In any compelling story, there must be a protagonist who is perceived as the hero of the story. These real of fictional characters often go through events that involve courage, challenges, battles, and even death. However, for a real hero, there has to be some sort of transformation physically, emotionally, or mentally. Franz Kafka’s story The Metamorphosis is no different. In the story, he has created a protagonist named GregorSamsa, who goes through a series of events in his life to become some sort of hero. In the story, Gregor undergoes both physical and mental transformations. However, literary experts such as ReyazAiman, and PriyankaTripathi have termed Gregor as an anti-hero because he does not exhibit the typical heroic qualities based on courage, strength, and bravery. However, this paper argues that Gregor is not an anti-hero and that some of the characteristics that he possesses make him a quasi-hero. The paper will examine some events of his life from both the erspectives to prove that Gregor was indeed a quasi-hero.
Before a butterfly acquires its exquisite beauty and patterns, it has to live through the demeaning stage of a caterpillar. Caterpillars generally struggle to survive through the numerous challenges they face from their environments and predators. Kafka’s story takes a similar course that allows the story’s protagonist GregorSamsa to experience hardships of humanity before he transforms into a blissful vermin. In the story, Gregor wakes up one morning, and he is late for work. However, he discovers that he is no longer human, and instead, he has been transformed into a vermin. As an insect, Gregor spends his entire life reflecting on the events of his life as a human, and he tries to stay away from his overbearing father by crawling through the walls and hiding in different places. Eventually, he crawls to his bedroom’s walls, where he ultimately dies in a state of “emptiness and peaceful rumination” (Kafka,Bernofsky, & Anderson 2026). This transformation, although demeaning, liberates him from the numerous struggles and clasps of society that previously threaten his sanity and humanity (Price 116). Through the entire story, Kafka incorporates different instances, which portray the numerous hardships that he faces in succession towards his metamorphosis.
From the beginning of the story, Kafka portrays Gregor as the sole breadwinner of his impoverished family. This role reflects the financial-based relationship between the family and their only son. The poor lifestyle of the family places massive strains on the relationship, thus making Gregor’s parents perceive him not as part of the greater family, but an asset that they depend upon (Price 116). Through the prime years of his life, Gregor tries to “get the money together, within five to six years, and pay off [his] parents’ debt” (Kafka,Bernofsky, & Anderson 1085). His family’s obligations make him live under the burden that his parents created. He always feels the need to acquire money for his family by daily working on a tiresome job that requires his full commitment and concentration. The stress is further escalated by the fact that he recognizes that his family members do not have any will power to get employment. Kafka states that Gregor“works with special ardor” in order to “earn enough money to meet the expenses of the entire family” (Kafka,Bernofsky, and Anderson 1095).
Many readers feel that Gregor is an anti-hero because he does not possess the typical heroic qualities such as leadership and courage. Gregor is viewed as being a slave and a coward towards his family (Widyastuti et al., 12). At one point, he expressed that “if [he] weren’t holding back his parents, [he] would have given notice long ago” (Kafka,Bernofsky, & Anderson 2000). His anti-heroism can be perceived from different points. If he were courageous enough, he would have stood up to his family and asked them to accept that he was frustrated in his job and did not wish to keep working there. He would have come up directly to his family and asked them to help him provide some resources for survival. Instead, he cowardly accepts this burdensome responsibility and the stress that places massive pressure on his mental wellbeing (Widyastuti et al. 15). Because he lacks the courage to confront his family, he suffers the consequences of transforming into a bug and eventually ends up dying. Critics view Gregor as an anti-hero because he fails to receive the respect that he deserves from his co-workers and his family, who see him as a pest. He recognizes the fact that everyone despises him instead of respecting him because of all the care and sacrifices he has made for them. At the end of the story, the family clearly shows their dislike for Gregor when his sister and father decide to get rid of him and state that “We’ve got rid of it” (Kafka,Bernofsky, &Anderson 2026). They despise him so much that they refer to him as ‘it’ instead of ‘him.’ The utter lack of respect shows his insignificance and, therefore, an anti-hero.
However, Gregor’s resilience for work shows that he is a hero. A deeper analysis of Gregor shows that he has some redeeming qualities. He is the most selfless person in the entire story and one who deserves the most respect. Gregor single-handedly provides for his family members who are too lazy to look for jobs to provide for themselves. He sacrifices both his happiness and peace of mind and commits to working under adverse conditions just to ensure that he caters to the needs of his family (Simon 7). Even after his metamorphosis into an insect, Gregor still shows great concern for his family than for himself and his pathetic state. However, his family does not appreciate the previous sacrifices that Gregor made as a human being. Instead, they ignore him and maltreat him with no regard for love or concern. Gregor’s unselfishness can also be seen in his work ethic. He is the only person in his entire family that has bothered to get a job. Initially, his family is utterly impressed by his ability to get a job and provide for their every need (Reyaz&Priyanka 85). He ensures that his family is comfortable to the point that he even hired a servant and a cook to ease the burden on them. He is overtly thoughtful about the wellbeing and future of his family members that he even considers sending his sister to the conservatorium for her to enhance and improve her talent in music.
More so, at work, Gregor is always willing to go out of his way by reporting to work as early as possible and not taking breaks. While the other employees are still taking their breakfast, Gregor has already finished his rounds and is ready to move to the next phase of the job. The story shows that in the five years that he has worked for the man whom his father owes, he has never once been absent. A hero does not necessarily have to show physical strength and abilities (Simon 14). He can also show his heroism through acts of humanity and concern for others. All these characteristics make Gregor a hero. As such, he can be considered as a quasi-hero.
The second narrative that helps to examine the characteristic of Gregor, a quasi-hero, is his transformation into a bug. When Gregor wakes up to find that he has been transformed into a bug, he does not seem to change much in his outlook or personality. As discussed above, in his human form, Gregor worked without much passion or thought. He is specifically motivated to keep working hard to help out his family despite his dislike for the kind of job he deals with. Typically, Gregor would settle without arguments, and he never made any personal decisions to benefit him. He can be considered an anti-hero because he does not change this mentality even when he transforms into a vermin. He quickly adapts to being a bug and does not also try to questions why he had to go through the transformation. In many stories, when a hero finds themselves in such a situation, they would show bravery and courage by trying to fight and get out of it. Gregor’s situation is far from perfect because the transformation from human to being an insect can be considered a tragedy. An insect is far much less valued than a human being, and so a typical hero would try to fight his way out of this struggle. However, this was not the case for Gregor. He simply adapts to his metamorphosis and does not even seem to care that he has been reduced to something smaller than a human being. He realizes that his life is at risk because bugs do not have a long life span. Despite this, he does not appear to be shaken or disturbed. Eventually, he gets even more comfortable being a vermin that he starts going under the couch, climbing, on walls, and declaring the acceptance of his state. It is this lack of fight and determination within him that makes Gregor be perceived as an anti-hero.
However, a close look at Gregor’s behavior in this situation reveals a person who is brave enough to accept and deal with a tragic situation. Gregor’s ordinary and accepting attitude towards his transformation helps him to stay open and discover some positive features in his newfound body(Widyastuti et al. 42). He uses this unfortunate incident to reflect upon his entire existence in a manner that he would not be able to when dealing with his stressful day-to-day activities. A normal person would be devastated and distraught by such an incident. Instead, Gregor focuses on the positive side of it and tries to find the bright side of his existence. It is a typical human characteristic to feel sorry for themselves when they get into scary and abnormal situations(Widyastuti et al. 47). However, Gregor seems to have superpowers that enable him to remain calm during such adversity. Superpowers are synonymous with heroes, thus making Gregor a hero.
Furthermore, in this narrative, Gregor can also be seen as a hero because of his selfless thoughts and regard for his family despite his own fate. As a vermin, Gregor ought to have focused on fighting to return to his standard human form. He would want to try and search for answers regarding the reasons why he had been made into a bug. Typically, a hero would selfishly focus on themselves at such a time(Widyastuti et al. 15). However, Gregor pays little attention to himself and instead worries about his family. When he realizes how much trauma he would cause his family when they discover that he had transformed into a vermin, Gregor says that “He 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,Bernofsky, & Anderson 1023).Even right before his death, Gregor feels warm and fuzzy towards his family. He is not the same disgruntled salesman that appears at the beginning of the story, but even in his present condition, he is more humane and human than all the other characters in the story. The fact that he would still care about his family despite knowing how disrespectful and spiteful they were to him says a lot about him as an extraordinary person deserving to be called a hero.
It is apparent that the character and characteristics of Gregor in the story The Metamorphosis do not reflect those of the typical heroes that are depicted in a lot of the stories that have been written over time. Contrary to other heroes, Gregor dies a bug, with a rotting apple on his back, covered in dirt, and wasted away to just a shell. He does not even get a proper burial or respect during his death. However, during his life as a human being, he portrayed heroic characteristics such as selflessness, handwork, resilience, and nobility. Even in his transformation, Gregor still shows excellent courage by accepting his fate and his willingness to die to remove the burden from his family. Although he might not appear as the typical hero, Gregor is definitely a quasi-hero.
Kafka, Franz, Susan Bernofsky, and Mark M. Anderson. “The Metamorphosis: A Norton Critical Edition.” (1996).
Price, Amelia. “An analysis of key ideas of deconstruction through Franz Kafka’s’ Metamorphosis.'” Fields: journal of Huddersfield student research 4.1 (2018): 116.
Reyaz, Aiman, and PriyankaTripathi. “To Animalise is Humane, to Humanise is Animal”: Exploring Kafka’s The Metamorphosis Through the Lens of Realism and Anti-Realism.” ArsArtium (2019): 85.
Simon, Ashley. “A Critical Analysis of Franz Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis.” IUSB Graduate Research Journal 5 (2018): 3-15.
Widyastuti, Anggi, S. S. TitisSetyabudi, and M. Hum. The Absurdity Of Being As Reflected In Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis Novella (1915): An Existentialism Approach: (2017). 12-55
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