"A Psychoanalysis of Franz Kafka’s 'The Metamorphosis'" by Annie Vasquez

A Psychoanalysis of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis

Annie Vasquez, Monroe College



Abstract: The Metamorphosis, a short story written by Franz Kafka, reflects on the psychological journey that Gregor Samsa undergoes in the midst of being transformed into a gigantic insect. Gregor Samsa, the protagonist, now a large insect, fights psychologically with thoughts of guilt and failure as his family shows greater indifference towards his feelings. Thus, Gregor’s psychological journey begins as he explores his insect state and fights to keep himself as human as he can be.


The Metamorphosis, a novella written by Austrian writer Franz Kafka, tells the story of Gregor, a traveling salesman, as he undergoes a transformation from a human to an insect. This novella dissects the psychological journey that Gregor goes through in the midst of his metamorphosis. Initially, this story is about Gregor’s metamorphosis, but Kafka unravels the metamorphosis of the family unit. Throughout the story, we can observe Gregor’s metamorphosis in various ways: in respect to Kafka’s consciousness, the human desires portrayed through the literature, the correlation between literary characters and Kafka’s life, and the significance of Gregor’s death. Gregor’s psychological journey begins as he explores his insect state and fights to keep himself attached to his human qualities, thus reflecting onto Kafka’s life through literature.


Gregor’s Metamorphosis


Gregor awoke from “uneasy dreams” only to find himself in a foreign body (Kafka, 1914). Despite being turned into a gigantic insect, Gregor chooses to focus on his appearance rather than his inability to go to work. Why is this Gregor’s main focal point? In the beginning scenes of the story, Kafka goes into detail about Gregor’s job and his role in his family unit. Gregor was a traveling salesman, which made it difficult to formulate intimate social relationships. Gregor’s main source for social interaction was either from his family or his occupation, where he was an integral part of the economy and society. Due to Gregor’s inability to work, it created a serious dysfunction in his family unit. Without Gregor’s income, his family would sink into an economic depression. Being transformed into this gigantic insect resulted in a drastic shift of roles within his family. Gregor now became the one his family needed to look after and take care of.


Through his use of symbolism, Kafka paints a very vivid depiction of Gregor’s mental health. In the beginning of this story, Kafka introduces the setting of the story by painting a grim picture, “Gregor’s eyes turned next to the window, and the overcast sky-one could hear rain drops beating on the window gutter-made him quite melancholy.” (Kafka, 1914). The phraseology utilized by Kafka in this line implies that tragic events are foreshadowed within the story. “He tried at least a hundred times, shutting his eyes to keep from seeing his struggling legs, and only desisted when he began to feel in his side a faint dull ache he had never experienced before.” (Kafka,1914); this quote, describes Gregor’s struggle in his new physical state. Both of these quotes give insight into Gregor’s mental health described by Kafka. The grim beginning, followed by a struggle to perform daily duties, and a change in appetite shown later on in the story, insinuates that Gregor had depression due to this drastic change he went through. With concern about his job, Gregor stresses over the fact that his boss and father will be angry with him and about what will happen to his family. Now that Gregor cannot provide for his family, he feels a sense of dissociation not only from society but from his family. Gregor has lost his purpose in his family unit and no longer knows what to do with himself. He was shunned to his room where he lived out his days until he passed away. Gregor’s metamorphosis represents the results of a drastic change in a routine life that greatly affected self-image and mental health.


This metamorphosis that Gregor undergoes represents his psychological journey. When Gregor awakes from his slumber as an insect, this signifies the shift from his conscious state into the subconscious. Having this story written in the subconscious state, the reader can explore Gregor’s repressed feelings about his self-image. Gregor’s father represents the id, restraining Gregor from having a life and a family of his own. In the story, Gregor reflects upon the independent life he could have lived, if he were not tied down by his family. His own thoughts about reaching self-actualization seemed to be a betrayal on his family that would overfill him with guilt (Azizmohammadi, 2013). The act of departing from his family’s side to live a life of his own was merely an illusion that only occurred in his thoughts. The superego serves as a censor on the functions of the values of family and society; being the source of the guilty feelings and fear of punishment that Gregor has towards his father (Karl, pg. 189-204). This demonstrates the fears and a sense of guilt that are seen once Gregor turns into the insect and shows an insight into his subconscious psyche.


Human Desires


Another aspect to explore are the human desires of the conscious mind. Gregor yearns to escape his new body and returning to who he was. The longer Gregor remains in this insect body, the more he yearns to stay attached to his human desires. In one of the scenes of the novella, Mrs. Samsa and her daughter go into Gregor’s bedroom to rearrange his belongings. In an effort impede the removal of his belongings, Gregor implores his mother and sister to stop. As they move the furniture out, Gregor relocates himself on top of a painting of a beautiful woman. His desire to hover over the painting represents one of Gregor’s last connections to the human world, his sexual desire. As Gregor clings to this framed picture, it represents his guarding of his last hopes of remaining human however, his insect state prohibits him to feel so.


Near the end of Gregor’s life, he debates if he should keep living his horrid fate or to die. After his dreadful encounter with the other tenants of the house, the Samsa family agrees that they need to get rid of Gregor (Kafka, 1914). In Gregor’s efforts to engage with his family and the other tenants, they neglect him once again. Hearing his father deliberately say that he was a nuisance to the family leads Gregor to consider leaving everything behind only to be released from the tragic life he was living. As he debates whether to live or perish, Gregor acknowledges that his death would mean that he would have finally accepted his unfortunate reality and lose all attachment to the world (Goodman-Thau, 2004).


Correlation Between the Characters and Kafka’s Life


There are significant correlations between the fictional literary characters in The Metamorphosis and Kafka’s life. The first direct correlation is seen between Gregor Samsa and Franz Kafka. In the beginning of the story, Kafka describes how essential Gregor is to his family unit and how he made providing for his family his priority rather than living an individual life only to receive approval from his father. This relates to the relationship that Kafka had with his own father. Kafka has felt like a victim in his household because of the harsh treatment he received from his father. Since Kafka yearned to receive approval in the eyes of his father, he proceeded to study and have a brief career in law (Nervi, 2007). Becoming an esteemed lawyer was an occupation that his father would approve of. In his later years when Kafka decided to pursue a career as a writer, his father looked down on him for not becoming a successful lawyer and pursuing a hobby. In the biography, Kafka also was said to have been secluded to his room to escape the torment of his parents screaming and slamming of doors (Nervi, 2007). Similar to the reference he makes of the slamming doors in the literature. Kafka had become so accustomed to this noise that he had unknowingly included it within his writing (Nervi, 2007). Although this reference may have had no significance to the reader, to Kafka this was a connection to his home life. The symbolism used in the literature depicts the declining mental health of Gregor. Kafka was said to have been suffering from clinical depression and social anxiety for a majority of his life (Nervi, 2007). This indicated that Kafka used the depiction of mental health from his personal experiences. Years of feeling humiliated, neglected, and victimized by his father results in Kafka referring to his father not only in The Metamorphosis but in some of his other literature as well (Baltimore, 189,204). Kafka’s relationship with his father not only affected him in his youth but carried on this resentment throughout his adult life.


The second correlation is found between Mr. Samsa and Kafka’s father and it is the way that Mr. Samsa is described. The stature that he holds as the man of the family uplifts him almost as a reference to a type of God complex in Gregor’s eyes (Azizmohammadi, 2013). Since Mr. Samsa is the father of the family and Gregor is the one who in actuality is the main provider for the household, they are in a constant battle to decide who the man of the house is. Although Mr. Samsa had a career before he became older and was unable to solely provide for his family, he has become cold with the only other male presence in the household. He saw Gregor as a threat because he was young and had a chance to succeed him. Apart from the emotions Kafka had inflected on Gregor, he had given him an occupation that was quite familiar to him. In Kafka’s fathers’ years of adulthood, he was a traveling salesman just as Gregor was in the story. Kafka has seemed to incorporate fragments of his father’s life in his literature to make the character of Gregor more realistic and relatable. Once Gregor became an insect and could no longer contribute anything, Mr. Samsa’s hatred towards his son grew. This was similar to what Kafka’s father might’ve felt with him thus treating Kafka poorly for the majority of his life just as Mr. Samsa treated Gregor.


A third correlation that was found was between Gregor’s sister and Kafka’s sister. Kafka was the eldest of six children in his household (Nervi, 2007). Among the younger siblings was is sister named Ottilie. In the story, Gregor only had one sibling who was his younger sister Greta. Greta cared for Gregor when he became an insect but her interest with Gregor declined as time passed. Throughout the story, Gregor’s sister was caring for him by bringing him food and giving him some sort of attention. Towards the end of Gregor’s life, his sister is disgusted by him and avoided going in his room any longer. Gregor was now completely isolated and the one person who cared for him the most, now detested him. In Kafka’s biography, it is stated that his sister supported and cared him the most when he began to suffer from tuberculosis (Nervi, 2007). This was significant as to why Kafka chose to make Gregor’s sister his care taker when he transformed into an insect.


Gregor’s Death and Significance


The last aspect to explore regarding Gregor’s psychological journey of his self-image is his death. The general understanding of death is the conclusion of life; a release from one’s physical state. Gregor’s death is by the hands of his father as he throws apples at him. Mr. Samsa throws an apple that lodges into the side of Gregor. As the apple begins to rot, Gregor gets closer to death. The apple that is thrown by his father represents the punishment that Gregory received due to his inability to sustain his family and satisfy the needs of his father. Once Gregor passes away, he turned back into his former physical state as a human. Shortly after Gregor’s death, Kafka uses the description of light shining from a window into the room as symbolism for a return into the conscious world.


Apart from his death symbolizing his reentering into the conscious world, Gregor’s death signifies sacrifice. Kafka could have made Gregor’s death immediate and relatively painless. However, Gregor’s death was prolonged throughout the story to create a character that had become a bother to his family. Kafka may have chosen to prolong Gregor’s death in order for his family to not have the chance to grieve him. Instead, his prolonged death made the perfect opportunity for his family to detest and seclude Gregor little by little. As his later days approached, Gregor no longer wished to be a nuisance to his family. He knew that they would need to care for him for the rest of their lives if he were to stay alive. Gregor’s death signifies a sacrifice that was necessary in order to release his family from their unfulfilled lives. After Gregor passes away, his family is able to leave their home in hopes of starting a new chapter in their lives. Gregor’s death not only released him from his horrid life, but his sacrifice made it possible for his family to start over. In Kafka’s literature of The Metamorphosis, death signifies a new beginning.


Conclusion


Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis tells the story of Gregor’s psychological journey that he undergoes through his metamorphosis. This story describes the significance of Gregor’s metamorphosis as it’s depicted through the subconscious mind. Through the writings of Kafka, we are able to analyze Gregor’s metamorphosis, the humanly desires represented through symbolism, the correlation between literary characters and Kafka’s life, and the significance of Gregor’s death. This piece of literature opens the mind to various perspectives presented throughout the writing concerning self-imagery, the family unit, and the significance of life.


References


Azizmohammadi, F. Barfi, Z. Kohzadi, H. (2013). A Study of Kafka’s the Metamorphosis in the light of Freudian Psychological Theory. Department of English Literature. Volume 2(10), ISSN 2277-2502, pp 107-109, Retrieved from Research Journal of Recent Sciences.


Baltimore Vol. 55 (Iss. 2), 189-204. Retrieved from Psychology Database


Goodman-Thau, E. (2004). Metamorphosis as Messianic Myth: Dream and Reality in the Writings of Franz Kafka. “Short Story Criticism”, Volume. 290, pp.157-187. Retrieved from Gale Literature Resource Center.


Kafka, F. (1946). Metamorphosis and Other Stories. New York, NY: Random House.


Nervi, M. (2007). Kafka's life (1883-1924). (n.d.). Retrieved August 26, 2021, from

http://www.kafka.org/index.php?biography.