Symbols and Abstractions in Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” “The Metamorphosis” is a unique and intricate novella by Franz Kafka. It is peculiar in any work for the main character to wake up as an insect in the first line of the story. Kafka’s symbolism is unlike most authors who use symbolism to relate to the theme of the story; Kafka tends to focus the reader’s attention on a single character which symbolizes his life. His uses of bizarre symbols make the reader question, “What does Kafka mean through this symbol? The interpretations of these symbols differ between readers yet all seem to represent how life is destroyed when people focus is on existence alone. To fully appreciate the symbols and abstractions in his works, it is important for the reader to have knowledge of the author’s history to understand the reasoning behind the story. As observed in “The Metamorphosis,” there are many similarities between Frank Kafka and his protagonist, Gregor Samsa. Kafka was born into a middle-class, German-speaking Jewish family in Prague, the capital of Bohemia.
His father, Hermann Kafka, was described by Kafka himself as “a true Kafka in strength, health, appetite, loudness of voice, eloquence, self-satisfaction, worldly dominance, endurance, presence of mind, [and] knowledge of human nature … “. (Nervi) Admitted to the Charles University of Prague, Kafka first studied chemistry, but switched after two weeks to law. This offered a range of career possibilities, which pleased his father, and required a longer course of study that gave Kafka time to take classes in German studies and art history.
He later was hired at an Italian insurance company, where he worked for nearly a year. His correspondence, during that period, witnesses that he was unhappy with his late shift working schedule as it made it extremely difficult for him to concentrate on his writing. Later, he resigned, and two weeks later found more congenial employment with the Worker’s Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia. However, he did not show any signs of indifference towards his job, as the several promotions that he received during his career prove that he was a hard working employee.
In parallel, Kafka was also committed to his literary work. (Nervi) Gregor Samsa, the insect, and Kafka share many similarities. It is known that Kafka and the insect share professions as a traveling salesman, with Gregor working to pay off his father’s debt to the company. Gregor is impeded by his physical attributes, while Kafka is likewise impeded by his career, unable to pursue his will to be a fulltime writer. Kafka took his profession to the satisfaction of his father, and he remained employed there for several years against his will.
Likewise, Gregor hates his work as a salesman; however his motivation to return following his transformation can be attributed to the fact that he is his family’s only source of income, and he is proud to be able to provide for his mother, father, and sister, Grete. He aspires to one day send his sister to the conservatory to study violin. Gregor is put under heavy weight by his family, especially by his father. He feels the burden he places on the family and tries to disappear by hiding under the sofa.
As the story continues, Gregor is confined to his room under his family command to prevent the family from embarrassment. He is hidden and devoid of human contact. The relation between Kafka’s isolation from his family can be related to Gregor, who leads his life under his father’s will, leading to the emotional rift between Kafka and his father. This becomes obvious during a passage in the story where Gregor emerges from the confinement of his room, only to be chased around the kitchen and pelted with apples by his father, leaving Gregor wounded and eventually infected.
This pain and anguish experienced by Gregor can be abstracted as the grief Kafka underwent in dealing with his father and his father cannot recognize or understand Gregor his son in this state. Though remorse follows the incident, the damage has been done and it will only be a matter of time until his death. For the remainder of his life, Gregor realizes he no longer has worth or serves purpose. In death, the burden of Gregor on the family has been lifted, and in a strange, twisted way, his family is relieved and moves forward happily and comfortably.
Like his character, Kafka dies at a young age, alone. Even the title, “The Metamorphosis” can be abstracted metaphorically, not only through the main character’s physical changes, but between different characters. For Gregor, it is conveyed in the first sentence that Gregor has been transformed from a human to a roach-like insect, yet the internal metamorphosis Gregor experiences is a progression from the beginning to the end of the story. The metamorphosis is gradual.
As Gregor’s condition worsens, he is unable to support his family, is unable to communicate with them, and his speech becomes completely unintelligible. The theme, similar to Kafka’s life, is of the suffering protagonist. Grete, too, changes. Early in the novella she seeks guidance and support from Gregor. However, by the conclusion of the story she has “blossomed” into “a beautiful and voluptuous young woman,” completing her metamorphosis. Throughout this writing, the theme of oneness between the main character and Kafka is obvious.
Kafka uses symbolic metaphors and abstractions in “The Metamorphosis” to represent himself and his life. Similarities between the family, occupation, alienation, and death are shared nearly identically between Kafka and Gregor. In conclusion, there are too many parallelisms in Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” to dismiss as coincidence, and the character and life of Gregor Samsa are surely a representation of the author, Kafka, and his life. Works Cited Nervi, Mauro; Kafka’s Life (1883-1921). 12 March 2006. The Kafka Project. 18 May 2009. .