Family rejection (The Metamorphosis – Kafka)

Some time ago, the Academics in Politics team proposed a reflection on justice based on the book Kafka’s Trial.

Kafka (1883–1924), a writer from Prague, deals with a variety of issues in his books, but focuses in particular on family ties. Kafka’s personal history, which was eventful, to say the least, is undoubtedly intimately linked to these concerns, which are present in several of his works, and in particular in The Metamorphosis.

We suggest that you discover this work, which can be read quite quickly (it is not very long), and which is nevertheless very rich in reflections and teachings.

The story of The Metamorphosis is both simple and singular: Gregor, who lives with his parents and sister, wakes up one day transformed into a repulsive beast.

How does his family react to this sudden and unexpected metamorphosis? The interest of the book is not to discover the reasons for such a transformation, but lies in the difficulties and consequences that this transformation raises. Would the parents, who no longer recognize their son as time goes by, be ready to disown their child, who has become dehumanized, who no longer belongs to them? Or is the family bond strong enough, the common past thick enough, to bind this family together?

Excerpt from Chapter II of the Metamorphosis – Kafka:

One day, it must have been a month already since Gregor’s metamorphosis, and his sister, all the same, was no longer struck with astonishment at the sight of him, she came in a little earlier than usual and found him still staring out of the window, motionless and indeed frightening, standing as he was. Gregor would not have been surprised if she had not entered, since, positioned as he was, he prevented her from opening the window at once; but, not content with not entering, she jumped back and closed the door; someone not involved in the affair might have thought that Gregor had been watching for his sister and had wanted to bite her. Naturally, he went at once to hide under the sofa, but he had to wait until noon for his sister to return, and she seemed much more worried than usual. He understood that the sight of her was still unbearable for him and that she would only remain unbearable for him, and that surely it was necessary for her to make a great effort on herself not to flee at the spectacle of the least part of her body protruding from the sofa. In order to spare her even that, he undertook one day, it took him four hours of work, to carry on his back to the sofa the sheet of his bed and to arrange it there so that it was now completely hidden, so that his sister, even by bending over, could not see it. If she had thought the sheet unnecessary, she might have removed it, for at last it was clear enough that it was not for her pleasure that Gregor was cloistered in this way; but she left the sheet in place, and Gregor even thought he caught a look of gratitude, as he cautiously lifted the sheet a little with his head one day to see how his sister took this change of arrangement.
For the first fortnight, the parents could not bring themselves to enter Gregor’s house, and he often heard them complimenting his sister on the work she was now doing, whereas up to that time they had often expressed their irritation at her because in their eyes she was not good for much. But now they often waited together, father and mother, in front of Gregor’s room, while his sister cleaned there, and as soon as she came out, she had to tell them exactly what state the room was in, what Gregor had eaten, how he had behaved this time, and if perhaps there was a slight improvement. Gregor’s mother wanted to come and see him, but the father and the sister held her back, first using rational arguments, which Gregor listened to very carefully and approved of without reservation. But later they had to hold her back by force, and when he heard her shouting, ‘But let me see Gregor, he is my son, the unfortunate one! Do you not understand that I have to see him?’
Gregor then thought that perhaps it would still be a good thing for his mother to come and see him, not every day, of course, but perhaps once a week; for at last she understood everything much better than his sister, who in spite of all her courage was, after all, only a child, and who in the end had perhaps only taken on such a hard task through a child’s thoughtlessness.”

This situation becomes more and more untenable, and finally comes down to a Cornelian moral choice:

—He must disappear, cried the sister, it is the only way, Father.
You just have to try to get rid of the idea that it is Gregor. We have believed it for so long, and that is where our real trouble lies. But how could it be Gregor? If it was Gregor, he would have realized long ago that human beings could not live with such a beast, and he would have left of his own free will.

→ General Knowledge: the Family