Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What makes a Human?

"The Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka is a story that comments upon humanity and brings about the question, "What makes us Human?" and "Is it a desirable trait to have?"

Gregor Samsa was a very hardworking kind hearted man. In his life he had taken up the task of raising his family. After his father's business had caved and the family had acrewed some heavy debts, Gregor had taken up a job in order to keep the family afloat and to begin paying back the debt. Gregor is described as being kind hearted and helpful. He constantly worries about his family and about hurting their feelings.

So, let me be the first to say that, when Gregor Samsa discovered that he had become some kinda of hideous bug, I was very surprised. A bug is very hard for a human to affiliate with. It is not a mammal, and it does not have any similarities to a human other than invading the same living space. A bug, especially a giant bug, is viewed as something that is grotesque and unappealing. This is something that is very contrary to Gregor's character; and yet Gregor remained the person he was despite his new bug form.

This was not something the family was able to see. The family was made up of Gregor's sister Grete, Gregor's father, and his mother. All of them were living off of Gregor's hard work. Grete had been kinda hearted but simply wore pretty clothing and lounged around. Their parents used to call Grete useless and didn't think she was good for anything. Gregor's father had failed at his business and as a result was a broken man who sat in the chair all the time. And Gregor's mother was a very kind but soft spoken women. After the transformation, Grete takes on the task of feeding and cleaning after Gregor. At first, it seems as if she does this out of the kindness out of her heart, but it becomes a task that is hers and hers alone until finally she begins to resent Gregor begins to grow into a woman. Gregor's father must get a job as well as Grete to make up for Gregor's change. He quickly becomes a man of uniform and one who is proud, but angry. He begins getting fedup with Gregor as well. Gregor's mother, continues to try and love Gregor, but she continues to get worse and worse over time and actually helps lead Grete and Gregor's father towards their more selfish selves.

Gregor's family struck me as even more like worms than he, but it occurred to me that perhaps they had something he did not that allowed them to remain human. I believe that the difference that they held over Gregor was their selfishness; Gregor had become selfless and as a result had lost his humanity and simply become a "bug" of the workplace. As a result he had lost his taste for the better things in life such as music and art. It is actually ironic because in his bug state Gregor begins to appreciate these things. Gregor first, while trying to grasp onto his humanity, clings to a portrait of a woman in a fur coat. He holds onto it and ensures they do not remove it from his room. The second thing he does, is when his sister is playing music for everyone, Gregor is drawn to it and feels the power of it. This is interesting because Gregor says that he did not like music before. It is as if by becoming a bug, he began to find the human things he had lost so long ago.

Kafka desires us to never truly see Gregor's transformation. When he talked with his illustrator about the cover; he explicitly asked to not show Gregor in any pictures. What affect does this have on the reader? To never show or fully depict the creature, but to simply show it through the fear and reaction of those who lived with it and through its own eyes and ears. This creates a feeling and position that may have been otherwise unattainable. One cannot simply feel disgust for Gregor, for we are fully aware of his feelings and how he perceives the world. We are not simply left with the terror of the family at Gregor's condition, but also at the agony and suffering of Gregor. It creates both pity and sadness to know how much he suffers and yet it goes unnoticed.

"The Metamorphosis" heavily comments on the industrial age and the new arising workforce. Gregor was a traveling salesman. He was miserable at his job, but simply did it because of the money he made and because he knew he needed to help his family out. This feeling of disgust for a job is not uncommon. Many people wake up each day and dream of the day to end. The idea of doing a job for a paycheck and being so devoted to the job almost takes away our humanity, as it did with Gregor. At the same time, Gregor's family must all find jobs after the transformation; their work seems to have the opposite affect, they are able to transform or change because they find jobs and are able to work hard.