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The Capitalist Metamorphosis


by Dan Mann
In zoological terms, a metamorphosis is the transformation a bug or amphibian under goes during growth typically resulting in a completely different creature. The Metamorphosis, is a book written by existential writer Franz Kafka. In the book, characters undergo metamorphoses. The titular metamorphosis is the dehumanizing transformation of humans into mere resources engendered by capitalist society. This can be seen in the respective metamorphoses of Gregor, his father, his relationship with his family, and his sister.
Gregor’s metamorphosis from productive member of society into dependent liability shows the dehumanizing transformation effects of capitalist society. Before the novel even starts, Gregor has already undergone the capitalist dehumanizing metamorphosis. This is proven by the metamorphosis he under goes from producer to dependent individual. In the latter half of the novel, while Gregor is in his room, the narrator reveals, “Some times he thought that, the next time the door opened, he would once again take charge of the family’s problems just as he used to…” (Kafka 41). Gregor regrets not being able to provide for his family anymore, as he has become a bug and is no longer able to work. This metamorphosis from independent to dependent individual occurs because Capitalist society only values people’s ability to work. Gregor is not the only one to undergo a metamorphosis though.
Gregor Samsa’s father also undergoes a dehumanizing capitalism induced metamorphosis. Half way through the book, while describing Gregor’s now working family, the narrator explains,”With a sort of obstinacy the father refused to take off his messenger’s uniform even at home…”(Kafka 39). While his son was supporting him financially, Mr. Samsa was living outside of the capitalism because he did not need to participate in it, but when his son can no longer support him he is forced to renter the work force. He then undergoes the capitalist metamorphosis. Mr. Smasa’s refusal to take of his work clothing shows how his work has dominated his life, and dehumanized him into nothing more than a worker. This is an example of capitalism forcing a dehumanizing metamorphosis upon a human.
Gregor’s relationship with his family also undergoes a transformation due to capitalism. After Gregor can no longer work, his family begins to show animosity towards him. At one point, Gregor’s father attempts to attack him by throwing an apple at him. Writer Robert James Resse states, “It is ironic that after years of working a job he hated to pay off his father’s debts, Gregor is so quickly discarded by his father as soon as he can no longer earn wages. The complete breakdown of the relationship following the removal of earned wages shows the way in which the relationship was based solely on money. ”(Resse). As Reese explains, Gregor’s relationship with his family was solely based on his value as a worker towards them, and after he looses that value he is nothing more than a literal and figurative parasite. While explaining how Gregor’s sister, Grete, cleans Gregor’s room, the narrator describes, “…she ran straight to the window and tore it open hastily, as if she were almost suffocating…”(Kafka 31). Taken in a literal sense, Grete is suffocated by a smell that Gregor emits. Taken in a figurative sense though, Gregor is financially suffocating his sister and his family, limiting the amount of money and freedom they have.
Grete’s metamorphosis from a girl into a woman is also representative of how Capitalism transforms people into commodities. At the very end of the book, while the family is riding on a trolly out to the country, the narrator states, “…unconsciously communicating with each other by looks, they thought it was time to find a good husband for her”(Kafka 52). Grete’s parents remark on how Grete has transformed into an attractive woman, and think about finding her a husband. Grete’s value to her parents has now become that of a bride they can marry off for financial gain, and not that of a daughter. Having Grete be married would mean one less mouth for them to feed and support. During this time, women supported themselves buy marring a man. They would preform house work, child rearing, child raising, and cooking all for economic gain. Capitalism values self sufficiency and production, so Grete’s value as a individual becomes her ability to attract a wealthy mate that can support her. Whether or not she actually loves a person, or if she has dreams beyond being a house wife is irrelevant to capitalistic society. Robert James Reese states, “And, although it remains unsaid, we can assume that even though the whole family was sitting so happily on the trolley that afternoon, Grete would be abandoned by her parents, just as Gregor was, if circumstances came up that made her a financial burden instead of an asset. ”(Reese). It is very easy predict the Mrs and Mr. Samsa’s response to their daughter being turned into a bug. They would disown her and abandon her. This shows how capitalistic society metamorphosises individuals into dehumanized commodities.
There are many reasons why Franz Kafka would have believed that capitalistic society forced a dehumanizing metamorphosis upon people. First of all, Kafka was a socialist, and this explanation of capitalistic dehumanization aligns greatly with Karl Marx’s theory of alienation. This theory describes how people loose their humanity and ultimately their ability to determine their own future when entrenched in social class within the capitalist mode of production. This is reflected in how Gregor is forced to preform work against his will in order to pay off his parent’s debt. Kafka may also be expressing his frustration with society not valuing him as writer. Both of Kafka’s parents, who strongly resemble Gregor’s parents in the book, did not understand or value Kafka’s desire to become a writer. They instead desired for Kafka to become a business man. This frustration is reflected in Grete’s violin playing, and how her dreams of becoming a violinist are taken from her when she needs to work and eventually marry. Of course both of these reasons are very interrelated. Kafka’s adherence to socialism may have indeed been fueled by his frustration with society not valuing him as a writer.

Works Cited

Kafka, Franz, and A. L. Lloyd. Metamorphosis. New York: Dover Publications, 1946. Print.

“The Metamorphosis.” SparkNotes. SparkNotes, n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.


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