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1976: The conflict created when the will of an individual

opposes the will of the majority

In Franz Kafka’s short story, Metamorphosis, the idea of existentialism is brought out in a subtle, yet definite way. Existentialism is defined as a belief in which an individual is ultimately in charge of placing meaning into their life, and that life alone is meaningless. They do not believe in any sort of ultimate power and focus much of their attention on concepts such as dread, boredom, freedom and nothingness. This philosophical literary movement emerged in the twentieth-century, when Kafka was establishing his writing style in regards to alienation and distorted anxiety. A mirror to his own personal lifestyle, this story follows the short and sad life of a man unable to break out of the bonds society has placed on him. These bonds are not only evident in the work place, but at home too. Being constantly used and abused while in his human form, Gregor’s lifestyle becomes complicated once he becomes a giant insect and is deemed useless. Conflicts and confusion arise primarily between Gregor and his sister Grete, his parents, and his work. Each of these three relationships has different moral and ethical complications defining them. However, it is important for one to keep in mind that Gregor’s metamorphosis has placed him into a position of opposition, and that he has minimal control over the events to take place. Conflicts will also occur between family members as they struggle with the decision of what to do with Gregor. In the end they all come to the agreement that maintaining his uselessness is slowly draining them and they must get rid of him.

Grete is a character who appears to have the most tolerance for Gregor shortly after his metamorphosis. Gregor was apparently rather fond of his sister and had hoped to finance her education in a conservatory. He was also rather mesmerized with her violin playing. His inability to follow through with these planned acts of kindness may have led to a faster deterioration of Grete’s maintenance of Gregor’s room. Although she could never get used to Gregor’s new freakish appearance, she was his sole provider throughout his life after the metamorphosis:

“It would not have surprised Gregor if she had not come in, as his

position … she actually jumped back and shut the door; a stranger

could easily have thought Gregor had been lying in wait for her

and meant to bite her.” (28)

After the first couple months, Grete’s compassion and understanding of her brother’s condition began to diminish. With the hope that he may return back to normal quickly fading, and Grete’s new job taking up much of her time, she no longer had room to take care of her useless brother. In this way, Grete was going through her own metamorphosis. Although not as physically evident as Gregor’s, she was entering adulthood and was beginning to take on the ideals and lifestyle typical of her society:

“But even if the sister, worn out by her job, ceased to ten to him as

she used to, there was no need for the mother’s intervention or for

Gregor to be at all neglected.” (40)

Ironically, the individual that was the most compassionate at the beginning of his metamorphosis becomes the least compassionate in the end. With a statement as simple and blunt as:

“We have to try to get rid of it.” (46)

Grete convinces her parents into coming to some sort of finalization and Gregor loses all will to live. He dies that very night and it would not be harsh to assume that this is due to the cold, societal reasoning of his sister. Kafka uses Grete to prove that unconditional love does not exist, or at least, cannot uphold itself. Grete cannot maintain Gregor’s life once she becomes sure that all her time and care will amount to nothing.

Grete’s final viewpoint of Gregor is mirrored by her father, but in a much more violent manner. Gregor’s father quickly assumes the societal role of “protector” of his daughter and wife, deeply misunderstanding Gregor and his intentions. There is a large conflict between the two in regards to understanding each other’s true intent.

“ вЂ?Mother fainted, but she’s better now, Gregor’s broken out.’

�Just as I expected,’ said the father. �I keep telling you, but you

women just wont listen.’ ” (34)

This is also extremely evident when the father says:

“She’s absolutely right… if only he could understand us.” (46)

At this point in their lives, the family is trying to function as a smooth running family, each with a basic purpose and intent in life. They have re-conformed their lives after the metamorphosis to fit back into society and hide this glaring image of uselessness and disgust. Gregor is un-wittingly bringing up these ideas of existentialism that the family cannot stand to face. Both mother and father bury themselves in their work and try to forget their son. The mother says constantly that she wishes to see Gregor, but makes little effort to aid in Grete’s daily clean up of the room. When she does see him, she always collapses



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