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Final draft: “The Metamorphosis” Analysis

March 7th, 2011 by Patricia Nichtern

Essay 1 Metamorphosis

Elements of space and place shape Gregor’s deteriorating character throughout the short story “The Metamorphosis”.  To analyze the main character fully, certain ideas must be explored and applied to the situations that Gregor must deal with throughout the story.  Through his metamorphosis experiential perspective and notions of spaciousness and crowding make Gregor come to certain realizations of his significance and objectification by his family.  Personal relations with his family and his surroundings further enhance the deterioration of his character.

When Gregor awakes one morning and realizes he is a giant insect, it is as if he is an infant lacking much experience in his new body.  While Gregor is shocked by his metamorphosis, he is surprisingly accepting and immediately begins to adapt.  He starts by experimenting to be able to obtain mobility within his space.  Tuan states that “an infant is immobile and can make only small movements with his head and limbs” (20).  Similarly, Gregor finds himself on his back, having to learn how to roll over and eventually back to being on all fours crawling around.  Like a child having to develop skills and eventually mastering their motor skills, Gregor does the same.  He tries “a hundred times”, unsuccessfully, to roll over onto his stomach to get out of his bed (Kafka 302).  He quickly discovers while trying to open his bedroom door that the bottom of his feet are sticky and his jaw are surprisingly powerful.

Gregor is very devoted to being the provider for his family.  In doing so, he enables them to become lazy and very demanding of him.  His job was very demanding of him as well.  He woke up very early every morning and was rushed to catch his trains.  Gregor’s only escape was when he was home; he would lock his bedroom door to have some privacy and solace.  Ironically he is now trapped inside of it because his family has locked him in and does not let him occupy any other space within the house that he had been paying for. Tuan states that “Space…is given by the ability to move…movements are often directed toward, or repulsed by, objects and places” (12). Gregor’s space, both physical and metaphorical, is hindered by his inability to move with ease in his new body within his confined space and by his family.  Gregor is severely limited in space with the obstacles in his room.  With experience and his new abilities, Gregor climbs the walls and onto the ceiling to expand the small space of his bedroom.  This also applies to Gregor’s life.  His freedom is limited by his responsibilities of taking care of and providing for his family.  Instead of trying to figure out the reason for his transformation or asking for help, his immediate concern is to get up and get to work, despite the fact that he is a giant bug.  When his father lost his business and was in debt, he made Gregor work for one of his creditors.  His father stopped working and his family now relies solely on Gregor for income.  This puts a great burden on Gregor and makes him feel obligated to take care of his entire family.  He puts his family and obligations before himself.  He does not have any friends or many hobbies and no romantic interests.  Once Gregor is unable, physically, to continue to take care of his family, his family does not reciprocate the selfless act and take care of him.  Instead, they lock him inside his small bedroom and give him even less space and freedom than before.

Tuan describes how the limited movement of an infant and an elderly person makes them feel as if “space seems to close in on” them (52).  Gregor continually experiences this more and more throughout the story.  Gregor’s mother and sister acknowledged that he had a lack of space to move around in his room that was filled with many obstacles for him.  They knew that he was taking to the walls and ceilings for more space.  So they decided that they would move his furniture and all of the things that are unnecessary to him now out of his room to allow him to move more freely.  They did not consider, however, that this bug was still Gregor and that he might want these things as he always had.  If they treated him the way Gregor had always treated them, they would have just opened his door and let him have more space within the home.  In their eyes, he was no longer the person who provided for and took care of them, therefore wasn’t given anything in return.  Although Gregor desperately wants more space to move and knows he no longer needs many items in his room, he had developed an attachment to the things in it; his desk, pictures on the wall and his dresser.  They continued to be a reminder to him of his past and a link to the human world.  Gregor tried to object to what they were doing, but he was helpless; he had no control.  The only thing he could do was climb onto the wall and lay over one of the pictures to protect it.   Tuan states that “spaciousness is closely associated with the sense of being free. Freedom implies space; it means having the power and enough room in which to act” (52).  The lack of obstacles in his room should have created more of a sense of spaciousness for Gregor, but it didn’t.  He only felt more isolated and even less of a sense of freedom because he could no longer control any aspect of his life, not even the small personal space that he was given.

Virtually overnight, Gregor goes from being a superior figure in his family to completely inferior.  This also corresponds to the axes of the body.  Tuan describes how “the front signifies dignity” and “the rear is profane” (40).  At one point in the story Gregor’s father throws an apple and impales it into his hard back.  The apple gradually rots and Gregor is unable to do anything to remove it himself.  He has no control over the situation or his life.  This shows that his father does not respect him.  He considers him a being of profanity.  At this point, Gregor comes to the realization that his family never had respect for him.   To come to this realization, Gregor had to experience his metamorphosis and “venture forth into the unfamiliar and experiment with the elusive and uncertain” (Tuan 9).  They expected him to provide for them, without caring what it is that would make him happy.  If his father did care about Gregor’s happiness, he would have found a job, as he did when he forced to do so when Gregor was incapable, so that Gregor would have some space and freedom to enjoy himself.  Before his transformation, Gregor was like a bug; an ant.  He worked hard for the benefit of a whole, not himself.  If an ant was wounded and unable to work, it is cast out from the colony.  Gregor realizes that he was being objectified and his family was using him for their well-being.

Gregor’s family eventually began treating him more and more like an “object” and as if he is “no more in one’s way than are bookshelves” (Tuan 59).  Anything that wasn’t needed anymore, including Gregor, was thrown into his room.  Gregor no longer had any place to move.  He couldn’t maneuver through all the things that were occupying his space.  Gregor began to give up in his quest of acquiring more space or even using the walls and ceilings to create the illusion of more space.  Gregor knew that he was a strain on his family and gave up on the fact that they view him as anything more than a worker ant.

Gregor overwhelmingly felt as if he was an enormous burden on his family, especially in the way he was taking up space in their home.  This feeling is juxtaposed to the way his family had felt when Gregor was providing for them.  Gregor’s family felt as if it was his obligation to do so and their right to enjoy what his hard work gave them; food, money and space.  When his family was informed by the cleaning woman of his death, they did not even bother to check to see if he was dead or to see him at all.  They were relieved that the burden of him was no longer on them.  Gregor probably felt the same way.  He worked long days with no time for himself and had the burden of taking care of his family and paying all of their bills, which is probably why he was peaceful as he was about to die; he was finally getting the freedom that he desired in his death.  The cleaning woman discarded Gregor’s “flat and dry” body as someone would do with garbage (Kafka 329).   Gregor’s parents were already thinking of his next replacement; the man his sister would marry.

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