You are on page 1of 5

Hunger and the need to consume food are universal.

Food is symbolic in both Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s House’1 and Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis’2 but relative to the symbolism of food is the revelation of characters’ identity represented through both the foods they eat and the milieu in which the characters eat. A further common trait amongst the characters is the voracity displayed in the quest for; in Nora and Gregor’s case truth and escape yet in the instance of Torvald and Mr Samsa, power and control. More abstractly, Ibsen and Kafka use food to exemplify significant events or developments in the plot such as Gregor’s demise and Nora’s empowerment. By analysing the representation of food, the ideas and opinions of the writers become evident. This paper will compare the ways in which food is used to illustrate the above purposes and explore the associated philosophies. Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s House’, is written in an era when ratafia biscuits or small macaroons were always popular and enjoyed by ladies at ball suppers, often accompanying creams and jellies. Nora’s weakness towards the succulent treats is not just limited to dinner events but is instead a common affair however the pleasure she gains from the delicacies must be concealed ‘[Pops the bag of macaroons in her pocket and wipes her mouth]’3, as at a time when women were dominated by the male gender a woman’s own choices in life were impeded upon; even her own personal choice of food. Given her stature in society Nora’s somewhat cavalier attitude toward her eating habits and therefore her husband is anomalous of her time however the sensation of freedom Nora gains with the eating of macaroons without her husband’s knowledge, stimulates her desire to defy 19th century customs. Characterised as a controlling and chauvinistic individual, Torvald’s revulsion toward the sweet snacks soon finds itself undermined by Nora’s new found authority.

1 2

‘A Doll’s House’ written by Henrik Ibsen. Published by Bartholomew House, Inc., New York 1992 ‘The Metamorphosis and other stories’ written by Franz Kafka. Published by Dover Publications, Inc., New York 1996 3 4. ‘A Doll’s House’ written by Henrik Ibsen. Published by Bartholomew House, Inc., New York 1992

Gregor would agree with the philosopher’s idea that ‘with whom a person eats is more important than what is eaten’7. Ibsen uses food as her succour in order to achieve release. New York 1996 . Published by Bartholomew House. ‘The Metamorphosis and other stories’ written by Franz Kafka. although said in a context relating to clothing it is the concealed meaning that conveys Nora’s metamorphosis into the woman she wishes to become. ‘A Doll’s House’ written by Henrik Ibsen. Kafka draws upon food in ‘The Metamorphosis’ to illustrate the negativity associated with its presence but also its absence. It was his criticism toward the roles of men and women in marriage that was seen as scandalous. Published by Bartholomew House. as ‘A Doll’s House’ is based upon a true account.Symbolic of women who want to break free from the stereotype of which they have become victim. Mr Samsa coldly and callously. despite his son’s condition ‘because for Gregor’s father breakfast was the most important meal of the day’8.. New York 1992 7 Epicurus. Representative of the poor relationship Franz Kafka had with his father and of the anti-semitistic attitude of the period. and what makes Nora’s exit ‘[as] the street door is slammed shut downstairs’6 so deplorable. http://en. Supposedly Kafka has isolated the ‘father figure’ of the novella to display that the narcissistic feelings his own father had towards him were his alone and 4 5 Quote from ‘ Our Mutual Friend’ said by Bella. Gregor and his father appear divided and throughout the novella Kafka displays their continuing indifference toward each other utilising food. Nora takes great pleasure in deceiving her husband. Published by Dover Publications.. continues with his habitual practice alone. Inc. ‘A Doll’s House’ written by Henrik Ibsen. his personal experience allows him to express through food his opinion on this social phenomenon in such a way that food becomes a weapon in the rebellion against society. written by Charles Dickens Page 96. Chapter 5.. Nora’s rage is taken out on her eating habits taking comfort in eating macaroons. Inc. For 8 Page 20. New York 1992 6 Page 104. In contrast to the representation of pleasure that food gives Nora.wikipedia. Inc. her mild rebellious nature shows her ‘wanting to be so much worthier than the doll in the doll’s house’4 which is akin to Nora announcing to Torvald ‘I’ve changed’5.

New York 1996 11 Page 42... Furthermore.’13. Owing to his father’s overindulgence in sexual activity. ‘The Metamorphosis and other stories’ written by Franz Kafka. Published by Dover Publications. New York 1996 12 Page 65... Inc. 13 Epicurus.wikipedia. Published by Dover Publications. On the contrary. as he draws himself away from society he begins to suffer the illness of starvation by ‘hardly eating’11. Inc. 9 Page 43. as the Samsa family are deluded in the belief that the lodgers now take his place and as they begin to manifest themselves within the family Gregor becomes increasingly despondent. such is the grim realisation that one could not afford such delicacies in the future. ‘they [the lodgers] sat at the head of the table’9. Dr Rank’s consumption is a demonstrable example of this belief and one with which Ibsen is all too familiar given the context of the period. In addition Nora’s deceit toward Torvald in signing legal documents is of great relevance.therefore he often found himself without company. Published by Methuen Publishing Ltd 1985 and reissued in 1994. Gregor remains excluded from these occasions mirroring his exclusion from the macrocosm of society. Although at first taking great pleasure in ‘greedily sucking on the cheese’10 and conforming to Epicurus’ gastronomic hedonism. naively Nora could not see the possible consequences of her actions. New York 1996 10 Page 27. ‘The Metamorphosis and other stories’ written by Franz Kafka. ‘A Doll’s House’ written by Henrik Ibsen. The arrival of the lodgers exacerbates Gregor’s segregation further. however ‘when eating one should not eat too richly for it could lead to dissatisfaction later. ‘The Metamorphosis and other stories’ written by Franz Kafka. http://en. Inc. Ibsen conveys illness through the overindulgence of food ‘It’s too sad that all those lovely things should affect one’s spine’12. it is Dr Rank’s consumption that becomes a metaphor for poisoning the Helmers .. Published by Dover Publications. Although mealtimes do exist in ‘The Metamorphosis’.

It is striking to see how Kafka portrays emotion through food conveying his violent and damaged past. Published by Methuen Publishing Ltd 1985 and reissued in 1994. At the time of the Industrial revolution appliances such as a stove was a familiar item of furniture in Norwegian kitchens before the age of central heating and one that Nora seeks comfort from when she finds herself distressed or embarrassed. a favourite with the Victorian women and indeed Nora ‘We’ll drink champagne until dawn’16. Published by Dover Publications. extraordinarily an apple is the literal weapon that undoubtedly contributes to the protagonists death in ‘The Metamorphosis’.Symbolic of Kafka’s exacting relationship with his father.. ‘A Doll’s House’ written by Henrik Ibsen. which suggested women belonged in the kitchen ‘ Then she [Nora] walks across the room and sees to the stove’17. it is likely Kafka used an object associated with the Christian faith to highlight its destructive power and to demonstrate his anger against those who have demoralised the Jewish faith. Whilst Kafka uses food customs to suggest routine. . Inc. however some believe that it is Ibsen mocking the stereotype of women. 14 Page 38. Published by Methuen Publishing Ltd 1985 and reissued in 1994. The stove becomes a prominent symbol within the play. Published by Methuen Publishing Ltd 1985 and reissued in 1994. ‘A Doll’s House’ written by Henrik Ibsen. Using the fraudulent fruit from the creation story. ‘[Gregor’s] father had decided to bombard him’14. Ibsen demonstrates how food and drink can portray status in society. ‘A Doll’s House’ written by Henrik Ibsen. New York 1996 15 Page 27. ‘The Metamorphosis and other stories’ written by Franz Kafka. 17 Page 38. whilst men worked. 16 Page 78. Champagne. Both Torvald and Nora represent people of Ibsen’s era. commonly represented ascribed status rather than achieved status in order to prove oneself as a respected member of society. similarly to Ibsen using food as a weapon in the rebellion against society. a stark comparison to Ibsen utilising the theme to represent succour and positive rebellion. where social status became an obsession and nothing less than ‘good wine’15 was drunk.

http://www.’18 presents food as the contributing factor leading to his ultimate escape from the rituals and pressures of society.Gregor’s death. ‘plain dishes offer the same pleasure as a luxurious table. Inc. Epicurus said. Published in 1915 when anti-Semitism reined Kafka. Food being such an ordinary yet universal topic exacerbates the writer’s ideas and opinions. article written by Mark Chou (October 27 2010) . was found an outcast. 18 Page used by both authors that makes both texts so universally influential still.eurekastreet. it is this literary technique.aspx?aeid=21588. Subtly used the symbolism of food to convey their ideas. Through the type of food one chooses to eat or the developments in the plot originating from food. through Gregor Kafka represents much of himself and of his indifferent relationship with his father with the kind of food Gregor eats contributing to the realisation of the protagonists downfall. ‘want’ in the instance of Gregor is bodily hunger and it’s the need for nutritional sustenance that’s causing him suffering and pain. Nora’s naivety is the source upon which Torvald’s increasing hunger for power and control thrives.. worsened by his lack of appetite ‘. yet his greediness overcomes him which leads him to his downfall and ultimately the loss of his Nora’s pain is instigated by society’s control over her and is exaggerated by her husband. her new found identity then allows her to achieve liberation from him. ‘The Metamorphosis and other stories’ written by Franz Kafka. her want to overindulge in food provides the opportunity for Nora to exude confidence and escape from her husband’s control.he hadn’t been eating in so long. Greek Philosopher. Aware of the restrictions upon women in this era. The way that food has been used to express emotion and to develop the plot is evident. Nora’s lack of practical experience in the real world meant that she was vulnerable and allowed herself to be obstructed by her husband. New York 1996 19 Epicurus. born in to a Jewish family. Published by Dover Publications. the kind of desires that needs to be satisfied become apparent. Ibsen gives Nora food and drink to symbolically scorn her husband’s authority and power..... when the pain that comes from want is taken away’19.