Exploring The Choices Of People Before Death: "The Metamorphosis" And "Ozymandias"

Existentialism, the idea of choices without thought of the external pressures or consequences, is heavily displayed in Ozymandias, by Percy Shelley, and The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka. Through the use of ironic elements and different point of view, both pieces explore the choices of men before their death, and the impact of these choices after their death, to highlight upon the idea of existentialism. Both Ozymandias and The Metamorphosis feature the existential idea of absurdity, before and after death. In Ozymandias, nothing of the once expansive remains except for the “boundless and bare” (Shelley, 13).

The absurdity of life—the fading, useless legacy—can also be called the great irony of life, a turn from the expected. This once great kingdom, appearing boundless and plentiful, one that would have a neverending legacy, has turned into dust. The great king Ozymandias, obviously a man who vied for an eternal legacy to be remembered for ages, couldn’t outlast the winds of time. Such instances lead people to think that even a lifetime of man’s work will lead to nothingness. Similarly, in The Metamorphosis, the true absurdity of life can be seen in the family’s reaction to Gregor’s death. The family did “not [allow] her [the maid] to explain” how she disposed of the body of Gregor (Kafka, 47). Considering that humans are so exact in disposing of their dead, the way the family ignores Gregor’s dead body and seems uninterested in its disposal drives in the senselessness of life. After all Gregor has done for the family, not one in the family looks back at him in a positive manner. The existential idea of empty legacy is clearly portrayed in this moment when the family doesn’t remember Gregor in any way.

One can argue that no matter what choice Gregor took, the result would have been the same—he would have eventually been forgotten without so much as a thought. Grete points out that insect “would have gone away voluntarily” if it had been Gregor (Kafka, 42). An interesting irony is that Gregor has starved himself to death so that his family would not have to suffer him. No further acknowledgment is given by the family of this sacrifice, further proving the disappointing nature of the afterlife. Thus both Ozymandias and The Metamorphosis show the absurdity of one's legacy after death. The most prominent way that The Metamorphosis and Ozymandias display the ideas of existentialism differently is the point of view both pieces are written in. While Metamorphosis is written in the perspective of a pessimistic traveling-salesman-turned-bug, the narrator hears the accounts of a traveler recount something that has been lost to civilization. Ozymandias’s point of view again highlights the absurdity of life through the external view of the desolation of Ozymandias’ kingdom of which “nothing beside remains” (Shelley, 12).

The third person view emphasizes the emptiness and desolation of Ozymandias’ kingdom. The third person creates an image in one’s mind that’s unlike one when created by a first person. The emptiness is experienced firsthand by the description of the poem. Furthermore, the fact a traveler narrates the scene to the narrator emphasizes the fact that Ozymandias’ story is not well known to anyone. This fact further supports the idea of existentialism that nothing remains after death. Despite Ozymandias’ best efforts, his story and that of his kingdom did not last long enough through the sands of time.

On the other hand, through Gregor’s point of view, one can see a different aspect of existentialism. Gregor’s point of view shows the pressures in life, and how they affect him and his choices, especially after his transformation. The first pressure the Gregor is consumed by is the “[his] parents’ debt ” (Kafka, 5). Though Gregor’s point of view, one realizes that Gregor works as a traveling salesman because of his parents’ debt. One can see that Gregor is a person who has succumbed to the pressures of his family, who indirectly force him to take responsibility for all persons. Later, it can be seen that they could all sustain themselves without Gregor.

After his transformation, through Gregor’s point of view, one can see that he has started to make choices of his own will, especially when he “pressed himself against the glass [picture of the woman in fur]” to protect it (Kafka, 29). The moment where Gregor chooses to save this one picture is a scene where he has taken a choice without the influence of others in his life. This decision, unlike others, such as working as a salesman, hiding under the couch, starving himself, is taken without any consideration of the feelings of others besides himself. Gregor’s situation directly corresponds to Kafka’s situation in real life. Kafka himself was a boy with three sisters. He was different in that he wanted to become a writer. His mother did not have the “intellectual depth to understand” his ambition to become a writer (bio). His father was a self-imposing man who “overwhelmed the Kafka home” (bio). A little of Kafka is being reflected into Gregor, especially the moments when Gregor gets to make his choices regardless of the consequences of the actions. It reflects a wishful thinking of freedom that Kafka has desired from childhood.

07 September 2020
Your Email

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and  Privacy statement. We will occasionally send you account related emails.

close thanks-icon

Your essay sample has been sent.

Order now
Still can’t find what you need?

Order custom paper and save your time
for priority classes!

Order paper now