as he lives. Thus this represents the key difference in the two novels.

For Gregor and Kovalev, the ultimate transformation occurs to a dramtically different extent: Gregor awakes to reality, does not sustain it and perishes. On the contrary, Major Kovalev continues to “sleep” unshaken by his surreal transformation. In this sense, crossing the boundary for Gregor is far more severe than for Kovalev in both physical and mental sense. Yet Gregor remains within the boundaries of his decency. On the other hand, Major Kovalyov is kindly left within his customary realm; his sufferings continue for a short period of time and don’t leave any marks on his life. In this short period he reveals his true identity and does not cross boundaries of his usual behavior. For Gregor’s revelation amounts to epifany; for Kovalev it is a revelation of his character. In conclusion, evaluating the final arguments, it can be said that most often, in order to comprehend the distorted system of modern human values, one must be put in a paranormal context, outside of the everyday life.


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