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What are some examples of symbolism in Kafka's The Metamorphosis?

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dtorres1 | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 31, 2012 at 2:38 AM via web

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What are some examples of symbolism in Kafka's The Metamorphosis?

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 31, 2012 at 4:08 AM (Answer #1)

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The Metamorphosis is the most famous work by Franz Kafka, published in 1915, about a man named Gregor who spontaneously turns into an insect (Kafka intentionally left the specific animal unclear).

While the story is a fairly straightforward account of Gregor's transformation and fall from humanity, it does contain some symbolism, which suffered somewhat from the necessary translation to English. The first and most important is Gregor's new form, that of an inhuman creature: in the original German, the descriptive word literally means "unclean animal" or "vermin," but further description and common conception make Gregor some form of giant beetle. This represents his isolation in the world, and how both his job and family refuse to appreciate his hard work. In fact, his first reaction to his transformation is frustration, since he is going to be late for work, and only later does he realize his true fate. His family, meanwhile, are all irritated that they will need to work to support themselves, instead of living off his wages; although they are disgusted at his new form, they are equally disgusted that he has abandoned them, although not by choice.

Another symbol, drawing on the first, is Gregor's new form having a shell, making him an invertebrate creature relying on an exoskeleton. The term "spineless," meaning coward, is implied early, when Gregor thinks about being late for his job:

...the firm's errand boy would've waited for the five o'clock train and reported the news of his absence long ago. He was the boss's minion, without backbone or intelligence.

And yet Gregor himself is spineless, because he will not quit his job for his own sake. Later, when his father throws an apple at him, it gets lodged in his back, possibly cracking his exoskeleton and making him even more "spineless."

There are other symbols in the text, each referring to an aspect of Gregor's life and legacy, which in the end is only enough to free his family through death.

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