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The Limits Of Sympathy In Kafka’s The Metamorphosis

1458 words - 6 pages

Franz Kafka, an exceptional writer of the 20th century, is the creator of many controversial pieces of literature, which still cause a great deal of debate between scholars in this modern day and age. His collection of works feature many elaborate themes such as labyrinths of bureaucracy, physical and psychological brutality, parent-child conflict and mystical transformations. Yet it is his theme of the limits of sympathy in his 1915 novella, The Metamorphosis, which is arguably his best work. It is Kafka’s extensive use of symbolism that not only vividly illustrates this argument, but also allows readers to understand and appreciate the work as a whole. Kafka thus uses Gregorꞌs monstrous appearance, the removal of his furniture and the shifting attitudes of Grete to portray this critical idea: even sympathy between a given individual and their family has its restrictions.
The transformation of Gregorꞌs appearance into a "monstrous vermin" (Kafka, 3) is the first symbol readers register. Although Gregor remains impartial and unaffected by this radical change, his family immediately shows a struggle between feelings of sympathy and feelings of repulsion upon discovering his changed state. His own mother is said to have taken "took two steps toward” (Kafka, 14) as if to approach Gregor and begin providing the care so desperately needed in this situation. Yet, these two steps are as far as she goes before collapsing (Kafka, 14), since she cannot bring herself to move any closer to him. The physical separation between her and Gregor, caused by his grotesque looks is thus symbolic because it illustrates that the sacrificial love commonly associated between a mother and her child does not exist, as she was unwilling to travel any further to comfort her own. What can easily be perceived as her fear, which is initiated by Gregor’s transformation, becomes a border in her compassion towards him. She is not able to put aside her own emotions in order to help those close to her, including her son.
The father’s reaction to Gregorꞌs altered appearance runs parallel to the motherꞌs. Kafka describes him as having a "hostile expression… as if to drive Gregor back into his room" (Kafka, 14) but then follows up with him " [hiding] his eyes with his hands, and [sobbing] with heaves of his powerful chest" (Kafka, 14) within the same sentence. These results in a sharp contrasting effect being produced between the father’s emotions, as the first illustrates disgust while the second sympathy. In the beginning of these few moments, the father is thus left practically in a paralyzed state as he isn’t sure which one of the two emotions to act upon before finally, choosing neither. Therefore, the father’s indecisiveness in response to the change prevents him from extending any sort of compassion towards Gregor, effectively creating his own protective barrier. Kafka uses Gregorꞌs transformed physique as a way to represent the parents’ inability to accept him from this...

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