2024/02/27 - 08:00

(SP:) Some thoughts about The Metamorphosis. By B. Herzog

B. Herzog

> 1. What is Kafka's identification between man and beast; discuss the
> symbolic and literal meanings of the beast?

i think that the identification kafka makes between man and beast here is simply that some people- and i stress some people- are regarded as nothing more than beasts by other people, but it isn't really a conscious decision to do so. and it is important to understand that this whole identification depends on this subconscious point of view. it is not that the people really are beasts, or that kafka is saying that they are beasts- i think what he is saying is that, when he looks at society around him, he sees some people treating some others as beasts. and basically, when the term beast is used, the best way to explain what it means is to say "beast of burden." in the story, gregor's family and boss saw him no differently than they would view, perhaps, a horse on a farm. he did his work, he worked hard, and he didn't much communicate with them. this was what they had come to expect from him, and they really had no interest in changing it, as they were caught up in their own pursuits and concerns. but really, i personally don't think the term "beast" is right for this application. in the story, gregor turned into an insect, and i think this is so many times more resounding to symbolize what gregor had become to his family and boss- and later on to the boarders. i mean, being seen similar to a horse is one thing- people like horses, little kids love horse, people feed the at petting zoos, and let their children ride on them at county fairs. horses are mammals, warm-blooded, soft, and i think that, even though we might think that we are better than them and they should serve us, there is no animosity towards them. with insects, however, it's completely different. most people i know _hate_ insects, and smash them whenever they see them climbing on a wall or walking on the sidewalk. and people are afraid of insects, too, because they are small, hard, organized, usually don't make any noise- at least vocally/intelligibly. the noise they do make is usually just a very intimidating buzz- and humans don't like this. in fact, insects are not at all human, and have no real personalities. horses, on the other hand, and other beasts of burden, do, or at least humans can project a personality onto them. because of this, i think, we can identify more with mammals, feel safe with them, because we can make them sort of like us, or think of them in our own terms. but with insects, this usually isn't possible. since we can't get to know insects, or be friendly with them, we are afraid of them and hate them. this is why, i think, kafka chose an insect for the being gregor turns into. it fulfills all the requirements of what significance a beast had above, when you think of a drone or worker bee, or something like that, but it also goes one step further. it removes gregor from the three dimensional human world and puts him into the two dimensional world. after he changed, his family had no idea what to do: how to treat him, relate to him, communicate with him, etc. right after he changed, and got over the initial shock of it, they understood he was gregor, and still saw him as gregor, but that quickly faded. okay, at this time, i think i need to give you my quick synopsis of the story. before the beginning of the story, that is to say, before gregor changed, he was a hard worker. he did his job, kept to himself, and supported his family. this is all his family saw him as. in literary terms, he was a flat character to them. but in reality, he wasn't. he hated his job. the work was very strenuous on him. and he was a human as anyone, which means that he was constantly changing. not very much, but a little each day, the same way everyone changes a little as the progress through life. however, despite his changes, his family and boss still saw him as they had before- as the faithful and dependable worker. they had him rooted into this image, they were comfortable with it, so they never really looked at him again to keep updated with his changes as a person- they say him for what they wanted him to be, and not for what he really was. then comes the beginning of the story, where gregor "suddenly" completely changes. i say "suddenly" because it was only sudden to everyone but gregor. i mean, to gregor, he was constantly changing, be he could not notice it, no more that you can notice yourself change or grow. but to his family and boss, though, it was sudden. to them, one day, gregor was good old gregor, and the next, he was something completely different. the reasons that this came upon them all at once was because they had ignored him, and not really seen him, up until them. much like when a distant aunt sees you when you're five, and then doesn't see you again until you're ten, and she rants and raves about how big you've gotten. to you, you haven't changes much, because you've seen yourself grow all along, and it's nothing new to you. you compare yourself to the person you were the last time you checked- which might have been yesterday. she, though, compares you to the person you were the last time she checked, which was five years ago. and to her, you have undergone a metamorphosis. so to is the same thing happening in the story. gregor was indeed changing all along, and finally it got to a point that he was no longer at all like the image his family had of him, and they were forced to take notice. what they now say, though, was so foreign to them, and so frightening to them that it was the same as seeing their son turned into an insect. and then, the most pivotal point in the story (to me) comes right after they get over the initial shock of seeing him again for the first time. this point is how they will treat gregor from now on. at first, they treat him somewhat well, but after that it just deteriorates and they fall farther and farther away from him. this can be seen in the slow process of removing things from his room. this symbolizes his progression into a flat, two dimensional character- by taking his furniture and other things from his room, they are making him less and less human. epitomized in the instance where they take his dresser or something (i can't remember, i haven't read this story in awhile), the single thing he liked to climb on, away from him. and this can go on and on, their inability to let go for seeing gregor as he really is, and ever convicting him to be what they want him to be. eventually, this inability of theirs, their fear and whatever else, ruins their lives, and gregors. they can't deal with it, and they take him down, too. oh, but there is one other point i would like to touch on- this is gregor's speech, meaning, his voice, the way he talks, etc. in the beginning of the story, he can still speak english, and his family can still understand him. however, his ability to speak english quickly goes away, and his family can no longer understand him. basically, it is the understanding part that is most important. to his family, the new gregor was so unfathomable that he wasn't even speaking english anymore- and other attempts to communicate with them all failed, and i think i recall it was for their lack of openness that they did fail. however, in reality, gregor was still speaking english- at least, he was thinking english. since gregor was unaware of his personal changes, really, he had essentially not changed (i think i also recall in the beginning of the story, gregor trying to plead to them that it was still him, still their beloved gregor. he knew he hadn't changed.)- so he could still understand himself when he spoke and thought. but his family could not. this whole story was a recounting of their view of the situation, and not of reality. but subjective realities is another topic for another time.

> 3. How do you think Kafka viewed modern society?

um, this, i'm not too sure of. the answer to this could be ten times as long as the answer above, probably, so i'll do my best to keep it short. i don't know how much you guys studied kafka himself, and his life, but i think he hated his job as a bookkeeper accountant's clerk or whatever he was. he hated everyone around him. i think he didn't think that human society was very human at all. any society that could ignore someone like gregor so much that they distort him to the extent that he becomes, for them, beyond reality, is a very sick and ill-adjusted place. i think kafka saw some good in society, but that good was oppressed, or suppressed, by the normal person, through indifference, selfishness, cowardice, and greed. the ruling class ruled by force, subjugated everyone else, and the victims were too afraid to speak up- for fear of punishment, and also for fear of starting a new life. even though life basically sucks, we are too lazy to change, because even we can be comfortable in strife, if it is consistent, and if it would take too much work to get out of it. society is a very selfish place, filled with self-centered people. this is how gregor came to be an insect. to his family, gregor was a cog in a machine, and only taken notice of when he was not operating up to standard. he was not a person to him, just like many people are not really people to us today. this is the point (i think) kafka was trying to get across in metamorphosis. and unfortunately, conditions are still the same today. to roughly quote orwell's animal farm- things don't change, life is always the same- always bad.

Revision: 2021/01/09 - 23:40 - © Mauro Nervi

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