[1] “burning” indicates his sense of disappointment, whereby

1 Metamorphosis
and Other Stories, Franz Kafka, Penguin Modern Classics, English translation
by Michael Hofmann, London, 2007, p.87

2 ibid,

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3 ibid,
p. 95

4 ibid,

5 ibid,

6 ibid,

7 ibid,

8 ibid,

9 ibid


To conclude, the
significance of the theme of alienation is instrumental to our understanding of
the narrative as it offers us an insight into the causes and effects of
alienation on the character of Gregor as a result of his work. The numerous
factors; time in a capitalist society, the emotion of guilt and shame, Gregor’s
expulsion from his work place all factor in on his feelings of alienation, simultaneously
allowing us to view Kafka’s personal experience with different forms of

The significance of the
theme of alienation is also demonstrated in the extent to which the emotion of
guilt drives Gregor to retrieve from any familial contact. Whenever a reference
to “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 been
relying on him, to have pushed Gregor to the idea that retrieval from providing
an income to support his family has led him to experiencing further feelings of
alienation. Through the use of the quote, Kafka expresses that Gregor feels
ashamed for not having accomplished his family’s financial needs to the extent that
any reference to his family’s circumstances leads to an emotional hatred
towards himself. The symbolic meaning of “let go of the door” implies that
Gregor’s perception of normality fades to an extent where he doesn’t envision
himself to return to his normal state and the door symbolises freedom. Furthermore,
when Gregor hears of any conversation in terms of “the necessity of earning
money”, 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’s
guilt, depicting it to be burning him inside. Additionally, Kafka’s choice of
emotional nouns “sorrow” and “shame” to express Gregor’s discontent leads to
the portrayal of Gregor’s own blame and guilt. The interesting choice of verb
“burning” indicates his sense of disappointment, whereby the imagery created by
the verb “burning” portrays an uncontrollable flame within Gregor’s
psyche.  His feelings of alienation stem
from his disillusionment, created by his sense of disappointment. However, there
is an issue of Gregor being an unreliable narrator in the sense that his
thoughts and how others perceive him could infiltrate into his feelings of
alienation, 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 of
Gregor’s alienation in terms of his work, and has entrenched in him which
blinds him entirely to his current condition. The concept of
time in a modernistic, commercial society places great importance on the
symbolism of time in a developed economy where the capitalist order of time is
money and is therefore valuable and essential. The importance of time is
highlighted in the quote “looked across at the alarm clock, ticking away…”5. The use of the idiom “ticking
away” 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 Gregor
from the natural world and thereby represents humanity. The tone of the text is
influenced 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 large
drops, individually fashioned and flung to the ground”6. The weather acts as a
metaphor and seems to parallel Gregory’s family’s burden of the debt and
consequently chains Gregor to his relentless job. Kafka introduces the concept
of time in a modernistic world where pressure is imposed solely on Gregor and
not on any other member of his family. As a result, Gregor is left with
feelings of alienation, firstly due to his own impaired physicality, and his
focus on arriving on time and need to get to work isn’t allowing him to
overcome his current situation. Kafka portrays the extent to which the rule of
the modern economy weighs down on Gregor. The use of simile “like a madman”7, enhances our
understanding of Gregor’s focus on getting to work on time and expresses
Kafka’s intention of portraying his feelings of alienation through the use of
the noun “madman”. Kafka represents Gregor’s emotional state, in this case, by
using irony to express his deep concerns about arriving at work on time as
Kafka wants readers to perceive him, throughout the novel to be equal to that
of “a madman”, one that is unable to work due to emotional disturbances, and in
the case of Gregor, is expelled from the working class.

Feelings of alienation
stem from his family’s financial situation. Gregor’s willingness to support his
family requires him to go out of his way, to such an extent where “Gregor had
bent 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 work
and 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, such
as the bourgeoisie, and the concept of time in a capitalist society. Kafka
characterises Gregor as being willing to help with the financial situation and
his emotional commitment towards his family, even if this threatens his sense
of normality and concept of self-management. The extrinsic purpose of Gregor’s
work is highlighted by his sole reason for enduring his hated job. The theme of
alienation acts as a device to represent the separation between himself and his
family, where Gregor is seen as inhumane, merely a machine.

The narrative’s main conflict, Gregor’s metamorphosis into a monstrous
vermin serves as a metaphor for his inability to gain employment. The first to
abandon Gregor was the manager, the bourgeoisie. The chief clerk is sent to
check on Gregor and comments that “businesspeople …having to set aside some
minor ailment in the greater interest of our work.”3
Kafka portrays that it is this importance of the code by which the time-based
economy works. The determiner “some” serves to show that it is this
unimportance to workers’ emotional and personal health that leads to Gregor’s
alienation, aiming to show that “ailments” are seen as less desirable, where
personal illness is unimportant compared to work. In relation to the metaphor
of the narrative, the bourgeoisie’s realization that Gregor has no workmanship
values due to his inability to work, causes him to abandon him. To the
bourgeoisie, Gregor is worth nothing more than his labor and therefore without
any labor to offer, Gregor is worthless and dispensable. In this case, his
alienation serves to show the lack of humanitarian contact amongst characters
within the narrative.

The opening paragraph introduces us to Gregor’s profession in the narrative
through the use of understatement in “-though he was a traveling salesman-“1. The
sentence, placed in between dashes, places a great importance in the narrative,
depicting Gregor as the breadwinner. Kafka uses the literary
device of understatement for emphasis, simultaneously bringing out its
importance in a nonchalant manner, emphasised by the conjunction “though” in
providing an ellipsis. As a traveling salesman, Gregor belongs to the
commercial business world and is involved in the newly developed economy. Kafka
introduces the notion that this economy, where the emphasis is on money rather
than on one’s expertise or humanity, is the reason for Gregor’s alienation
whereby his focus is entirely on his work to the extent of alienating himself
and separating his mind and body. He
comments on his life as a traveling salesman, “I’ve got the torture of
traveling, worrying about changing trains, eating miserable food at all hours…”2.
Kafka intensively shows Gregor’s discontent and dissatisfaction with his daily
labor 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 it
as a punishment through the negative connotation of “torture”; Gregor sees his
daily labor as an obligation and punishment. This obligation to provide for his
family is affiliated with his self-alienated behaviour. Conflict is expressed
as it exists in Gregor’s life between his human desire to work for his own
benefit and economic demands that alienate him from his labor by forcing him to
work for someone else.

In Kafka’s Metamorphosis,
the significance of the key theme of alienation is explored through the use of
portraying issues associated with economic alienation and thus of Gregor’s
feelings of alienation. These stem from aspects of his work: the concept of
time in a modernistic society, the emotion of guilt arising from his inability
to work and the emphasis of financial support placed solely on Gregor all aiding
in our perception and understanding of the narrative.


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