Gregor as Symbol of the Jewish Race in Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis
For thousands of years, the Jewish People have endured negative stereotypes such as the "insects of humanity." As Sander Gilman pointed out, the Nazi Party labeled Jews as "insects like lice and cockroaches, that generate general disgust among all humanity" (Gilman 80).1 These derogative stereotypes, although championed by the Nazis, have their origins many centuries earlier and have appeared throughout Western culture for thousands of years. This fierce anti-Semitism specifically surfaced in Europe’s large cities in the early twentieth century, partially in conjunction with the growing tide of nationalism, patriotism, and xenophobia that sparked the First World War in 1914. Today, one often learns the history of this critical, pre-WWI era from the perspective of Europe’s anti-Semitic population, while the opposite perspective—that of the Jews in early twentieth-century European society—is largely ignored. Questions like: "How did the Jews view and respond to their mistreatment?" and "How were the Jews affected mentally and psychologically by the prejudices against them?" remain largely unanswered. Insight into these perplexing social questions, while not found in most history books, may be discovered in a complex and highly symbolic story of this era: "The Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka. Through the use of an extended metaphor, "The Metamorphosis" provides both a basic summary of the common views held against Jews and offers an insight as to what may be the ultimate result of Europe’s anti-Semitism. This work serves as a social commentary and criticism of early twentieth-century Europe. It fulfills two main functions: first, it provides an outline of the stereotypical, prejudicial views held against Jews and secondly, it suggests the possible end product of this anti-Semitism.
"The Metamorphosis" begins the task of summarizing the popular anti-Semitic beliefs of early twentieth-century Europeans by clearly establishing the story’s protagonist, Gregor Samsa, as a symbol of the Jews. The story opens with Gregor awaking from sleep and finding "himself transformed . . . into a gigantic insect" (Kafka 67).2 This disturbing image of the insect is a clear connection to representations of the Jews as bugs and vermin. Gregor calmly views his transformation as a natural occurrence. He does not become surprised or scared at his metamorphosis but calmly accepts it, as if he had always been an insect. Symbolically, Gregor is accepting his "Jewishness" as a completely natural state of being and is neither ashamed nor afraid of its consequences.
Another indication that Gregor represents the Jews is the meaning of his name. "Samsa" comes from the Czech word sám, meaning "oneself,"and "Gregor" most likely is a version of "Gregory," which comes from the Latin word which means "of the flock" (Robertson 80).3 By combining these two names, one gets the full meaning: "one of the flock."...