Kafka's “The Metamorphosis”: Loneliness, Frustration, and Oppressive Guilt Seen through Existentialism and Surrealism

Kafka’s work, like all the best literature, is multidimensional can mean different things to different people. As such his Metamorphosis is so rich that we can find many deeper meanings. Aabye Kierkegaardian existentialism and surrealism- the realm of dreams and the unconscious mind shape the Kafka's Metamorphosis to put forth the loneliness, frustration, and oppressive guilt of an individual threatened by anonymous forces beyond his comprehension or control.


Kafka’s Metamorphosis is essential to understand some of the existentialist ideas and beliefs that influenced Kafka’s thoughts and writings. It asserts that destiny is chosen and that the greatest truths cannot be rationally determined. Self-sufficiency or independence from other people is another ideal that existentialism extols. This philosophy thinks that stark individualism and self-determination will lead to personal anxiety.  This can often lead to the kind of isolation and despair that Gregor experiences in The Metamorphosis.

Gregor is a type of anti-hero who faces a choice about whether or not to continue upholding the existentialist ideal. Simply when you love someone, we commit ourselves to them. If they change a little bit, we accept that. Over time they can change so much that, if we met them for the first time, we’d find them abhorrent. But we don’t. Because we’re emotionally committed to them.

Thus Kafka takes this tendency to accept changes in loved ones to the extreme. And by presenting us with an extreme case someone overnight becoming a monstrous verminous creature he forces us to confront this tendency.

Why do we continue to love people who change in ways we’re not comfortable with? Is this not the existentialistic question?




The way we see Metamorphosis is that Kafka wants to portray the dehumanization that can happen after a horrendous freak emotional tug of war i. e. love, crime, betrayal etc. The way that Gregor loses his ability to speak and becomes horribly disfigured mimics the potential coma and bodily damage one can have, for example, in a car accident , love betrayal, murder of someone or suicide. Kafka portrays how vital and fragile empathy is as in the case of Gregor. Metamorphosis indifferently reports the events following businessman Gregor Samsa’s inexplicable metamorphosis into a gigantic insect, with a precise eye for the mundane details of Gregor’s life. This detached mood makes Gregor’s transformation seem even more bizarre and unsettling. One may think that the main meaning of the story is from socio familial affairs where the people treat others due to appearance, wealthiness, healthiness, age, gender.
How the human being is capable to love somebody else unconditionally even if the treatment is not corresponded.  How the human nature can get rid of people that is not useful anymore for their own interest. Thus, Blending reality with fantasy and tinged with ironic humor, Gregor, a hardworking insurance agent, awakens to find that he has turned into an enormous insect; rejected by his family, he is left to die alone: isolation due to dehumanization from either ends. Gregor's transformation and new physical form may seem to be the most significant plot details, but they are merely the catalysts for story development and ways for Kafka to express his ideas. Gregor's relationship with the family, the choices he makes or doesn't make, and the various symbols in the book are more important elements.

The reader's acceptance of Gregor's transformation without asking how and why Gregor became a bug is itself is a recurrent existentialistic and surrealistic theme:
The following existentialist ideas can be found in the text:

1. The universe is indifferent and often apparently hostile to humans.
2. Human existence is unexplainable.
3. Isolation, anxiety, and despair are part of life.
4. People judge life according to individual experiences.
5. Freedom of choice exists, but so do the consequences of one's actions.
6. A person's own convictions, not external rules, determine truth.

Kafka’s Metamorphosis is a parallel to Kafka’s own life. Gregor is Kafka, Gregor’s father is Kafka’s father, and the sister and mother too are the parallels of Kafka’s sister and mother. Kafka was always at odds with his father, who thought Kafka to be weak. Kafka’s sister always took his side, but later on, she too abandoned him (or at least that’s how Kafka felt at that time).
Gregor’s metamorphosis is a way for Kafka to show himself as a loathsome creature, who could never fit into his family or society. It is also quite interesting to see how he rarely thinks about his metamorphosis. Rather, his first thought was about missing his work. Almost as if, he always felt like an unwanted creature, even before his transformation.
Story Lines:

1.     Gregor Samsa’s family consists of a mother, father, and younger sister. His father being older, Gregor functions as the main source of income for the family. He has a fairly good job, and so his family is still able to live fairly well financially.
2.   One day, Gregor wakes up to find that he is a bug (some type of beatle). As the book goes on, he has more and more trouble grappling with his identity and associates more and more with a bug identity. It should also be noted that this whole time, the family has been dehumanizing him progressively more and more, trying to figure out what to do with him, and for the time being, just keeping him locked in his room. After some filty process Gregor dies.

3.   The book ends with the family happy that Gregor died, as they feel as though a weight has been lifted off their shoulders. Some days or weeks later, they decide to take a hike in the mountains and talk about the marriage prospects of the sister, pretty much forgetting about Gregor entirely.