“The Metamorphosis” and Existentialism

How does your understanding of “The Metamorphosis” relate to the Existentialism lecture that you heard last week?

In a posting of approximately two to three hundred words, with at least two proofs from the text, show how your understanding of Existentialism relates to Kafka’s novella.  Your posting needs to be grammatically correct and your quotations need to be properly cited.  The deadline for postings is Tuesday, October 27th at midnight; note that this is a stringent deadline.  Please remember the academic guidelines for classroom-appropriate language, decorum, etc.

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~ by Ms. Cox on October 25, 2009.

23 Responses to ““The Metamorphosis” and Existentialism”

  1. As we are studying the words of renown philosophers and the stories of great authors I am beginning to feel my mind opening to a world of new knowledge. There is so much to learn, so much to soak up and enjoy. I have immersed myself in new thoughts, and perspectives of life as a whole after having experienced the ideas of both Existentialism and Kafka’s story of The Metamorphosis.
    After learning about Existentialism, I found many parallels between its theories and Kafka’s story novella, all of which helped me to better understand the messages within the story. The main point which stood out to me in Existentialist theories was the idea that the meaning of life is found through free will, choice, and personal responsibility. We and we alone, are the ones who determine our final destiny. We have the power to alter our essence of nature as a whole and make choices based on our own instinct. This is quite similar to the message Kafka was trying to portray in his story. Gregor transforms from a human to an insect, symbolizing his feeling of alienation in his own family, and feeling trapped in his own life. His separation from all human contact, leaves him in complete control of his own personal morals and decisions. He has been left with only his own free will to determine his fate, while he feels trapped within his own body. When Gregor’s room was being reorganized for example, his family planned to remove all the paintings from the wall. It was Gregor’s personal choice to stand up for his rights as an individual by clinging onto the picture before they had a chance to remove it completely. He stood his ground by protesting his personal freedom being taken from him.
    Another parallel between both Existentialism theory and Kafka’s text was the idea that an individual is at its best when struggling against their own individual nature. The existentialisms believe that although life is not always pleasant and satisfying, it has importance and meaning nonetheless. Existentialism states further that we are constantly searching for the true meaning of our personal journey in life, and the suffering and pain we endure is what enhances our discoveries. Kafka depicted Gregor as a weak and helpless bug, being trod on and controlled by humans. He is constantly engaged in a battle with himself. Although Gregor’s life appeared to become more painful and worthless as time went on, his suffering left him wiser and stronger as an individual. He had the chance to observe human life, from an insects perspective, and analyse the selfish nature of all humans, especially his family. Gregor’s struggle, and death, left his family to be reborn.
    In conclusion, I can say that my understanding of Kafka’s novella was enriched after relating it to the theories of existentialism. The idea that human destiny is determined by an individual’s personal choices and personal responsibly related to the way Gregor was forced to live. As well, the idea that although life is not always optimally satisfying, it has meaning and significance. The knowledge and ideas from both these pieces helped be better understand each of them in an entirely new light.

  2. Franz Kafka manages to fit a lot of confusion into the forty-some pages of The Metamorphosis, even in consideration of the willing suspension of disbelief readers must force themselves to adopt. Understanding existentialism is beneficial to someone scrambling to make any sense of the events in the novella. One key idea is that there are things in life that aren’t rational. Gregor Samsa’s waking up as a cockroach is entirely irrational.
    Existentialists believe that when someone tries to impose her/his beliefs onto another, the latter’s individualism is compromised and destroyed. In the novella, Gregor is forced to get out of bed at unspeakable hours to get to work to support his family. When he arrives at work, he is forced to be “subjected to the torment of traveling, to the worries about train connections, the bad meals at irregular hours, an intercourse with people that constantly changes” (12). He undergoes such barren actions not because they are beneficial to his being, but solely because someone else enforced those rules upon him. The result of this is a largely disgruntled Gregor, who is now a carbon copy of countless others who are forced to heave themselves to work every morning. In the novella, Gregor is no longer an individual. He is portrayed as an average working man supporting his family. Perhaps if earlier in life he had been exposed to a more supportive and thoughtful environment, he would have a job in a field he really enjoyed. Maybe then he wouldn’t need to get up at five.
    Notable existentialists agree that life is never optimally satisfying, but nonetheless meaningful. Gregor Samsa’s life, tragic in its mundaneness, was not satisfying. Moreover, his death was anticlimactic. There was no long description, no lamentation. Gregor’s “head involuntarily sank down altogether, and his last break issued faintly from his nostrils” (49). To the reader, this is very unsatisfying. However, it still has meaning. He was given no special attention in life and, ultimately, in death. It would seem illogical for Kafka to write a long passage detailing each iota of information about his passing. Gregor’s quiet death reflects his quiet life. His continuous labour for his family, albeit monotonous, was very meaningful. This is especially evident after he was no longer able to care for them. His life and death meant something as they were instrumental to his parents’ and sister’s metamorphoses.
    There are other examples of existentialism in the text. In a broader sense, Gregor’s situation is an existentialist contradiction. Poor Gregor has no access to the backbone of existentialism: free will, choice, liberty, truth. The Metamorphosis is a layering of existential notions, quotations and messages. A solid knowledge of the philosophy will clarify the questions raised from the novella, as numerous as they are.

  3. Existentialism focuses on the nature of choice, and that the choices that are made will have some sort of consequence or outcome on certain situations. After studying existentialism it is clear that Franz Kafaka’s novella The Metamorphosis, used a lot of existentialism when creating the character Gregor Samsa. Gregor may appear to have little choice in his decisions that occur throughout his life as a cockroach, although prior to him becoming a cockroach he worked as a salesman. It was a long, and dreary job that he despised. During this stage in Gregor’s life he had choices all around him, but he decided to maintain his job day after day. So maybe Gregor being turned into a cockroach in the first place is because that’s what he wanted. He hated his job and pretty much his life entirely. So what was the point for him to live as a human anymore? You can really tell by the description of his room, “proper for a human being, only somewhat to small, lay quietly between four well-known walls. Above the table, on which an unpacked collection of sample cloth goods was spread out,”(pg1) he lived in very uncomfortable conditions and was in very enclosed spaces. This leads me to think that it was not some destiny or fate that led Gregor to becoming a cockroach, but it was through actions. Whether they were accidental or intentional.

  4. “If he understood us…” [Kafka 47]
    Existentialism helped me understand the novella, “The Metamorphosis”, because it made me realize that all things don’t have to be completely logical. For example, I’m a person who has an ongoing slew of thoughts that overlap one another, and I absolutely never stop thinking, even when I try to. My thoughts are usually interpreted as babble – which sometimes is true – but it’s always logical, and usually has some sort of hard-to-see underlying thread of continuity. I found that even though “The Metamorphosis” seemed like babble, it /did/ make sense to a point. I may not have understood it as well as I understand my own odd thoughts, but no one but Kafka will ever truly understand Kafka either. It’s logically illogical.
    I found that, even though I strive to comprehend “The Metamorphosis”, I will never fully get what it’s trying to say. We can come up with our own conclusions, but none of them will necessarily be what was intended. In every story, there is room for speculation. It’s not odd for people to want to understand and know everything, as humans have a need to know things. “The Metamorphosis” helped me realize that what’s in another person’s head is not necessarily the same as what’s in mind. Existentialism is about doing what you think is right, not what society expects of you. Society definitely didn’t expect to read something as absurd and peculiar as “The Metamorphosis”, and some people might’ve put the book down after the first line, “When Gregor Samsa awoke from troubled dreams one morning, he found that he had been transformed in his bed into an enormous bug.” [Kafka 11]

  5. Kafka’s Metamorphasis seems to be an example of “what not to do” for existentialists. Existentialism is a philosophy that focuses on finding ones self and the meaning of life through free will, choice and personal responsibility. (Lecture) Ironically, Gregor finds his true self because of his lack of free will and personal choice. He has been transformed into what he truly is; a methodical, diligent, constantly working insect. “My god,” he thought, “what a strenuous profession I’ve chosen! Traveling day in and day out. The turmoil of business is much greater that in the home office, and on top of that I’m subjected to this torment of traveling, to the worries about train connections, the bad meals at irregular hours, an intercourse with people that constantly changes, never lasts, never becomes cordial. The devil take it all!” (Kafka 12) He hates his job and is unhappy with his life, but his personal choice to continue with it day after day has resulted in his transformation. Gregor does not once question why he has transformed, or place the blame on himself or a deity. When someone of society tries to impose or demand that their beliefs, values or rules be faithfully accepted and obeyed, Existentialists believe this destroys individualism and make a person become whatever the people in power desire they are thus they are dehumanized and reduced to being an object. (Lecture) Gregor is the financial supporter of his family has to work without pause. He has no time for social interaction and is tired of the stressful life of travelling. Since he is never home for very long between jobs he has no strong connection with his family outside of being a provider. He is simply an object who is put to work to make money. He is proud of the material things he has provided his family with, but all such things can be bought and are not priceless like time spent with family. “I am so deeply obligated to our employer…I have my parents and sister to worry about. I’m in a jam, but I’ll work my way out of it. But don’t make it harder for me than it already is. Speak up for me in the firm! A traveling salesman isn’t well liked, I know.” (Kafka 21) Gregor is a slave to his job and the timetables and schedules of being a travelling salesman. This leaves little time for free will, the power of acting without the constraint of necessity. “But then he said to himself: “Before it strikes seven fifteen, I just have to be all the way out of bed. Besides, by that time someone from the firm will come to ask about me, because the office opens before seven o’clock.”(Kafka 15) “Why was only Gregor condemned to work for a firm where people immediately conceived the greatest suspicions at the smallest sign of negligence?” (Kafka 15) The use of the word condemned shows that Gregor felt he had no choice but to work. Human life is in no way complete and fully satisfying because of suffering and losses that occur when considering the lack of perfection, power and control one has over their life. (Lecture) Gregor is controlled by his financial obligation to a family he never has time to see. He suffers daily as a result. Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis is a tale of warning of what may befall you if you do not live by the existentialist belief that you must take charge of your own life and live by your free will. You will wake up one day to find yourself trapped in a life you do not enjoy and are not appreciated in. Despite the fact existentialist had no religious beliefs, their principles are advice to avoid living in one’s personal hell.

  6. Once reading The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, the practise of existentialism is better defined and easier to understand because of the parallels between the two. Existentialists believe “a person is at their best when struggling against their individual nature, fighting for life.” A human’s individual nature includes, but is not limited to, their gender, age and religious and cultural beliefs. When you have a conflict that forces you to fight for those rights and those morals that you believe in, mankind prospers and succeeds as an individual. Kafka recognizes this when his protagonist fights for his human abilities and what he morally feels compelled to do. “When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.” From the moment he awoke all he thinks about is his job. He realizes that he has changed and he is not himself but he is determined to try and continue his life by doing what he believes is right; going to work to support his family. Once he becomes a bug, Gregor is obviously fighting for his life, a life he knew. And at first (like the existentialists believe) he was stronger, he had a stronger will to fight and to live. After he struggles to have his family understand him in his new form and they do not accept him, he gives into his new situation and lets his new life take over and control him, he stops his fight for life. Kafka also follows the existentialism philosophy of “personal responsibility and discipline is crucial.” This is shown through Gregor trying to get out of bed to go to work to support his family; responsibility. His discipline is shown through him staying in his room suffering while he can hear his family outside the door trying to continue their lives but suffering over the loss of their son. Gregor goes against his nature by stopping all forms of communication with is family, and when his sister brings him food, Gregor hides under a blanket to help his sister not feel pain from looking at him in his new form. There are many more parallels between Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and existentialism philosophy that most all deal with Gregor fighting between his human life and his transformed life and figuring out how to survive that change.

  7. After having discussed and taken notes on existentialism, I found that I was able to gain a better understanding of The Metamorphosis and of Kafka’s reasoning behind the novella. Initially, Gregor was portrayed as someone who did not reflect the characteristics of an existentialist in any way. He allowed his job and his family to control him, and he never had any free will or sense of choice in his life. Gregor also only ever believed that there was one truth and one main goal or purpose in his life. He believed that working for his employer and supporting his family was what he was meant to do in life. He was always too focussed on his responsibility to his family to ever worry about himself. I think that Kafka used Gregor’s character as a foil to demonstrate his own personal beliefs and outlook on life. Gregor honestly thought that wealth, pleasure, and honour for being the provider of his family would automatically guarantee him the “good life”. Through his transformation he was able to see things from a different perspective (literally and metaphorically). Even when he turned into a cockroach he took personal responsibility for what happened, an important characteristic of existentialism. He even excused the family’s behaviour and reactions due to the fact that, “it was precisely all the uncertainty that was oppressing the others”(Kafka 17). Essentially, it was Gregor’s family who dehumanised him. While I believe that his parents, sister, boss, and co-workers all contributed to his downfall, it was the family’s selfishness and lack of responsibility that turned him into a mere object. After everything he had done for them, they neglected him and took away everything that allowed him to hold onto his humanity. By constantly conforming to what his parents and employer wanted, and allowing them to dictate his behaviour, his life became unsatisfying and devoid of meaning. While Gregor’s life was slowly deteriorating, the family was given a second chance, and through their son’s transformation, they developed a new and meaningful outlook on life. As Kafka was a strong believer in existentialism, I think that he used this novella to explore and examine Gregor’s existence, and how it was seemingly inconsequential. The story was concerned with Gregor’s ability to find not only his self, but his true purpose in life. Although having Gregor turn into a cockroach may not have made very much sense at the time, I believe it was Kafka’s intention to show the reader that not everything in life is rational or easily explained. Overall, I believe that the novella was simply a way for Kafka to reflect upon his beliefs and his own life values. I think that, through Gregor and Gregor’s family, Kafka was able to portray what it means to discover the true meaning of life, and how, it is not always easy to find your purpose.

  8. According to the faithful words of Wikipedia Existentialism is a term that has been applied to the work of a number of nineteenth and twentieth century philosophers who, despite profound doctrinal differences, generally held that the focus of philosophical thought should be to deal with the emotions, actions, responsibilities, and thoughts of the individual person and his or her conditions of existence. Kafka’s Metamorphosis has many existentialism qualities to it, however I do not think Kafka wanted to portray Metamorphosis in that manner. Even though Gregor was suddenly turned into a disgusting bug, Gregor was determined to live his life to the fullest. Gregor was forced to live by himself, dependant on no one. This is essentially existentialism. “Gregor pushed himself slowly towards the door, with the help of the easy chair, let go of it there, threw himself against the door, held himself upright against it—the balls of his tiny limbs had a little sticky stuff on them—and rested there momentarily from his exertion. Then he made an effort to turn the key in the lock with his mouth.” This passage descripts the challenges that Gregor faced while trying to accomplish a simple act for a human, opening a door, however Gregor accomplished this act, by himself, with no one to help him. His own actions depicted the journey that he would take for the rest of his life. “He really did not know what he should rescue first. Then he saw hanging conspicuously on the wall, which was otherwise already empty, the picture of the woman dressed in nothing but fur. He quickly scurried up over it and pressed himself against the glass which held it in place and which made his hot abdomen feel good. At least this picture, which Gregor at the moment completely concealed, surely no one would now take away.” Closer to the end of the novella, Gregor lashes out, when his mother and sister start clearing out his room, so that he would be free to climb the walls. However this upsets Gregor and he scurries onto a picture on the wall. This action proved to his mother and his sister that he wanted to protect his belongings. Even though Gregor was a unfortunately turned into a bug, he still lived his life to the fullest. He proved to live his life through the rules of existentialism.
    <Johnston, Ian. "Franz Kafka The Metamorphosis ." Malaspina University-College, Nanaimo, BC (2009): n. pag. Web. 26 Oct 2009. .
    <Wikipedia, . "Existentialism From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia." Web. .

  9. Existentialism and its presence in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis

    Existentialism is a twentieth-century philosophy concerned with finding one-self and the meaning of life through free-will, choice and personal responsibility. People determine who and what they are throughout life as they make choices based on their experiences, beliefs and outlook. Franz Kafka was one of the first Existentialist writers and this philosophy is present in his novella, The Metamorphosis. One of the postulates of the philosophy is that there are things that are not rational and perhaps the most obvious example in Kafka’s novella is Gregor’s inexplicable transformation into an insect. The philosophy also includes many other concepts; one of which being how personal responsibility and discipline are crucial. The protagonist in The Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa, doesn’t like his job, but he works very hard to pay off his father’s debts and support his family. By transforming into an insect, Kafka also, however, implies that his work has lead to dehumanization and, in the end, death. When we start treating humans as inanimate objects, the results are disastrous. Kafka relays how, in our compulsion for work, we are getting out of touch with each other. Gregor comments on the absurdities of his job while lying in bed: “What a strenuous profession I’ve chosen! Traveling day in and day out… I’m subjected to an intercourse with people that constantly changes, never lasts, never becomes cordial. The devil take it all! (Kafka, 11) This aspect of Existentialism states that society is unnatural and its traditional religious and secular rules are arbitrary and how society’s ways, in general, aren’t always the correct way of doing things. Another aspect of the philosophy is that human nature is chosen through life choices. While Gregor is physically an insect, he doesn’t want to behave like one, and he chooses to behave like a human and keep his room as it was when he was human: “Nothing must be removed, everything must stay; he couldn’t do without the beneficent effects of the furniture on his well-being; and if the furniture prevented him from going on with that mindless crawling around, that was no disadvantage, but a great asset.” (Kafka, 34) This concept of Existentialism states that there are individuals apart from their community but they insist on remaining to their true natures. There is another aspect in the novella that is an aspect of the philosophy. While the story was sad, the end provides for a brighter future for the family: “And they took it as a confirmation of their new dreams and good intentions when, at the end of their ride, their daughter stood up first and stretched her young body” (Kafka, 52). Although Kafka suggests that humans and the society in which they live are becoming less and less personal, an optimistic future is possible if individuals stop and examine themselves and their relationships with other people; a staple in the Existentialist philosophy.

  10. As I was not present for the lecture, my response is based upon the note Ms. Cox sent me. I think that the novella and the meaning behind existentialism are very closely related. Gregor Samsa was a great believer of personal responsibility, however he did not exercise his free will. Everything he did was for the benefit of his family and not for himself. A sense of the tradition of family loyalty is present in Gregor, which is anti-existentialist. The family lives very lavishly, also anti-existentialist, and Gregor supports this lifestyle despite their disregard of him. They even forget to feed him, “I do have an appetite, but not for those things. How these lodgers pack it away, and I’m perishing!” (Kafka, 44). Because Gregor spends so much time focusing on his family’s needs, he does not search for his true self. Gregor suffers the fate of becoming a cockroach, and some would say this is him being dehumanized and reduced to being an object. While a cockroach is not necessarily an object, it is by no means human. Gregor’s boss even says, “that was an animal’s voice.” (Kafka, 19). Existentialism does not says that life is easy nor that it is completely satisfying, but by obeying the philosophies of existentialism one will have meaning in his/her life. Gregor Samsa did not do this. He was corrupt by society and completely un-individual. Therefore, he is the opposite of existentialism.

  11. From my understanding of existentialism, it centers around an individuals power to give their own life meaning. One must be able to do so, despite the obstacles in their way, in order to live a meaningful life. In Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Gregor felt that his transformation into a cockroach had taken away the meaning and purpose of his life. This is a parallel to existentialism, as Gregor actually possessed the ability to give meaning to his new life the entire time, he was just unable to see that. Had Gregor been able to overcome his despair and alienation, he may have been able to live a new life, despite his transformation.

    “But anyway they were now believing that there was something wrong with him and they were ready to help him. The confidence and security with which the first measures had been taken comforted him.” (Kafka, 19)

    However, I believe that Gregor’s family played a part in pushing him further into despair. At first, Gregor tries to seek the help of his family. He wants to understand what has happened to him and attempt to deal with it. But it was the reaction and rejection of his family that caused Gregor to assume he had no meaning or quality left in his life.

    “In this overworked and overtired family, who had time to be concerned about Gregor beyond what was absolutely necessary?” (Kafka, 40)

    I feel that Gregor’s family also had a choice to make that relates to existentialism. They realized that, because of Gregor’s transformation, he would no longer be able to support them. So, they could have chosen to bring new meaning to their life, and start supporting themselves. They had the chance to overcome their own obstacles and start a fresh chapter in their life. Instead, they wallowed in their own self pity, wondering only how Gregor could have abandoned them and left them with nothing.

    Both Gregor and his family had choices to make about the future of their lives. They could have chosen to create purpose in their lives, and live happily despite the obstacles they faced. Sadly, they didn’t realize this, and Gregor nor his family were unable to find meaning in their new lives.

  12. The explanation of what existentialism helped me understand Kafka’s novella “The Metamorphosis” even better was the existentialist belief that not all things in the world have a rational explanation. This relates to “The Metamorphosis” because Gregor’s transformation is not of a rational occurrence it just simply happens, similar to the many mysterious and unnatural things that occur in reality paranormal activity, miracles etc.
    “‘What’s happened to me?’ he thought. It was no dream.”(11). Gregor himself was somewhat of an ideal model of an existentialist in my opinion. Gregor never doubted his family, from the beginning of his demise he believed his family would support him; he didn’t blame anyone for what happened except himself. “He [Gregor] recalled his family with affection and love. His opinion about the necessity for him to disappear was, if possible, even firmer than his sister’s.”(49). Another incident where I believe Gregor can be viewed as having existentialist traits is when he stares out upon the world through the window in his room. “At other times he didn’t spare the exertion of shoving a chair over to the window; he would crawl up the ledge and, supporting himself against the chair, lean against the window, obviously only through some sort of recollection of the liberating feeling he always used to experience when looking out the window.”(30).

  13. Personally I thought the existentialism lesson was very moving and powerful. I do agree with some points, but I think others are a bit extreme. Existentialism is all about the study of existence, how humans find themselves existing in the world, and the meaning of life. Existentialists accomplish this through acts of free will, choice, and personal responsibility. I feel that everyone has the power to achieve what they wish to achieve, and that only you alone can create your own fate through the choices that you make. In The Metamorphosis, I believe that Gregor had some qualities of an existentialist, but only in his mind. He initially had good intentions; he wanted to do things that were based solely upon his decisions. For example, he wished that he could just stand up to his boss and his parents. Yet he never acted upon these thoughts because he let himself be controlled by almost everyone. He even gave up on life because he overheard his family talking about killing him. I feel that Gregor was transformed into an insect of all things, because the nature of Gregor was that similar of a bug: he obeyed orders, and was living almost emotionless. Gregor never made time for himself; he devoted his life to his work, similar to insects. They are industrious and hard working creatures, their sole purpose in life is to work. Gregor’s existence was exactly like the existence of an insect.

    I feel that Kafka intentionally incorporated existentialism into The Metamorphosis. I believe he wanted the readers to understand that if you let others decide your life, your existence is simply the same existence of an insect.

  14. After hearing the lecture on Existentialism, I was able to see how Existentialism emphasizes isolation of human beings, much like Kafka does in his novella, The Metamorphosis. A major theme in the novella is the isolation Gregor and his family places upon him. Gregor’s job as a travelling salesman causes him to lead a lonely life and hinders his chances of developing meaningful relationships with anyone. His life before his transformation is full of solitude. His job also isolates Gregor from his family. This isolation is proven on page 13, where it states that Gregor “was now glad he had formed the cautious habit, an offshoot of his business trips, of locking all his doors at night even at home”. This shows how Gregor isolates himself from his family by locking himself into his room. However, after the transformation, Gregor’s isolation intensifies as the family locks him in his own room, holding him captive. As the family begins to become more independent, Gregor gradually becomes more isolated. Gregor constantly takes responsibility for his actions, even if they were beyond his control. Gregor sees and understands the burden he has become to his family, and although he did not purposefully transform into a bug, he feels guilty for what he is putting them through. “[H]e had to stay calm and, by exercising patience and being as considerate as possible to his family, make bearable the unpleasantness that he was absolutely compelled to cause them in his present condition”. (pg.26) A large part of Existentialism is taking responsibility for the consequences of one’s acts. This quote shows how Gregor takes responsibility for what he has unintentionally done to his family. Overall, there are many similarities between Existentialism and The Metamorphosis. The story conveys the message that life is never fully satisfying because there is a lack of perfection, power, and most relevantly, control. Gregor never really had any control over his life as he was manipulated by his boss at work and his family at home. There is also the fact that according to Existentialism, there are things that are not rational. There are a multitude of events in The Metamorphosis that are irrational. From the first sentence of the novella to the end where little grieving occurs, irrationality and ambiguity is found throughout the entire novella.

  15. This is Rebecca Morkuna’s posting:

    I think Kafka’s novella on Gregor Samsa’s life is the very reason for a philosophical movement such as existentialism to exist today. The more I think about it, the more I feel as if Kafka’s novella, though it was fiction, was a non-fictional, non-literary symbol of Kafka’s existentialist views. Kafka addresses the core of existentialism; the analysis of our existence and the belief that people are responsible for their own actions and experiences. Probably, like millions of people today, the main character of “The Metamorphosis”, Gregor, lived day to day, a rather tiring and dreary existence. He worked at a job he detested in order to pay off his father’s debts and he also did not have much of a social life outside of work and domestic life; all of this adding up to his meaningless existence or rather his non-existence as existentialism is about existence and Gregor seemed to exhibit non-existential characteristics. Gregor was not real or alive. And how can we possibly exist without living? Or live without existing? Gregor gave away his true human nature and his desires to external forces and becomes faithful to them. Their beliefs became his beliefs, their values became his values, and their rules became his rules. His family made him think his assigned role as provider/financial supporter an “honor”. By working as a traveling salesman, working long, hard hours, all his hard work and efforts were now being taken for granted by his employer and he becomes less united to his family, gradually destroying their bond. He has become corrupted by his environment and had created his own destiny. When Gregor literally transforms into a bug, there is no questioning about this strange transformation, as Gregor had been a metaphorical bug beforehand. When he wakes up from his strange dreams as a bug, his first priority is work, than money to continue supporting his family’s comfortable lifestyle. This demonstrates how he has no true identity because all his precious energy has been focused on less meaningful things; materialism, society and its general truths… I found Gregor’s absurd ending appropriate. The fact that an apple infected him and later killed him, portrayed he had no concrete base or individualism to overcome what was thrown at him. His end perhaps suggests his realization of his weakness to please others, his unfulfilled life and his inability to have seen life on the grand scale. Maybe the meaning of life had finally come to him and he felt some sort of satisfaction. “He remained in this state of vacant and peaceful contemplation until the tower clock struck the third morning hour. He was still alive when the world started to become brighter outside the window. Then his head involuntarily sank down altogether, and his last breath issued faintly from his nostrils.” (49) As the audience of the novella, we witness Gregor’s big picture and his consequences for not living a life filled with meaning. He was responsible for his existence and he was the only one who could have chosen the path to his own destiny.

  16. Franz Kafka was an early twentieth century author; he also was a founder of the philosophy of Existentialism. Existentialism is centered upon the analysis of existence, and of the way humans exist first and then each individual spends a lifetime changing their essence or their nature. In Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis, the protagonist, Gregor Samsa, is portrayed as someone who suffers change in his essence; he more or less becomes a cockroach. Although many see the novella as a change in Samsa’s life, with new knowledge found in Existentialism I now see that Samsa’s life did not change at all. Samsa awoke one morning and believed he was a cockroach, when in actuality he had not changed at all. Samsa even says, “It was no dream”(Kafka 11). Kafka gives his protagonist, Gregor, this shell, this absolutely hideous creature so that the reader can more easily comprehend why he was being so badly mistreated. I believe that Samsa awoke that morning as he would any other morning; in regards to interaction with his family nothing changes. He is still very badly mistreated and unwelcome. The philosophy of Existentialism believes that a person is at his or her best when struggling for his or her life. Samsa struggled everyday, with a job he disliked, a family who did not appreciate him, loneliness, etc. Samsa never turned into a cockroach, he was always a ‘cockroach’ he was always being looked down upon, and mistreated, and this was just a different perspective on the pathetic life that he led. As Gregor is beaten and on the verge of death, he looks into the darkness for answers, “‘And now?’ Gregor asked himself and looked around in the darkness” (Kafka 49). Now, in this scene is when Gregor realizes that his whole life he has been accepting what “is” and that is good enough in life and that, according to Existentialism is wrong. Gregor deserved much more then he ever got, he was trashed and beaten, and basically treated like a cockroach. Gregor needed to find more to his life and as he finally realizes this, in his time of dying; he falls into his final sleep. Kafka’s novella, The Metamorphosis, draws great parallels with the philosophy of Existentialism. From Samsa fighting to survive on a day to day basis, to Samsa mistakenly accepting that what “is”, is simply good enough in life. Samsa was never really a cockroach; this was only his reasoning for why he was being treated so badly, he could not see that this was his life, his sad pathetic life, until the night of his death.

  17. Based off of the note that Ms. Cox sent me on existentialism, the first thing I noticed was that Gregor from “The Metamorphosis” was not an existentialist, because he simply couldn’t be. He was far too concerned with the well-being of his family, as all he did was work to support them, and he cared more for his sister than he showed for himself. I believe Gregor was fully aware that “In this overworked and overtired family, who had time to be concerned about Gregor beyond what was absolutely necessary?” (Kafka 40). He knew his family had this sort of attitude toward him, no matter how subconscious it was, but I think that he started to feel it himself; he began to care so little about himself that he lost any grip he had on a sense of personality. Existentialists focus on searching for yourself and your own purpose for life, but Gregor had too many responsibilities of other people to be able to find his true self. Perhaps this was the reason for his transformation; he did not even FEEL like his own human being, but more like a bug stepped all over by everyone else as he covertly supported them unrewarded. The only time Gregor was given the opportunity to express a want of his own was when his mother and sister were cleaning his room and he covered the picture of the woman, and when he “[had] the liberating feeling…when looking out the window” (Kafka 30). Through his novella, Kafka expressed his desire for an existentialist lifestyle, but was communicating that maybe he didn’t get one.

  18. I finally figured out what was wrong. 🙂 Here it is.

    Studying Kafka’s novella, The Metamorphosis and Existentialism completely blew my mind in to tiny thoughts that for the past week I have been putting back together and after hours of thinking intensely and having hundreds of questions popping in and out of my mind, I believe I finally have a grasp on both concepts and how they relate to each other.
    Existentialism is basically that humans exist first and then spend their lives trying to change that nature. It is focused on finding out themselves out and trying to find the meaning of life without constraints such as religion or society. Kafka manages to coveys all of these messages into a short yet extremely confusing novella about a travelling salesman named Gregor Samsa and his transformation into a cockroach. Gregor is dedicated to supporting his family completely and yet when he wakes up, he is suddenly unable to do anything but lie in bed. Although Kafka expresses many of the existentialists’ beliefs, he is denied the most basic aspects such as free will and choice. His mother and sister invade the last space that he has (his bedroom) and start to take objects out in the misguided attempt to create less clutter; they are slowly stripping all things that connected Gregor to being a person.
    By labouring under an attempt to support his family completely, Gregor doesn’t demonstrate any existentialistic ideals, until he is transformed, leading the reader to believe that in order to accomplish the ideas set out by existentialists, you must make that leap into the unknown and be independent.

  19. Seeing as I was not present, my posting is based on the notes that Ms. Cox gave me, and my own research done online. Thanks to trusty old google definitions existentialism ‘is a philosophical movement embracing the view that the suffering individual must create meaning in an unknowable, chaotic, and seemingly empty universe.’ But with the readings I received, it is described as ‘philosophy that is centered upon the analysis of existence and of the way humans find themselves existing in the world’. I believe both of these statements to describe Kafka and his writings impeccably. After analyzing these definitions and referring it to the recent readings we’ve done in class I’ve come to realize that I have no idea what existentialism actually is. Sorry if that offends you, Ms. Cox but I just find that people are trying to place labels on things that we maybe weren’t supposed to understand. I think that Kafka wrote the way he did, because he was misunderstood as a child, and he wanted to go out that way. Although I feel I can relate Kafka to existentialism, so here it goes.

    If humans exist first, and then later try to figure out their purpose, or try to change the nature or essence of what they are. In the novella ‘The Metamorphosis’ Gregor Samsa undergoes a ‘transformation’ in which he ‘becomes’ a cockroach. In the novella, Gregor says “It was no dream”(Kafka 11)which shows that he believes himself to have been transformed into something horrible. This is Kafka’s way of trying to get the reader to understand why Gregor is being so horribly treated. I find this ironic because insects don’t have the choice to change their essence or the nature of their lives. Being such a small and vulnerable existence, a bug is far too ‘immature in their growth’ for anyone to understand nor care if they want their lives changed. If someone wants to stop on a bug, they’re going to do it. I think Kafka used the transformation into a bug reference to somewhat contradict existentialism by saying that if you don’t try and figure out your purpose, or change your essence you’re nothing more than how humans would view a measly insect.

    Although I am still slightly uncertain about what existentialism actually is, I am most certain that after reading the notes you took down in class, I am understanding the point a little more clearly.

  20. If history is doomed to repeat itself, then one must assume that another likeminded man will stumble across Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, and make sense of it all. Until that day arrives, however, we are left to squander our days in desperate translation.

    This fictional man, this man of great knowledge and glory, may consider this novella to be a masterpiece. I, for one, would argue the point, and suggest the idea that The Metamorphosis was simply Kafka’s first draft of a suicide attempt – the character of Gregor, who so charmingly is murdered at the end of the story, would symbolize Kafka. The form of depiction, from word choice to plot twists, is enough to cause concern for the reader. One must not only suspend disbelief, we must place disbelief on a long-term hiatus that could continue onward for the rest of eternity. This “existentialism”, this movement that declared fate was simply a crutch; man must mark his own pathway for destiny; was Kafka a part of this movement?

    Step one: angst. Does the character of Gregor experience, or cause the reader to experience, the existentialist form of angst? No, I do not believe he did. This would require the character knowing that there is freedom in the world. There are choices and opportunities beyond your front door that are ripe for the picking. If Gregor assumed the emotion of angst, we would yearn to leave his family and travel toward success.

    Step two: freedom. On the heels of mentioning freedom in the previous paragraph, I will now question if freedom was exhibited in The Metamorphosis. To an existentialist, the notion of freedom is wildly universal. Freedom is the ability to do anything and anytime; no matter what you wish to feel, see, hear, dream or taste; the world will cater to your whim if you are truly free. Throughout this novella, not only could I not unearth any mention of freedom, the entire philosophy is lost on these people! The family and Gregor alike live in a glass house that provided for them and sheltered them. It was only when the proverbial stone was thrown (Gregor’s transformation and, therefore, inability to provide financially) and shattered the glass that options were even considered. The characters in the novella had an ironclad way of life. There was no freedom, no longing for another future, no nothing.

    Step three: existence beats essence. The entire perception of responsibility is foreign to the characters. No one lives as a clan; there is no active bond between characters. Though there is a mention of a past, amicable relationship between Gregor and Grete, the current situation reinstates that no one lives as a family unit. You are who you can be, and you must take responsibility for what you become. This is the baseline for most of existentialist thinking. If Gregor was a decent man that took responsibility for his decency, the he would be a happy man. Instead, he wishes to explore different facets of his life. The “responsibility” that he claims to have a control over his life, is in fact a survival tool that keeps him from the terrifying, life-altering change that he could acquire. He is too wrapped up in fear to ever become what he would like to be.

    Though I have not included every aspect of existentialism to use as a benchmark, my opinion remains: I do not believe that this piece represents existentialism. I would argue it is the existentialist’s antonym.

  21. The life and situations of Gregor Samsa in the Frans Kafka novella “The Metamorphosis” greatly relate and call upon existentialism. Existentialists believe that human beings create their own values and meanings to their life. Gregor choose to devote himself into an empty life of work and serving his family. Although he was pressured and perhaps guilted into his current state of life by his family and their economic situation, it was his ultimate choice to do so. To become nothing more then a shell and an outlet for money, a slave to society. Gregor even realizes what has become of his life: “What a strenuous profession I’ve chosen! Traveling day in and day out… I’m subjected to an intercourse with people that constantly changes, never lasts, never becomes cordial. The devil take it all! (The Metamorphosis, 11). Once Gregor has been transformed he can only live for his self and for the individual and can no longer function properly in society. Perhaps all those years of serving someone or something, Gregor didn’t fully understand how to function for himself, and adapt to his new form. Gregor’s metamorphosis also reflects existentialists ideals of freedom, that since we are born alone and are essentially alone our whole lives that we have ultimate freedom internally and that our true self lies beyond the reach of the external. Gregor is now physically free from the machine like routine of the everyday, but his mind and internal workings are not. While the concept of existentialism is still somewhat hazy to me, I feel most people would like to use certain parts of existentialist ideas in their lives. Kafka subtle undertones turn the novella from an intimate story, possibly inspired by his own life, into a discussion of society and how we as individuals should decide our own lives.

  22. The concept and philosophy surrounding Existentialism introduced me to an entire new way of thinking. The notion that how we act and who we are is so heavily based on the choices we make, and the emphasis on how truly responsible we are for ourselves.
    Kafka really captures the Existentialist idea that humans are isolated. Even before his transformation, Gregor experiences isolation due to his job as a traveling salesman, which hinders his ability to maintain meaningful relationships with other people. This isolation caused by his job is demonstrated on page 13, where it states that Gregor “was now glad he had formed the cautious habit, an offshoot of his business trips, of locking all his doors at night even at home”. Gregor isolates himself from his family by locking his bedroom at night. After his transformation, his isolation intensifies as his family barricades him in his own room. He becomes even more isolated as his family becomes more independent from Gregor. Personal responsibility is also emphasized in the Existentialism philosophy. From the beginning of his transformation, Gregor takes responsibility for his actions, even though they were completely beyond his control. He realizes the burden he has become to his family, and feels incredibly guilty for imposing. “[H]e had to stay calm and, by exercising patience and being as considerate as possible to his family, make bearable the unpleasantness that he was absolutely compelled to cause them in his present condition” (Kafka 26). This quotation shows his knowledge and understanding of the burden he has become, through no fault of his own, to his family. It is the struggles that Gregor faces throughout the novella that leads him to his greatest transformation. This transformation was not his physical one, but his mental one. His struggles accompanied his personal freedom; he no longer had any obligations to his boss or his family.
    The story conveys the message that life is never fully satisfying because there is a lack of perfection, power, and most relevantly, control. Both the novella and the philosophy leave me thinking, and wondering “what did I just read?” Overall, Kafka’s novella is truly ambiguous, very much like the Existentialism philosophy. Gregor encompasses many of the basic aspects of Existentialism, including isolation, personal responsibility and lack of control.

  23. The life and situations of Gregor Samsa in the Frans Kafka novella “The Metamorphosis” greatly relate and call upon existentialism. Existentialists believe that human beings create their own values and meanings to their life. Gregor choose to devote himself into an empty life of work and serving his family. Although he was pressured and perhaps guilted into his current state of life by his family and their economic situation, it was his ultimate choice to do so. To become nothing more then a shell and an outlet for money, a slave to society. Gregor even realizes what has become of his life: “What a strenuous profession I’ve chosen! Traveling day in and day out… I’m subjected to an intercourse with people that constantly changes, never lasts, never becomes cordial. The devil take it all! (The Metamorphosis, 11). Once Gregor has been transformed he can only live for his self and for the individual and can no longer function properly in society. Perhaps all those years of serving someone or something, Gregor didn’t fully understand how to function for himself, and adapt to his new form. Gregor’s metamorphosis also reflects existentialists ideals of freedom, that since we are born alone and are essentially alone our whole lives that we have ultimate freedom internally and that our true self lies beyond the reach of the external. Gregor is now physically free from the machine like routine of the everyday, but his mind and internal workings are not, as he still is concerned with his job and how his boss will view him after his transformation has set him free from those worries. As portrayed on page 12 of the novella, he worries that if he misses work his boss would become suspicious because “during his five years of employment Gregor had not been ill even once”. This shows how concerned he is about how others perceive him and how society’s mind has been programed to only think about work and money. While the concept of existentialism is still somewhat hazy to me, I feel most people would like to use certain parts of existentialist ideas in their lives. Kafka subtle undertones turn the novella from an intimate story, possibly inspired by his own life, into a discussion of society and how we as individuals should decide our own lives.

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