In my first post, I wanted to talk about Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis because I think Kafka’s most striking ideas about modern society are in this work. You will often hear the concepts of modern society and alienation in this article. If I have given my warning, I start with the plot of the text.
Gregor Samsa, the main character of our book, wakes up one morning from his depressing dreams to find himself transformed into an insect. When he is in this situation, we see how attached he is to his work, how he thinks about how to get to work before he thinks about his own health, but don’t think that this attachment is out of love. It is a bond that Gregor, who can do nothing else to provide for his family, has to establish. At the same time, we can connect the detail of waking up from his “depressing dreams” at the beginning of the book with his profession and family life. That was actually the reason why I wanted to take this sentence from the book as it is. He is someone who is aware of the boredom of his life, but he doesn’t have a choice or the courage to stand up to it.
I don’t want to leave out this detail about courage: Gregor’s transformation into a scrawny insect shows that his character is reflected in his physical features. Gregor locks the door to his room every night. That’s why no one realizes at first that he has turned into an insect. His mother realizes that he is late for work and knocks on the door of his room, but Gregor has turned into a bug, making it very difficult for him to get out of bed. Nevertheless, he tells her that he is fine and that he will leave and pushes her away from his door. Having just woken up, Gregor gradually notices the change in his voice and, out of devotion to his profession, attributes this change to the common cold, a disease of marketers.
Soon his father and sister also gathered at the door of his room. Meanwhile, Gregor is trying to get out of bed, but he can’t get out. It occurs to him that he could easily get up if he got help, but he thinks to himself, “What if the doors were unlocked, would I really ask for help then?” and he can’t help laughing. If we take this locked door as a metaphor, sleep is when human beings are most vulnerable. Gregor keeps his door locked because of his distrust of his family. Since Gregor can’t go to work, the representative of the firm comes home and asks him why he hasn’t left, and then tells him that his position at work is not very secure and that he can no longer defend himself. Gregor replies that he is on his way and will be at the office soon. For Gregor, the problem is not turning into an insect but the risk of losing his job. For the company representative, it is not important whether Gregor is well or not, but whether he goes to work or not. He sees Gregor’s value only in his work, which corresponds to the position of the individual in society in modern societies. So he said that his position at work was not secure, not because Gregor had turned into a bug, but because he could not go to work.
As an employee of the capitalist system, Gregor also had the responsibility of his family. He was the sole breadwinner of his family, so when he became unemployed, the value his family placed on him diminished. According to Max Weber, in the capitalist system, the individual is detached from his or her personal and emotional characteristics and transformed into a cold and rigid being. We can also define this as the dehumanization of the individual by putting him or her in the chains of modern capitalism. From Weber’s point of view, we can say that Gregor was dehumanized before he became an insect. Gregor’s relationship with his father is also cold and strange. He was always in danger of being killed by his father. One day his father threw an apple at him, trying to render him lifeless. As a matter of fact, an apple stuck in his back and caused a big wound. This wound will lead to his death in the following lines. His father threw Gregor three apples. According to one understanding, the three apples are a symbol of alienation.
Let’s talk a little bit about his relationship with his sister. Even though she was disgusted by Gregor when he turned into a bug, she took care of him because she had hope that he would get better. I say here because he had hope that he would get better, so that when Gregor got better he would be able to work again and teach his sister. That’s actually why his sister was nice to Gregor, because when she got a job and they gave up on Gregor, her behavior was no different from the rest of the family. With this work, we see that Kafka emphasizes that in modern capitalist society, material rather than emotional bonds are the determining factor in the relationships of individuals.
Gregor’s family also wants to give up and get rid of the family member who does not bring home income and whose appearance they do not accept. When we think in this way, Gregor’s sense of alienation did not arise as soon as he turned into an insect, but when he was ostracized by his family. According to Marx, alienated labor enables money to own the world of objects. However, alienated labor makes it impossible for the worker to embrace this world. In this respect, Marx calls money the alienated talent of human beings. According to him, without alienation there would be no money. Let’s take the concept of alienation in another way; in the research examining the factors determining the level of alienation of people from work, it was seen that the most important factor determining the level of alienation was supervision, the second important factor was the routine of the work and the third important factor was dissatisfaction with the working conditions. From this point of view, we can think that in Kafka’s work, the arrival of an official at the house because Gregor Samsa does not go to work, in other words, the strict control of an employee who does not go to work, the investigation of the reasons for this, and the psychological difficulties that the individual experiences in explaining himself feed alienation. Kafka reflected this situation in the book as follows;
“And then he said to himself: ‘I must be completely out of bed before a quarter past seven o’clock, and by then someone from the office will be asking for me, because the office opens at seven o’clock.’
In a structure of constant change, the individual is trapped in this process and desensitized to the gravity of the conditions in which he or she lives. In his work, Franz Kafka emphasized the alienation of the individual from the life in the capitalist society and the fact that everything that the individual attributes value to in life loses its importance and is only a false existence. The fact that the individual loses himself/herself in an intense working life and therefore cannot spare time for himself/herself is one of the factors that cause alienation. Indeed, for Gregor, who turns into an insect, the idea of not going to work is a worse idea than turning into an insect. More than anything else, he is worried that he will not be able to fulfill the responsibility his family has placed on him. More than one factor outside of work life can cause and nurture alienation. From this point of view, the family is one of the most important elements here.
In the story, the family is shown as a structure that feeds the thoughts that cause the alienation of the individual, and the family’s perspective on their children, seeing them as a door of hope, objectifies them. After Gregor’s transformation into an insect, Gregor’s sister Grete appears as a person who must take responsibility for the family. Having given up on Gregor, the family starts to make decisions through Grete. In his work, Kafka reflects the concept of alienation as the formation of a system that has been formed by the effects of modernism and has gone beyond the individual. Within this system, the protagonists of the work find themselves far outside of the system they are a part of and, in general, they are alienated from themselves, their environment and life.
Kafka criticized the society he lived in through the metaphor of the insect in his work Transformation. In the period we live in, being a member of modern society and fulfilling one’s responsibilities within the existing system is characterized as the greatest obligation and this causes the individual to move away from himself/herself, in other words, alienation.
Instead of liberating the individual, modern life has enslaved them, making them more dependent on the existing system. This has led to human alienation. The individual is alien to what he or she produces and to his or her environment, but he or she is also part of the system. This situation is handled ironically in the story. The transformation in the story is actually a transformation of Gregor and his family.