Family Dynamics in “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka
The family unit is a fundamental building block of society. The way family members interact with each other in relation to the whole is termed family dynamics. Family reactions can be demonstrated through communication, cultural practices, emotional expressions, and behavioral patterns. When changes occur in families, people react differently based on their attitudes and perceptions of the changes. Family dynamics are significantly determined by the personal feelings, attitudes, and expectations of each member of the family unit. In “The Metamorphosis,” Kafka demonstrates how a family can change from a harmonious group to narcissistic and selfish individuals after a major change in one of their members. In Kafka’s story, Gregor’s transformation into a giant insect leads to mixed reactions from his sister, who initially cares and later hates him, and his father, who turns hostile.
Grete’s Compassion and Care towards Gregor
Kafka portrays Grete as the closest family member to Gregor and shows the deepest love and concern after his transformation. Before the transformation, Gregor was dedicated to caring for his family, especially his sister. In the morning after his transformation, Gregor wants to get up and rush to work to support his family (Kafka 3). While his mother and father see him as lazy when he fails to get up for work, Grete softly knocks on his door, inquiring about his condition. She asks, “Gregor? Aren’t you well? Are you needing anything” (Kafka 4). This instance shows how Grete cared for her brother and wished to assist him.
Grete felt her brother’s pain and was empathetic towards him following the transformation. Although she is afraid of him, she would not bear the thought of having him sleep hungry. Kafka narrates that Grete brought a collection of food, including half-decayed vegetables and bones from the previous day’s meal, to test what Gregor preferred eating (Kafka 19). In Gregor’s new condition, his sister seems to be the most caring. However, as Grete starts working, she slowly gets tired of helping her brother and views him as a burden. Towards the end, Kafka indicates that Grete was the one who suggested that Gregor be killed. Addressing her parents, Grete argues that “things can’t go on like this…we must try to get rid of it” (Kafka 45). This was a dramatic shift from the most caring family member to a merciless murderer.
Gregor’s relationship with His Father and the Dynamics
Among all the family members, Gregor seems to have a toxic relationship with his father, who becomes hostile and angry after the metamorphosis. When Gregor fails to wake up for work, his father scolds him because he expects him to provide for the family without caring about his health and wellness. As Gregor leaves his room, his father’s reaction demonstrates a radical shift in perception and family connection. Gregor’s father is repulsed by his new look and treats him like a monster, as he saw him. Everyone panics from their first sight of Gregor, not knowing how to explain or handle the new state. His father’s fear and repulsion are demonstrated when “He took the manager’s cane in his right hand… scooped up a hefty newspaper from the table in his left hand, and stamped his feet strongly” (Kafka 18). Gregor quickly recognizes that he is the terrifying person in the circumstance, and his family is appalled.
Gregor is no longer regarded as a responsible son but rather as a monstrous creature. Gregor’s father attempts to frighten him back into his room, but Gregor is unable to open the doors. Gregor tries to fit through one door because his family is still terrified of him. Resentment and animosity are shown when “His father gave him a violent shove, and bleeding heavily, he flew far into his chamber and a cane was used to slam the door shut” (Kafka 19). Gregor’s father understood that he needed to protect his wife and daughter from Gregor, the enormous beetle. When Gregor’s father saw him after his metamorphosis, he no longer treated him like his son. If his father was ever going to love him again, Gregor knew he had to change.
When Gregor’s father pelts him with apples, it represents another illustration of Gregor’s strained connection with his father. This sends the message to Gregor that he is not loved by his family and that he needs to change. Gregor had fled from his room one day when his mother had left the door open. Gregor dashed into the living room after his mother fainted when she saw him. When Gregor’s father returned home, he immediately took action, which demonstrated his resentment and anger. Kafka writes that “His father… was now hurling one apple after another… the very next one… literally rammed its way into Gregor’s back” (37). The sorrow felt by the family and Gregor when they are reminded of their circumstances is symbolized by the apple lodged in Gregor’s spine.
Gregor was attempting to avoid his father’s constant flinging of apples and chasing after him. He mentions this sign multiple times before finally passing away. Kafka narrates that “Gregor had to concede that he wouldn’t be able to keep up this running for long, for anytime his father made one step, Gregor had to execute innumerable motions” (37). When Gregor’s father sees them, he always tries to hurt them, even if they aren’t doing anything wrong. When Gregor’s father is around him, he gives the impression of being in charge and in command. In their father-son connection, Gregor’s father is portrayed as powerful and almighty. In the household, Gregor always feels inferior to his father. This leads Gregor to assume that he is unwelcome and that he is the enemy. Every day, Gregor is reminded of his uniqueness, and his father dislikes him because of his appearance.
The toxic father-son relationship is evident from the way Gregor’s father is always shouting at him. Gregor’s relatives made it clear that he was a burden, making him feel like an outcast in society. Gregor was the subject of almost every talk the family had. They are constantly fighting and arguing about Gregor wondering how to survive in the fearful environment. Kafka writes that “His father blames his mother… yet turning to his left, he screamed at his sister… Gregor snarled loudly with wrath,” (Kafka 42). The above quote shows that Gregor’s presence caused a schism in the family. Gregor’s father was often grumpy since, as a result of Gregor’s change, he had to return to work.
Gregor’s transformation angered his family because they had to support themselves financially. Not only did his father need to find work, but his entire family did as well. Sadly, when they started working, they all neglected the man who had selflessly provided for them for many years. They literally stopped providing food for him and continued with their lives, oblivious of Gregor’s sufferings. According to Kafka, “Gregor now scarcely ate anymore, his family had developed the habit of storing items in this room that they couldn’t find elsewhere” (43). Gregor’s family was too preoccupied with their new careers and lives to give him much attention. Gregor’s relationship with his father after the transformation shows that his family no longer loves or wants him. Gregor is used as a victim of everything that goes wrong in his family’s lives throughout the story.
In conclusion, family dynamics occur when significant changes alter the living conditions of one or more family members forcing others to adjust to new, sometimes undesired, states. Kafka’s story highlights these dynamics in the family members’ reactions toward Gregor’s transformation. His mother and sister are caring at first, with the sister showing more compassion. While other family members fear his mere appearance, Grete finds her way into his room to feed him. However, the compassion later changes to resentment, and she plans his murder. Gregor’s father is the most antagonistic and hostile to his son’s new condition. He hates the thought of always having to protect his wife and daughter from the monstrous insect. He seems so angry with him that he uses every instance to punish Gregor. In essence, although Gregor had selflessly served his family, they now view him as a terrifying insect, a burdensome responsibility, and a useless creature that should be eliminated.
Kafka, Franz. The metamorphosis. Modern Library Classics, 2013.