In works of fiction an author often expresses
himself through the characters in the story. A perfect example of this symbolism
is found in The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. The similarities found between
Franz Kafka and the story's central character, Gregor Samsa, occur in three
main areas. Firstly, the domineering fathers of Kafka and Samsa controlled their
lives and affected their every decision. Secondly, Franz Kafka shares many similar
personality traits as the main character of the story, Gregor Samsa. Lastly,
an even stronger link is the relation of the effects of Kafka's and Samsa's
illnesses on their lives.
In his father's eyes, Franz Kafka was always
a failure. His father, Hermann Kafka strongly disapproved of Franz's budding
writing career. Hermann's hot head and short temper led him frequently to beat
the budding young writer (Delafaette 1). Similarly, in The Metamorphosis, Gregor's
father is the first person who physically attacks Gregor in his insect state.
Gregor's father is also the chief cause of Gregor's death, when he throws the
apple onto the "vermin's" back. The apple infects Gregor and slowly rots, causing
Gregor to experience a slow and painful death. Through out the novella, Gregor's
father is portrayed as a man with complete control over his family and children.
Mr. Samsa has complete control of the family, both emotionally and financially.
The father at his discretion appropriated the income of the family. It can be
interpreted that Gregor has been the subject of perennial abuse from his father.
The fear of abuse is indicated in the line when Gregor states "…he was afraid
of exasperating his father by the slowness of such a rotation and at any moment
the stick in his father's hand might hit him a fatal blow on the back or on
the head." Although in this context his father's exasperation is because of
Gregor's insect state, it is clear that Gregor understands and fears his father's
temper. Likewise, Kafka was subserviently tied to his father during much of
his life. In the case of Kafka, however, the control was more emotional than
financial (Kafka 2). The demoralizing influence of their fathers, however, was
the same for both Kafka and Samsa.
By the end of the novel, Gregor Samsa feels alienated
by the indifferent, and sometimes hostile world around him. Kafka also felt
this alienation through out his life. In fact, most of Kafka's works are known
to symbolize his anxiety and loneliness in the apathetic world in which he lived.
Kafka, like many German Jews of his time, felt much isolation in the society
around him (Delafaette 1). This feeling of isolation is perfectly portrayed
in The Metamorphosis. Kafka writes, "In a room where Gregor forded it all alone
over empty walls no one…was likely ever to set foot." It is safe to assume Kafka
felt the same feeling of loneliness that Samsa did for much of his life. The
feeling of helplessness that Kafka experienced during his life is characterized
in Samsa. Samsa feels trapped in his desk job, which his family depends on.
To the outside world, Samsa seemed to be perfectly happy with his life, despite
the dissatisfaction that raged inside of him. As an insect, Samsa feels he is
powerless to make any changes to his roach-like state, and instead lives in
seclusion, seemingly at peace with his horrible fate. Kafka also externally
appeared to be in accord with his surroundings, though that probably was not
Many people believe that Kafka's contraction
of tuberculosis in 1917 was somehow a direct result of the unhappiness inside
of him (Delafaette 1). Whether this belief is true or not is trivial, because
regardless of that fact there is a clear relation between Kafka's sickness and
Samsa's metamorphosis into a bug-like state. Like Kafka, Samsa's days mostly
consisted of his work related to his occupation, leaving little time for anything
else. In the case of Kafka, a more direct connection between his contraction
of tuberculosis seems to be his diligence in his work and the lack of care towards
his general health. Kafka worked for many years for a semipublic Worker's Accident
Insurance with generally good health until his sickness. At that point his obsession
with his job and writing was so developed that he had become abnormal, something
far from human. Likewise, Samsa's metamorphosis occurs at a point in time when
most of his life is devoted towards his occupation. Samsa develops also into
something "not human", in the most literal sense of the phrase. The tuberculosis
that afflicted Kafka spread slowly into his larynx, and after a long and painful
death, Kafka died in June of 1924 (Kafka 4). The rotting apple in Samsa's back
can be seen as the tuberculosis that gave Kafka so much pain. Like the tuberculosis,
the infection in Gregor's back slowly overtook his body, and gradually as Gregor's
body weakened, so did his views of life and the society in which he lived. When
Kafka's journal was discovered, some entries towards the end of the journal
described his utterly gruesome and painful death. Although the public was never
meant to see the entries, it has been reported that the vivid description of
Samsa's death is not unlike that which was found in the journal (Kafka 4). If
this is true, then the connection between the illnesses of Kafka and Samsa must
be more than simple coincidence.
The Metamorphosis is more than an exposition
of Franz Kafka's thoughts of modern man in society. It is in fact a symbol of
Franz Kafka's life and how he felt towards society during his time. Kafka's
emotional dependence on his family is clear when viewing Samsa as a symbol of
his persona. One cannot help but grieve for Kafka when viewing Samsa's horrible
fate as one and the same with the author. The Metamorphosis is the most literal
portrayal of the inner feelings of Kafka during the most painful and emotional
moment of his life. This fact is supported by Kafka's journals, which leave
no ambiguity towards the nature of his death. This reason is why Samsa and Kafka
are so similar, and it is why The Metamorphosis is such a classic post-modern
Delafaette, Quill. Franz Kafka. Homepages.go.com. 23 Nov 2000. http://homepages.go.com/~quilllit/kafka.html.
Kafka, Leni. Biography. Fortunecity.com. 23 Nov 2000. http://victorian.fortunecity.com/vermeer/287/biography.htm.