Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Gregor May Not Have Been a Bug, but He Probably Was

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“One morning, upon awakening from agitated dreams, Gregor Samsa found himself, in his bed, transformed into a monstrous vermin”(885). This much we know. But, whether that “monstrous vermin” actually is a giant bug or is still a person isn’t as clear as it may seem. “The Metamorphosis” is not necessarily physical, but could be a mental mutation driven by the monotony of Gregor’s existence. Kafka may not have meant for us to picture Gregor as an actual bug… but he probably did.

Upon initially reading the short story, the reader probably doesn’t think twice about whether Gregor is actually a bug or not. It seems obvious. He wakes up and notices that he is now the owner of a “hard, armorlike back,” and “many legs” (885). He learns how to crawl around with his new body, discovers that he likes to eat rotten foods, begins to climb along the walls and ceiling of his room, and can no longer speak a language his family can understand. But, can we trust that all of these things are not just in Gregor’s mind? After all, the nonchalance with which Gregor accepts his metamorphosis proves that he is not entirely well. After his discovery, all he thinks about are his consequences for being late to work - “’God Almighty!’… Could the alarm have failed to go off?” (886). He doesn’t have a heart attack or go into shock, which most people would probably do in a similar situation. “To hell with it all!” (886), he exclaims, after reflecting on the misery of his job. He contemplates the fact that he has no friends, irregular meals and doesn’t get enough sleep. His life is filled with monotony. His family doesn’t help much, either � they use him as their workhorse. He brings home the bacon, so to speak, and they give him nothing in return. “They had simply grown accustomed to this, both the family and Gregor; they accepted the money gracefully, he was glad to hand it over, but no great warmth came of it.”(8.) He has very few passions in his dull life � we discover that art is one, based on the hours he spent on his precious frame (80), and that the other is his desire to send his sister to a music conservatory (00). All things considered, Gregor seems a likely candidate for a mental illness. The monotony of his daily life, the absence of rewards, his lack of companionship, his intense passion for art; all these things, piled on top of each other, could cause Gregor to go mad. If he chooses to believe that he’s mutated, then a bug is the perfect choice. His family and coworkers step on him, and he gets ignored, and he feels insignificant, just like a tiny little bug. It seems possible that Gregor could have had a mental metamorphosis without an actual physical one.

But we can’t make this hasty decision without examining the rest of the evidence. Most of the details in the story give us clues that Gregor has, in fact, morphed into and insect. For example, Gregor discovers that “he occasionally (leaves) traces of his sticky substance behind” (0). Not to mention the fact that he actually finds himself “prowling crisscross over the walls and ceiling” (0). Nobody can understand Gregor’s hissing talk. Gregor’s father physically attacks him � “the father viewed only the utmost severity as appropriate for dealing with him” (06). It seems unlikely that a father would throw things at a mentally disabled son. There is also the simple fact that the family calls Gregor “it.” The sister declares, “We’ve got to get rid of it,” and that “you simply have to try and get rid of the idea that it is Gregor” (14). And they do, by starving him. One last piece of evidence that would show us that Gregor really is a bug is the ease with which the Charwoman disposes of his body. After this task she “(stands) beaming in the hallway” and seems to want to tell the family how she did it. (17). With all this evidence it seems highly unlikely that Gregor is anything but what he claims to be, a “monstrous vermin.”

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