How does Kafka illustrate the contemporaries/the time period in The Metamorphosis?Use either to answer the contemporaries or the time period please:)

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One way that Kafka addresses his contemporaries and some of the problems of their era is by critiquing capitalism. Kafka was a socialist, and The Metamorphosis is highly critical of what capitalism does to workers. Consider the way the manager treats Gregor when he comes to check on him. First of all, the fact that the manager comes all the way to Gregor's home, bothering him and his family, all because Gregor is late for work on one day is pretty damning. Gregor could be ill, or there could be a family emergency, but none of these possible contingencies matter to the manager: he cares only about the bottom line and Gregor's productivity. Gregor, as a person, is of no concern to him.

Then, while the manager is there, he puts Gregor down and says that Gregor doesn't work as hard as he could and that the boss isn't happy with him. He belittles Gregor, despite the fact that Gregor works so hard that he really has no life: he has to eat bad food on the road all the time, and he doesn't even have the time to create meaningful relationships. In short, Gregor's life as a salesman, in a capitalist economy, has stripped him of his value as a human being –– he is only important a worker and is easily replaced. We see this in the way his importance within the family diminishes when he can no longer work, and his sister, Grete, steps up and into the workforce to fill his role. Gregor doesn't really benefit from his work, as he doesn't earn as much as he should, and what he does goes to pay down his father's debts. His life is grueling and, frankly, turned him into vermin figuratively long before it did so literally. Kafka's indictment of capitalism and the way it strips workers of their humanity is one major way in which he engages with his contemporaries.

sboeman eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hi Daisyrock,

I'm not exactly sure what your question is asking, but I am familiar with the text and teach it to my eleventh grade classes.  Are you asking about, perhaps, the time period in which it was written?  I'll try to elaborate on that, since that what I think you're asking about.

Prior to Kafka, much, if not all, of the literature written was more-or-less just social commentary-authors and narrators would talk for pages on simple, judgmental observations on others with little regard for what truly motivated characters and their actions.

Kafka can be considered a modernist author, which was a trend in literature that began to focus much more on characters' thoughts and feelings; hence, we get the lengthy narrative struggles of Gregor doing such remedial things as trying to eat, flip over, etc.  In other words, the focus was more on the thoughts rather than just having someone comment on general observations.

He also focused much on the "anti-hero", or the underdog, who rarely wins, such as Gregor.  There is actually a term known as "kafkaesque" that refers to an odd event with lasting implications in literature.

Hope this helps.  I've also included a couple links below to perhaps elaborate further.

Read the study guide:
The Metamorphosis

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