You are on page 1of 2

Existentialist Themes in Kafka's Metamorphosis

Brandon Giltz
Among Franz Kafka's most famous publications, The Metamorphosis holds a high position. Its
membership in this exclusive club of famous works likely sprouts from the novella's many truths about
life revealed in metaphor, metaphors which interestingly enough have an infinite possibility of
translations and are regularly debated by even the most educated scholars. The work's ability to say
many things at once is a source of inspiration for writers, and awe for readers, be they high school
students or experienced literature buffs. One of the primary themes discussed through the narrative is
self-realization, which because of Kafka's unusually abstract style, must be evaluated with great care.

The first, and perhaps most important metaphor of the novella begins with the first sentence: 'When
Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into
a monstrous vermin. (Kafka 1) The physical change which the author came out and told us, literally
from the beginning, was a symbol of great inner change. The beetle represented what Kafka had
become, a creature of few thoughts who goes with little appreciation. In a similar fashion to a bug
pollinating plants and keeping an ecosystem healthy and happy, Gregor's willingness to work endlessly
for his family created a very livable existence for themselves, but like a bug who is squashed by a
human, Gregor's value was greatly unappreciated because of his appearance.

A metamorphosis perhaps more important that Gregor's own showed itself in the members of his
family. From the very beginning, his father made it clear that he saw him only as a machine who
wasn't working properly. His mother and Grete's transitions were more gradual, but eventually, they

could only see him as a bug, and as such, a nusiance who, due to his inability to work, is an inferior
being. This aligns with the Existentialist idea that isolation is part of the human experience. Kafka
uses the evolution in the Samsa's personalities to share his personal understanding of human kind,
which goes along the lines that people will not value you for your human worth or potential, but only
for your ability to please them, and because of this, it is a better idea for us to create our own purpose
than to fulfill the role of one created for us by our environment, be it our friends, our families, or
educational or social systems.

Gregor's transition into the body of a bug was a million metaphors in and of itself. In addition to
representing the life he was living as a human, it also provided him an opportunity to live life as it was
meant to be lived: with a sense of freedom to one's own thoughts and actions, and an ability to spend
his energy working for self-actualization, rather than for money. This, perhaps, was the first time in
Gregor Samsa's life in which he was allowed such freedoms. These freedoms, when given to Gregor,
just as Kafka's existentialist philosophy would suggest, came with the price of stress and angst, things
which would not have existed to this extent in Gregor's previous life, and they eventually drove Gregor
to his deathbed.
The interpretations outlined in this essay are only three possibilities from an infinite array of
possible takes on The Metamorphosis, and unfortunately, due to Kafka's gruesome death, the world will
never know the intentions and meanings contained in his words. No matter the translation of the
language or the interpretation of the reader, we can all agree that themes pertaining to self-realization
played a key role in one of the most influential novels of Kafka's bibliography.