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Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" As An Existential Exercise.

2314 words - 9 pages

Sisyphus Shrugged:Symbolic Alienation in The MetamorphosisThe grotesque world is -- and is not -- our own world. The ambiguous way in which we are affected by it results from our awareness that the familiar and apparently harmonious world is alienated under the impact of abysmal forces, which break it up and shatter its coherence.-- Wolfgang KayserModernity has added irony to injury. The study of the humanities is intended to bridge something inescapable in the human condition: the fundamental alienation of the individual. The keen reader of literature will gradually grow familiar with the unifying substance that binds peoples of all times and cultures. Joseph Campbell, quite famous for his work in mythology, says that storytelling is "the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation" (3). Apparently, it is through our (that is, mankind's) use of symbols that we tap our humanity, and our universal experience. When symbolic imagery is used, whether or not it is used consciously, it is an appeal to dream, and thus an appeal to the psychological fabric that we all share. Of course, that's the way it's supposed to be. Existentialism, nihilism, and Marxism are all viable alternative philosophies that celebrate, if a nihilist can be said to celebrate anything at all, in man's alienation. These darker, strikingly modern philosophies are well applied to The Metamorphosis, though a formalistic approach to the book's symbols does in fact help illustrate their themes.Gregor Samsa does not fit conveniently fit Campbell's archetype of the hero. The reason for this should be clear: Gregor is not a typical hero. He is rather the unwilling, perhaps unwitting antihero in an absurd circus that is the modern world. Gregor's world, as well as the world of many existentialists, exists without direction, without purpose, and without reason. Even without Gregor's disastrous (and eventually fatal) metamorphosis, he has little to wake up for. His job is something that he suffers through, and in one instance he at once appeals to God to save him from it, and also to the devil to take it from him (4). Linguistically, Gregor uses invokes both beings in idiom, both of which have similar meaning: a supernatural force "taking" his problems from him. Taking God's name in vain, as it were, Gregor uses religion, something that ideally gives meaning and purpose to life, as a flippant means to wish away a dead-end job. In their usage, the idioms are also given equal weight, hinting at the arbitrary way in which meaning is assigned to heavenly figures. Instead of giving meaning to Gregor's daily grind, God (and the Devil) are reduced to curses we might utter after stubbing our toe, despite ourselves.Despite centuries of human scientific advancement, the modern man finds himself confronted by alienation unmatched by any previous generations. Industrialization and commercialism turn human beings into property, to be...

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