1 Metamorphosisand Other Stories, Franz Kafka, Penguin Modern Classics, English translationby Michael Hofmann, London, 2007, p.872 ibid,p.883 ibid,p. 954 ibid,p.
1125 ibid,p.896 ibid,p.1017 ibid,p.898 ibid,p.1149 ibid To conclude, thesignificance of the theme of alienation is instrumental to our understanding ofthe narrative as it offers us an insight into the causes and effects ofalienation on the character of Gregor as a result of his work. The numerousfactors; time in a capitalist society, the emotion of guilt and shame, Gregor’sexpulsion from his work place all factor in on his feelings of alienation, simultaneouslyallowing us to view Kafka’s personal experience with different forms ofalienation.
The significance of thetheme of alienation is also demonstrated in the extent to which the emotion ofguilt drives Gregor to retrieve from any familial contact. Whenever a referenceto “the necessity of earning money”, “Gregor would let go of the door”8 emphasising his guiltiness,relating to his inability to financially support his family when they have beenrelying on him, to have pushed Gregor to the idea that retrieval from providingan income to support his family has led him to experiencing further feelings ofalienation. Through the use of the quote, Kafka expresses that Gregor feelsashamed for not having accomplished his family’s financial needs to the extent thatany reference to his family’s circumstances leads to an emotional hatredtowards himself. The symbolic meaning of “let go of the door” implies thatGregor’s perception of normality fades to an extent where he doesn’t envisionhimself to return to his normal state and the door symbolises freedom. Furthermore,when Gregor hears of any conversation in terms of “the necessity of earningmoney”, he is “burning with sorrow and shame”9. Kafka’s use of an idiom,”burning with sorrow and shame”, demonstrates the intensity of the character’sguilt, depicting it to be burning him inside.
Additionally, Kafka’s choice ofemotional nouns “sorrow” and “shame” to express Gregor’s discontent leads tothe portrayal of Gregor’s own blame and guilt. The interesting choice of verb”burning” indicates his sense of disappointment, whereby the imagery created bythe verb “burning” portrays an uncontrollable flame within Gregor’spsyche. His feelings of alienation stemfrom his disillusionment, created by his sense of disappointment. However, thereis an issue of Gregor being an unreliable narrator in the sense that histhoughts and how others perceive him could infiltrate into his feelings ofalienation, believing him to be a nuisance due to his inability to work.The novel seems to focus enormously on the importance of time as a cause ofGregor’s alienation in terms of his work, and has entrenched in him whichblinds him entirely to his current condition.
The concept oftime in a modernistic, commercial society places great importance on thesymbolism of time in a developed economy where the capitalist order of time ismoney and is therefore valuable and essential. The importance of time ishighlighted in the quote “looked across at the alarm clock, ticking away…”5. The use of the idiom “tickingaway” implies the pressing need for Gregor to get on with his daily chore;going to work. The clock symbolises an arbitrary device used to separate Gregorfrom the natural world and thereby represents humanity. The tone of the text isinfluenced by Gregor’s need to be on time at work .Similarly, after his transformation,Gregor remarks that the weather is “still raining, but now only in single largedrops, individually fashioned and flung to the ground”6. The weather acts as ametaphor and seems to parallel Gregory’s family’s burden of the debt andconsequently chains Gregor to his relentless job. Kafka introduces the conceptof time in a modernistic world where pressure is imposed solely on Gregor andnot on any other member of his family.
As a result, Gregor is left withfeelings of alienation, firstly due to his own impaired physicality, and hisfocus on arriving on time and need to get to work isn’t allowing him toovercome his current situation. Kafka portrays the extent to which the rule ofthe modern economy weighs down on Gregor. The use of simile “like a madman”7, enhances ourunderstanding of Gregor’s focus on getting to work on time and expressesKafka’s intention of portraying his feelings of alienation through the use ofthe noun “madman”. Kafka represents Gregor’s emotional state, in this case, byusing irony to express his deep concerns about arriving at work on time asKafka wants readers to perceive him, throughout the novel to be equal to thatof “a madman”, one that is unable to work due to emotional disturbances, and inthe case of Gregor, is expelled from the working class. Feelings of alienationstem from his family’s financial situation. Gregor’s willingness to support hisfamily requires him to go out of his way, to such an extent where “Gregor hadbent all his endeavour to helping the family”4 . The idiomatic diction of”bent all his endeavour” shows the extent to which Gregor is willing to workand deal with all the abuse he receives with the concept of working.
That is,his never-ending travels, characters that have cut all ties with Gregor, suchas the bourgeoisie, and the concept of time in a capitalist society. Kafkacharacterises Gregor as being willing to help with the financial situation andhis emotional commitment towards his family, even if this threatens his senseof normality and concept of self-management. The extrinsic purpose of Gregor’swork is highlighted by his sole reason for enduring his hated job. The theme ofalienation acts as a device to represent the separation between himself and hisfamily, where Gregor is seen as inhumane, merely a machine.The narrative’s main conflict, Gregor’s metamorphosis into a monstrousvermin serves as a metaphor for his inability to gain employment.
The first toabandon Gregor was the manager, the bourgeoisie. The chief clerk is sent tocheck on Gregor and comments that “businesspeople …having to set aside someminor ailment in the greater interest of our work.”3Kafka portrays that it is this importance of the code by which the time-basedeconomy works. The determiner “some” serves to show that it is thisunimportance to workers’ emotional and personal health that leads to Gregor’salienation, aiming to show that “ailments” are seen as less desirable, wherepersonal illness is unimportant compared to work. In relation to the metaphorof the narrative, the bourgeoisie’s realization that Gregor has no workmanshipvalues due to his inability to work, causes him to abandon him. To thebourgeoisie, Gregor is worth nothing more than his labor and therefore withoutany labor to offer, Gregor is worthless and dispensable. In this case, hisalienation serves to show the lack of humanitarian contact amongst characterswithin the narrative.The opening paragraph introduces us to Gregor’s profession in the narrativethrough the use of understatement in “-though he was a traveling salesman-“1.
Thesentence, placed in between dashes, places a great importance in the narrative,depicting Gregor as the breadwinner. Kafka uses the literarydevice of understatement for emphasis, simultaneously bringing out itsimportance in a nonchalant manner, emphasised by the conjunction “though” inproviding an ellipsis. As a traveling salesman, Gregor belongs to thecommercial business world and is involved in the newly developed economy. Kafkaintroduces the notion that this economy, where the emphasis is on money ratherthan on one’s expertise or humanity, is the reason for Gregor’s alienationwhereby his focus is entirely on his work to the extent of alienating himselfand separating his mind and body. Hecomments on his life as a traveling salesman, “I’ve got the torture oftraveling, worrying about changing trains, eating miserable food at all hours…”2.Kafka intensively shows Gregor’s discontent and dissatisfaction with his dailylabor through the use of these triad dictions: “torture,””worrying,” and “miserable”. Kafka’s use of the noun”torture” strongly conveys Gregor’s opposing choice towards his job and sees itas a punishment through the negative connotation of “torture”; Gregor sees hisdaily labor as an obligation and punishment. This obligation to provide for hisfamily is affiliated with his self-alienated behaviour.
Conflict is expressedas it exists in Gregor’s life between his human desire to work for his ownbenefit and economic demands that alienate him from his labor by forcing him towork for someone else. In Kafka’s Metamorphosis,the significance of the key theme of alienation is explored through the use ofportraying issues associated with economic alienation and thus of Gregor’sfeelings of alienation. These stem from aspects of his work: the concept oftime in a modernistic society, the emotion of guilt arising from his inabilityto work and the emphasis of financial support placed solely on Gregor all aidingin our perception and understanding of the narrative.