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The theme of isolation in Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis’

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  1. Introduction.
  2. The most peculiar element of the story.
  3. Martin Greenberg's essay 'Gregor Samsa and Modern Spirituality'.
    1. Greenberg's analysis.
    2. A clearer explanation of the nature of Gregor's 'hunger'.
    3. The spiritual struggle in Gregor's inner self.
    4. Gregor's death: spiritually inconclusive.
  4. Who or what is the source of Gregor's 'nourishment'?
  5. Conclusion.

Franz Kafka's novella The Metamorphosis concerns a traveling salesmen named Gregor Samsa who ?[awakens] from unsettling dreams one morning? and ?[finds] himself transformed into a monstrous vermin? (Kafka 7). Gregor is late for work, and he gripes about his joyless job; he declares ?if I were not holding back because of my parents, I would have quit long ago? (8). His family tries to awaken him so he may yet be on time. A clerk from his job arrives to check on him, driving Gregor to open his door and reveal his transformed state. All are repulsed, and the clerk flees the house in horror. Gregor understands his family perfectly, but his family cannot comprehend his speech and do not realize he understands what they say. Gregor's sister Grete is the most sympathetic, cleaning his room and offering him food. His mother falls ill with anguish and his father exhibits violent outbursts, wounding Gregor beyond recuperation with a thrown apple. Gregor confines himself to his room, decaying.

[...] Gregor's isolation and sudden realization of his shows that this is a desire to be completely removed from the human circle. Since Gregor's death is somewhat spiritually inconclusive, his ?nourishment? cannot be truly identified unless it is assumed that he receives it prior to his death. Therefore, evidence in support of the claim that he does indeed receive it must be found. To this end, it is necessary to describe observable conditions which indicate that Gregor has received nourishment. In other words, what kind of spiritual, emotional, or physical changes or reconciliations must be evident in Gregor in order to conclusively state that he has been ?nourished?? The answer to this question lies in the first part of the novella, when details of Gregor's irreconciliation with the ?guilt-world that inhabits? (Greenberg 21) are given. [...]


[...] In dying, Gregor is ?nourishing? himself spiritually because total separation from the ?work-world of the impersonal (Emrich 123) is what his soul requires for salvation. From the encounter with the boarders, his family's eventual neglect of him, and Grete's wish that he die, Gregor is aware that his death will ?nourish? his family as well by allowing them to move on. In essence, Gregor recognizes that meaning of his metamorphosis contains some sort of positive possibility? (Greenberg which is the possibility of life in death. [...]


[...] Grete's violin playing near the end of the novella holds a special significance for Gregor in his metamorphosed state; it is only as outcast from human life who finally accepts his being cast out, that Gregor's ears are opened to music? (Greenberg 28). Gregor yearns for the music in a way he has never yearned for it as a human. As Emrich claims, it is way of sweeping man beyond all earthly limits of enticing down from above, with the help of music, that nourishment that does not originate on earth? and the music moves Gregor to emerge from his room. [...]

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