2017/10/20 - 06:56

Gregor Samsa as Functional Deviant. A Hypothetical Interpretation by Friedrich Nietzsche

by Russell McNeil

Copyright: Russell McNeil at

My dear friends:

Suppose all that you have always valued in your lives was shown to
you to be: illusion. What would it be like to turn truth on her head?
To have your precious beliefs, maxims, platitudes, and traditions
inverted and distorted beyond recognition? To suddenly realize that
what is good, is bad; what is beauty, is foul; what is virtue, vice?

What if all your points of reference were to shift: North becomes
South; black becomes white; deviant becomes saint; saint
becomes deviant.

Suppose that this transformation--a metamorphosis of perception
were to come to you -- and you alone. Suddenly you awake -- and
in utter solitude -- you discover that the world is its opposite.

Two realities strike you all at once: One, you define yourself in
terms of your values. With your values now reversed, so too are
you reversed: you are a roach! Two, what you have become is
apparent to everyone else.

Gregor Samsa has burrowed his way out of the value set that
defined his social setting. The metamorphosis was inevitable. Look
at where his values were anchored: servant to the needs of an
oppressive boss in order to meet the needs of an exploitive family.

So, he ceases to serve. With new values opposing those of the
family, the employer, and society at large, Gregor emerges as a
deviant. He has entered the world of the despised.

Never forget, my friends, that "truth" is in the eye of the beholder. In
Gregor's world the despised and the beloved are reversed.

Franz Kafka is a new thinker -- one of that breed I spoke to you
about 100 years ago. Gregor Samsa is his agent. Never forget my
brilliant words about such men in Beyond Good and Evil: "The
philosopher, being of necessity a man of tomorrow and the day
after tomorrow, has always found himself, and had to find himself,
in contradiction to his today: his enemy was ever the ideal of today
(Section 212, BGE)."

So, I Friedrich, will now tell you what my philosophic friend Franz
finds so fascinating about Gregor the bug!

Society is an association of institutions held together by a set of
artificial values. You like to call them "truths." I say they are masks -
- but never mind. Your prestige in your society is measured by the
degree to which you choose to conform to its values. When you
conform you are close to the norm. If you deviate from the norm,
you are a deviant. But beware. Deviation is met with indignation.
But deviation and deviants are essential for your survival.

Here's where I, Friedrich, come in. You see no one knows where
the norm is! Why? There is no truth! The deviant defines the norm
for you. The norm is established with reference to the deviant. In a
world without crime you would have to invent crime. Oh, I know
how much you 90's people rail against crime and justice and
criminals--I read your electronic musings--but believe me, without
crime you would be lost souls with no reference to good or
evil...dare I say you would be beyond good and evil?

In your society your deviant subgroups become isolated from the
main group because you insist judging everything the deviant does
as a further manifestation or proof of the deviance. In fact the label
itself defines the deviant individual.

Because individuals so defined tend to become isolated and
alienated from your main culture, individuals with common
"deviant" characteristics define their own separate sub-cultures.
These sub-cultures in turn may differentiate too, generating their
own versions of deviance within deviance and new sub-sub-
cultures form.

Remember that the cohesion of your society depends on these
deviant groups as reliable points of reference. The more firmly you
believe in the "truth" of their deviance, the more faith you have in
the steadiness of your "values." Because you define deviance in
terms of masks--you call them moral principles (one ought not to
deviate), deviant individuals and the subcultures to which they
belong can and often do become targets for social oppression. You
despise them, but you cannot exist without them.

This all serves an important social function. Let's say you as a
social group adhere to the moral principle, "one ought to behave
within the law." Under such a belief "outlaws" are deviant. Outlaws
are a threat to your security. You form a mental model of what an
outlaw is like: a certain stereotype emerges. Outlaws reveal
themselves by their dress, language, and habits. You and I know
this is not always true about outlaws, but the stereotype provides
some comfort to you. Of course if you are an outlaw and
comfortable as one, adopting the dress, language, and
mannerisms of the stereotype may make you feel at home with
your outlaw peers, and comfortable as a member of an outlaw
subculture. You have exaggerated cultural examples of this in your
portrayals of outlaws: prohibition gangsters, old western movie
villains, Mafia operatives, outlaw motorcycle gangs.

You even use age as a basis for referencing deviation to a norm.
To some extent young people (teens in particular) and very old
people tend to occupy sub-cultural niches in which they feel
comfortable because they have become isolated from the main
social group. Teens and old people do deviate from the norm with
respect to age. But the very label "teen" or "old" carries a whole
catalogue of behavioral expectations for you. You know the
stereotypes: teens are rebellious and careless. Old people are
senile and unreliable. Whether true or not, the behavior, dress and
mannerisms of young and old people are seen by the main group
as further evidence of the stereotype. These age based social
reference points help anchor your social norm: that of the ideal,
reliable and conforming, middle aged conformer. The deviants:
teens and old people in turn tend to cluster within cultural sub-
groups in which they mirror common forms of dress, behavior and

There are endless ways in which people in your society can deviate
from behavior norms. Religion or religiosity is or was seen as a
basis for defining sub groups: a hot debate in some US states right
now over school prayer is pitting those against prayer (labeled by
the large group as "atheist") against more mainstream Christian
believers. Point being here that the anything the "atheist" says or
does is seen as further evidence of the label. Again, according to
the argument, the social stereotyping reinforces the values of the
main group by giving it reference points. Once labeled you are
marked forever.

There are other examples: skin color (black, white, native);
economic class (rich, poor, employed, unemployed), ethnic
background and illness illness (both physical and mental). The
behavior of anyone who suffers from a serious mental or physical
disability tends to be interpreted as flowing from the conditions of
the disability--to the exclusion of anything else. If you are labeled
insane (or mislabeled insane) there is little you can do or say that
will not be seen as further evidence of your illness. Ten years ago
Guy Paul Morin was labeled schizophrenic. Look how easy it was
for a jury of 12 to convict him of a horrendous murder and rape of a
child based mainly on the expert characterization of someone with
that label: psychiatrists said: "Mr. Morin could have done what he
did in a delusionary haze and utterly repressed the memory."
Everything that Guy Paul Morin said or did during his 10 years of
life as a social cockroach was understood through the filter of your
society's characterization of the mental deviance known as
schizophrenia. Mr. Morin was cleared on Monday. DNA evidence
proved that he could not have committed the crime.

Sexual deviation can be seen in this light too. Where
heterosexuality is the norm and where there is a social moral
principle that that is the way one "ought" to be, those who deviate
from that norm are labeled as deviant. The "gay" subculture is a
reference for normal behavior. The subculture in turn may
appropriate its own set of normal rules, dress, and behavioral

"Gregor Samsa woke up one morning changed into a monstrous
vermin:" Really? You think so? "Gregor's eyes turned to the
window, and the overcast weather---completely depressed him." If
you suddenly found yourself in Gregor's shoes--six shoes to be
exact--would the weather be your first concern?

Consider the possibility that Gregor had acquired a label: a label
from which he knew he would never escape: a label so odious in
the eyes of family, boss, and society at large that nothing Gregor
could do, or say could ever be interpreted as anything other than
further evidence of the condition to which that label had attached?

Had Gregor acquired the characteristics of a functional deviate?
The real metamorphosis that takes place in labeling is complete.
Not only do others see us in terms of the label, we see ourselves
that way too: The label becomes deeply internalized. "Gregor was
shocked to hear his own voice answering, unmistakably his own
voice, but from below an insistent distressed chirping intruded."

On page 11 Gregor answers his father's request that he open the
door with a clear "No." The response produces a stunned silence
and a sob from his sister. It was the last intelligible word Gregor
would ever utter. It would soon become apparent to the rest of the
world that Gregor was indeed what he himself knew he was: a
social deviant.

With the door opened everyone was shocked. It was Gregor--but
Gregor transformed- his long speech on page 16 appeals to the
manager to accept him. "I'm in a tight spot." He isn't heard. His
appeal for understanding, forgiveness and a second chance fall on
deaf ears. Gregor has become something loathsome to the social
norm. His appeal is nothing more than the ranting of a labeled man.
Nothing he says or does from this point forward will or can be
referenced in any other light. Familial and social stability depend on

As odious and as reviled as Gregor has become, he serves a
critical function within his social setting. His very existence allows
his family to establish a familiar norm--one that was missing when
Gregor the salesman ruled the roost. His father had been, sullen,
and lethargic. His mother asthmatic. His sister lazy. With Gregor,
the deviant as a point of reference all three experience a
transformation: they become socially defined. The father regains
vitality; the mother sews, the sister learns music, French and short
hand. All three become economic producers. The deviant, Gregor,
has an important role to play in this family.

There are other pieces in this puzzle that fit the picture. Gregor the
bug may hold alien values, but he is essential. He is isolated from
the main stream but tethered to it. Deviants are reviled but critical
for survival. For Gregor the tethers are universals: music and love.
"Was he an animal that music could hold him so? (p.49)"

The cleaning lady says, "Look at that old dung beetle." She later
credits Gregor with, "unlimited intelligence." Her friendly derision
towards Gregor Samsa expresses a winking acknowledgment of
certain shared values. She is a ally. She too is a deviant--and as
part of an economic underclass recognizes and shares something
of Gregor's world.

And what of Gregor's world and Gregor's values?

Remember my words: "He shall be greatest who can be lonliest,
the most concealed, the most deviant, the human being beyond
good and evil, the master of his virtues, he that is overrich in will.
Precisely this shall be called greatness; being capable of being as
manifold as whole, as ample as full. (BGE 212)"

Thank You.

Revision: 2011/01/08 - 00:18 - © Mauro Nervi

Top Back Print Search Sitemap Tip Login