Analysis Of An Extended Metaphor In Kafka’s Metamorphosis

Franz Kafka’s novella, The Metamorphosis, employs an extended metaphor pertaining to Gregor Samsa’s existentially driven transformation into a giant species of bug. Although the extended metaphor holds a significant importance in the message Kafka attempts to portray, Kafka insufficiently explains the origin of the transformation, creating a notion that the work remains unfinished. Kafka’s literary technique plays with the application of metaphors as an objective truth. In The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka uses an extended metaphor consisting of unspecified language to convey Gregor’s existential self with literal attributes.

The Metamorphosis explores the incident when Gregor Samsa “finds himself transformed” into a “monstrous vermin” upon waking up one morning. “Ungeziefer,” the German word for monstrous vermin, signifies a disheveled individual or “an unclean animal not suited for sacrifice'. Gregor’s sole purpose in the eyes of his family requires him to displace his family’s debt. However, Gregor’s transformation prohibits his ability to earn income, which disgusts his family, changing their viewpoint of Gregor from a provider to a burden. Furthermore, Kafka’s connotation of “monstrous vermin” illustrates how Gregor transforms into an un-sacrificable animal, unable to accommodate his family, which ultimately reveals the purposelessness of his life as a slave to his employer. Although “a member of the family who should not be treated like an enemy,” the family’s pessimistic assumptions of Gregor and constant “tumultuous hubbub[s]” leave him feeling “tormented by his worries and self-reproach”. Kafka uses words such as, “enemy,” “hubbub,” and “worries” as an implication that Gregor is under siege. Metaphorically, Gregor falls victim to constant attacks from ongoing mental battles – of worth and responsibility – he faces against his family.

Regarding the interpretation of The Metamorphosis, Kafka shows immense disparity in the bodily data of the vermin as it relates to any visualizable bug. Gregor’s weight requires the strength of “two strong individuals” to hoist him out of bed, which contradicts the ease at which he “[crawls] back and forth across the walls and ceiling”. Furthermore, “nostrils” and strong jaws hang from the end of “his head,” overtaking the physical identity of his humanity, his face. Kafka’s discontinuity of detail highlights the discontinuity of Gregor’s drive to succeed. The lack of consistant bodily data models Gregor as a transparent sign, essentially ambiguous and only to be understood through approximations. In addition, his obscure facial structure and “many legs” physically represent the disorganization of Gregor’s life. Kafka conveys the existential conscience of Gregor through his loss of human form, representing his utter loss of all significance as a human being.

Gregor ponders how “it could occur to no one, not even his sister, that he could understand others”. Although Gregor cannot communicate due to “the change in his voice,” his nostalgia causes him to show consideration towards his family. While the metamorphosis “clears [Gregor] of any official responsibility for betraying his parents,” it fails to free him from the guilt he feels from failing to prove his worth to his family For example, in Gregor’s family dynamic, the person in power manipulates the newspaper at the dining table. Accordingly, Gregor’s evening custom as head of the family consisted of reading the paper, thus, it is a complete loss of identity when his first meal as vermin is served on newspaper. The newspaper symbolizes Gregor’s lack of communication and his exclusion from an “order of efficient language”. By clinging to the past, Gregor’s outlook on his family becomes ambivalent, drawn between uneasiness and indifference. Kafka punctuates Gregor’s fall from communication to symbolize Gregor’s separation from his family dynamic, in regards to the destruction of his former identity as the providing man of the family.

Within the novella, the main characters are addressed categorically based on their relationship to Gregor: “sister,” “father,” “mother.” One critic argues that “the exact difference between ordinary names and figurative names cannot be specified” because language itself is metaphorical. Thus, by excluding names, Kafka eliminates metaphors associated to certain names and allows Gregor’s point of view to dictate the novella. Post metamorphosis, Gregor and his father enter into an unfavorable, non-verbal relationship. Evidently, Gregor’s father hurls “an apple” into Gregor’s abdomen leaving him frozen “in horror”. The apple alludes to the start of Adam and Eve’s exile which correlates to the climax of Gregor’s fall into isolation. Metaphorically, the lodgment of the apple in Gregor’s back, as “no one dared to remove it,” signifies how Gregor bears the truth of his new identity bestowed on him by his parents. Kafka juxtaposes the image of the apple as a burden to Gregor, to the families view of Gregor as a burden. Further insight into the family’s realization reveals the ugliness of the metamorphosis. Ultimately, the apple illustrates the turning point of the Samsas view of Gregor from a family member to a plain, old insect.

In The Metamorphosis, Kafka uses language to objectify an extended metaphor. The body of the metaphor being Gregor’s transformation into vermin, symbolizing his fall from humanity and acceptance of his lack of purpose. Kafka develops communication as the limiting force driving the metamorphosis. As Gregor’s communication diminishes, his transformation strengthens, leading to further isolation and a decrease in perceivable humanity.    

16 December 2021
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