Marxist Perspective on Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis
On the surface, Franz Kafka's 1916 novella, The Metamorphosis, seems to be just a tale of a man who woke up one morning to find himself transformed into an insect. But, a closer reading with Marx and Engel's economic theories in mind reveals an overarching metaphor that gives the improbable story a great deal of relevance to the structure of society. Gregor Samsa, the protagonist, signifies the proletariat, or the working class, and his unnamed manager represents the bourgeoisie. The conflict that arises between the two after Gregor's metamorphosis renders him unable to work represents the impersonal and dehumanizing structure of class relations. The metaphor of the story can be divided into three main parts (although they overlap within the story.) First, Kafka establishes the characters and the economic classes which they represent. Then, he details Gregor's metamorphosis and the way in which it impedes his labor. Finally, he describes the final results of the worker's inability to work: abandonment by his family and death. Although a man cannot literally be transformed into an insect, he can, for one reason or another, become unable to work. Kafka's novella, therefore, is a fantastic portrayal of a realistic scenario and provides us with a valuable insight into the struggles between economic classes.
Within the first few pages of the novella, we as readers quickly discover Gregor's role as the proletariat in the story. He is forced to labor as a traveling salesman, trying to support his family and pay off his father's debt from a failed business venture. While lying in bed, he comments on his life as a traveling salesman, "Day in, day out--on the road... I've got the torture of traveling, worrying about changing trains, eating miserable food at all hours..." (Kafka 4). The words he chooses to describe his job, "torture," "worrying," and "miserable" dramatically show his discontent with his daily labor. But, he has no option other than to continue working at his monotonous job because he is a member of "the class of modern wage-laborers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labour-power in order to live" (Marx and Engels 769). Gregor knows that his only means of survival is to continue laboring, even though the labor gives him no benefit other than a meager paycheck. He says, "If I didn't hold back for my parents' sake, I would have quit long ago" (Kafka 4). It is only economic necessity that keeps him going to work everyday. Conflict exists in Gregor's life between his human desire to work for his own direct benefit and the economic demands that alienate him from his labor by forcing him to work for someone else.
Soon after meeting Gregor, we are introduced to his manager, a typical member of the bourgeoisie or "the class of modern Capitalists, owners of the means of social-production and employers of wage-labour" (Marx and Engels 769)....