The creative world or the world of one’s fantasies is inevitable connected with its author – the person that creates it, on whose experiences and personal perceptions it is based on. In this context, creation of everything requires the presence of the author, and it depicts part of the author’s personality within the creation itself. Thus, it can be argued that personality of the author is present in all of his creations. On the other hand, some works are more descriptive of author’s perception than others. This phenomenon can be explained either by the degree of author’s participation in the work creation or by the depth of his emotional attachment to the work. The emotional attachment is of particular interest because it can tell more about the author himself and the meaning of his work. From a psychological perspective, the highest degree of person’s interest and involvement in work is conditioned by personal experience and its connection to the work created. Incorporating this statement into the literature context, this means that the author’s biography had affected writing of a certain work and even describes certain biographic aspects of author’s life. From the point of biographic analysis, the author’s biography can become a key for understanding both the literary work and author’s personality described in it. The aim of this essay is to explain until which extent the novella “The Metamorphosis” is about Franz Kafka. This is a particularly curious case, since the story is quite symbolical and multi-facet in interpretation.
The very motive of alienation and desire of an outsider to belong corresponds to the whole life time of Franz Kafka. Since he was born to a wealthy Jewish family in Prague, he was never a full member of Czech society. In this context is meant that being Jewish meant that family environment and subsequent inter-family ties were crucial for socialisation and recognition in life. Until certain extent, it meant that an individual belonged to two worlds, and to none at the same time. Although Jewish community, based on family connections could become one of the means of social acceptance, in case of Kafka, it became the reason of alienation. The reason of this alienation was disorder in the family due to the authoritarian rule of Kafka’s father – Herrman. This inability of the family to provide Kafka with a stable environment for interpersonal relations building can be tracked through the whole work. An individual is facing various problems on his own. It is also not accidental that the only persons the main hero deals with are his family members and some accidental passers-by who only affect his relationship with family rather than trigger any inter-personal interactions and feelings (Corngold 76). In other words, just as Kafka had to view the society and human relations through the perspective of his family, so did Gregor, who viewed the whole world from the stand-point of a closed interpersonal space of his family.
The main driving force in Kafka’s life was his conflict with his father, and this is the same for Gregor and his father Mr. Samsa. In both cases, fathers were disappointed with their sons, who were both the eldest in the family and were supposed to be the source of financial support for the whole family, especially since there were no more male descendants (Edwards 627). In this context, the main reason why Kafka’s father was disappointed with his son and abused him through his lifetime was that he refused to follow family tradition and become a businessman. Instead, he had chosen a writer’s path, which in the end of 19th century was an unstable and an offensive profession for Jewish family (Greenberg 102). Another reason for disappointment was submissive and weak character of Kafka, irrespective of his opposition to his father. In other words, he was nothing like his father and in his father’s eyes was incapable of masculine responsibilities and was a complete disappointment for him.
This biographic fact was shown in the novel in two ways. First of all, the audience sees the inconsistency between Gregor’s character and his father. They are entirely different in their perception of reality and mutual treatment. The moment Mr. Samsa saw his son’s transformation, the only feeling derived from his actions was disgust and shame: “he set out to drive Gregor back into his room by waving the cane and the newspaper” (Kafka 29). In this context, father was ashamed of what his son was and did not want to show him in public. Just as Kafka’s father was ashamed of his profession and tried abuse as means to change his son, so did Mr. Samsa (Corngold 62). On the other hand, from symbolical perspective, cane and newspaper can also tell the audience about means his father used in order to convince him to change Kafka’s lifestyle. Obviously, a cane stands for the masculinity and use of violent force as means to convince or frighten his son in order to obey his will. On the other hand, a newspaper might symbolise public opinion and general disapproval Jewish society might have on Kafka’s life choice and disobedience to father’s will (Greenberg 109).
The main similarity between Kafka’s and Gregor’s characters was that irrespective of father’s dominance and lack of mother’s involvement in their upbringing and resolution of family conflicts, they both were thinking about benefits of their family members and not about their well-being. In this context, just as Gregor worried about his mother’s health, so did Kafka. In some of his diaries, he mentioned that one of the reasons why he did not separate from his family was love for his mother and sister, for whom he cared most of all (Corngold 53). Gregor, in his turn, argued: “‘What a quiet life the family leads’ he felt a great pride that he had been able to provide such a life in a beautiful apartment like this for his parents and his sister” (Kafka 34). Thus, both of them viewed the world from the point of their family’s and not their own benefits.
On the other hand, there are some differences between two lives. Although both Kafka and Gregor carried financial responsibility towards their families, Kafka was not the one to provide his family in full, and it can be argued that Gregor’s pride for the provision of his family with everything need and plans to send his sister to conservatorium were rather wishful thinking and certain unfulfilled desires of Kafka to correspond to his father expectations and to become the main source of family’s income (Edwards 628). Another difference is that, in the novella, the negative attitude to Gregor is conditioned by his transformation and subsequent denial of his duties towards family, while, in case of Kafka, conflict was a long-termed and constant issue. The conflict with father was conditioned by Kafka’s different personality, which opposed his father completely. Thus, it was not simply a financial issue and need of his father to start working again like Gregor’s father had to (Greenberg 118).
Irrespective of these small discrepancies, the general trend of father-son relationship remained similar and was the greatest emotional motive for writing the story the way it was written. On the other hand, if every aspect of the narration corresponded to the real life of the author, it would have been a simple autobiography, symbolical and allegorical, but still an autobiography. But this is not the case of this novella. On the other hand, of particular importance is the evolution of Gregor’s relationship with his sister and her betrayal of him. Just as Gregor, Kafka adored his sister and she was the only person in his family who understood him entirely and supported him through hard times. On the other hand, a few months before he finished “The Metamorphosis”, his sister betrayed him. The problem was that in order to finance his further marriage, Kafka had to agree with family’s pressure and devote himself to clerk work in office (Corngold 82). This meant that he had very few time for his writing and was closed in a room with aimless existence, which largely reminds of Gregor’s exile in his room. In this situation, Kafka considered himself betrayed by his sister because she supported their parents in that decision and agreed that he had to work there. Thus, she violated their trustworthy relationship. This betrayal was so personal for Kafka that the very next evening he contemplated suicide (Greenberg 132). The implications of personal trauma of that event were shown not only in Grete’s betrayal but also in the form of that betrayal, which was:
“It must be gotten rid of. You must get rid of the idea that this is Gregor If it were
Gregor, he would have long ago realized that communal life among human beings is
not possible with such an animal and would have gone away voluntarily” (Kafka 86).
Another way to view novella from biographical perspective is that it can be considered as one of Kafka’s suicidal writings which he was conducting in his personal diaries. In this context, he was often describing ways in which he could have died and how less painful it would have been than constant abuse of his father (Edwards 630). In this context, “The Metamorphosis” can be viewed as an explanation of his possible suicide and the rationale for an individual in his case to commit one. In order to find the right answer to this interpretation of the novella, one would have to ask Kafka himself, but since he is long dead we shall never find the answer. On the other hand, the fact that this novella is a biographical work is undeniable. No person with such personal trauma as Kafka would be able to refer to these issues without involving personal experiences and emotional feelings. In other words, it in order to understand the literary work and the author, it might not be enough to know the whole life path, but also his exact emotional state of mind when the creation was written.
Corngold, Stanley. Lambent Traces: Franz Kafka. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Edwards, Kathryn A. “Metamorphosis and identity”, The Catholic Historical Review, 93.3
(2007): 620-635. Print.
Greenberg, Martin. The Terror of Art: Kafka and Modern Literature. New York: Basic Books,
Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. Naimano: Malaspina University Press. 1999. Print.