Responsibility in Kafka’s Metamorphosis
Kafka’s Metamorphosis deals with a lot of issues concerning the modern society. It can be read as a rebellion of the protagonist against the conventions of society or the dehumanizing nature of everyday work. Although Kafka also tackles issues of isolation and inferiority the theme of responsibility too is a main thread that runs throughout his work. Gregor, the protagonist is the responsible son and brother providing for the family, but when he ceases to be responsible and gives in to his disillusionment, his family fail to take the responsibility of looking after him. Responsibility (towards other people) then in Metamorphosis is fearfully dependent on money and financial stability.
At the beginning of Metamorphosis Gregor is the dutiful son and the caring brother who works tirelessly for his family. He provides a good life to his parents and sister and sacrifices his personal life so they could be comfortably off. He is also responsible in his work life. He rarely takes a day off and does not complain even when his boss comes home to check on him when he turns up late for work or does not turn up for work. It is these pressures of providing for his family and his conscientious work ethic that makes him wish he was everywhere else but in his present situation. He also metamorphs into a vermin, fulfilling his desire to be free of all responsibilities. His metamorphosis however bring into question the responsibility his family have towards him. Gregor was indispensable to the family when he was working; the family fed off him to lead a comfortable existence and financial and emotional stability. But when he turns into a vermin, who is not only worthless when it came to making money but was also hideous to look at, his family is only glad to let go off all responsibility they have towards him. Although he is still a family member, they treat him as a worthless vermin and are glad to get rid of him. After his transformation into a vermin Gregor thinks that, “[H]e would have to lie low and, by being patient and showing his family every possible consideration, help them bear the inconvenience which he simply had to cause them in his present condition (Kafka 2.6).” Gregor still feels that he needs to be considerate to his family. He feels responsible for their well-being and this he should not bother them too much. This feeling however is a paradox of sorts. Although he claims he is being responsible, he does metamorph into a vermin. If he had been really responsible for the family like he believed he was, he would have never wished too badly to transform himself. He was rather being irresponsible wishing to get away from everything. He also comes across as being selfish just the same as his family. He is tired of his family just as they are tired of having someone worthless in their midst.
The family is tired of him as he does not bring in money anymore and he is also a threat to the income the lodgers were bringing in. His appearance in their midst causes them to flee without paying the rent and this makes the family take a decision about disposing of him. They feel they are no longer responsible to him as he no longer has any use for them. Responsibility towards a family member does not matter against the encumbrance entailed in taking care of him. Although Gregor plays the role of the family head by providing for them, his dad soon takes over as Gregor becomes useless. He assumes responsibility for the house and is instrumental in Gregor’s demise.
The theme of responsibility is questioned by Kafka in Metamorphosis in many ways. Responsibility of taking care of his family drives Gregor into becoming a vermin and makes him seen irresponsible towards his familial duties. The family wash off all responsibility towards him when he becomes useless. In both the cases it is money which decides how responsible the characters are towards their duties towards each other. Gregor’s metamorphosis also relieves him of his responsibility at his workplace. He is no longer a slave to work or his boss; neither is he a slave to the conventional way of live.
Theme of Unawareness in ‘We are Seven”
Keats’ poem. ‘We are Seven’ is in the form a dialogue between the poet and a little cottage girl. Keats explores death in his poem and although the tone of the poem is a bit morbid, it also brings out how unaware an adult and a child are of each other’s worlds. The child is unaware of how an adult views death, the logic of it all defies her while the adult, more experienced, is unaware of how a child’s logic at looking at death makes it much more palatable. The poet and the child each unaware of their logic in dealing with death try to make sense of it in their own ways. It is as if Keats through his poem tells the reader that being unaware of the realities of life and being childlike is a better way of looking at life and death. Being unaware in the poem does not have a negative connotation; it is not about not knowing but about having one’s one way to cope up with life and death and not thinking about anything else.
The poet sees a little girl playing by herself and taken in by the beauty and innocence of the little girl and the situation, he strikes up a conversation with her. When asked about her family and siblings the little girl tell him that there are seven brothers and sisters. And when asked where they are, she tells him that two are out at sea and two others have died. The poet points out that since two are dead, she should be saying that there are only five of them now. He tries to use his adult logic to tell the kid that she is wrong. However the little child baffles the poet with her own take on death. She doesn’t think of her siblings as dead, rather she sees them as part of her life. She explains to the poet that they are still around for her as she says,
“My stockings there I often knit,
My kerchief there I hem;
And there upon the ground I sit,
And sing a song to them.
“And often after sun-set, Sir,
When it is light and fair,
I take my little porringer,
And eat my supper there (Keats 36-42).”
For the little child, her siblings are not dead as she involves them in her life. They are a part of her daily activities. She is unaware of the adult logic that forces a person to come into terms with loss. The poet on the other hand tries to reason with her, forcing her to see his logic, unaware that the child had already dealt with the loss of her siblings in a way only children can. She doesn’t really think of her siblings as being taken away, rather she has made them a part of her life. This is completely different from the way an adult looks at death. For a child there is no getting on with life after a death, while for an adult life has to go on by trying to put death past them and forgetting what had happened. The poet is emblematic of the typical adult behavior-he dismisses the child’s reasoning and tries to correct her. Thinking she is unaware, he tries to make her see reason. The child however is not naive or dumb as the adult perceives her. It is rather the poet who is ignorant and fails to see how uncomplicated life can be if he had a childlike way of looking at life and death. The girl is stubborn till the end in her belief even when the poet repeatedly tells her that her math is all wrong. He first says, If two are in the church-yard laid, Then ye are only five (39,40)” and later "But they are dead: those two are dead! "Their spirits are in Heaven!" ( 65–66). But the girl keeps to her belief till the end.
Thus in the poem, the theme of unawareness is dealt in a different way. It is not true that the child is unaware of the realities but it is rather the adult who is unaware that an escape from reality is sometimes good and that there is a lot an adult can learn from a child.