In every human beings life, we all have at least one moment in which we ponder why we are here and how we got here. These are normal questions to ask, but the answers and other questions that follow become a little bit deeper the further you go. In the short novel, The Metamorphosis, we see an over exaggerated example of this when Gregor turns into a cockroach one day as he wakes up. This brings us to the ultimate thinking stage, where Gregor does not have any options but to just reflect on his previous life that he lived and how his family lives currently. He becomes alienated from the life he once lived as everyone basically ignores him and forgets about him. This process is also known as Existentialism, in which it is a philosophy that denies that the universe has any meaning or purpose and requires individuals to take responsibility for their own actions and form their own paths. In his short novel, Kafka uses distinctive symbols as a way of conveying his thoughts on Existentialism.
The first one we will talk about is the lady in the portrait. This is a widely discussed detail in the story, with many explanations of what it stands for. In my interpretations, it is very special to Gregor cause he protects it as he sister talks about taking out all of the furniture from his room. It is used a place of escape from his current state. A way to get out of alienation, like Heinemann says, the facts to which the term alienation refers are different kinds of dissociation, break or rupture between human beings and their objects(9). Gregor becomes completely without life at all at this point. He has no more true existence, as there is no more true interaction with any family members, or anyone at all. One of his last interactions it with his father, in which he gets attacked by apples being thrown at him. This apple turns into a major symbol itself for what it does to Gregor down the road. He was now separated from his family even more because this apple is lodged in his back and no one will assist him in removing it. The apple then begins as the start of Gregors slow death. In the same way, the apple begins the decline in human purity when Adam and Eve were caught eating it when they were told specifically not to. They then lose their sense of integrity and possess more knowledge than they were ever supposed to; in the same way that Gregor gains too much knowledge. He realizes that he now is alone forever and will probably die that way because of his the pain that he will never be able to get rid of in his back. Now that he knows that, he gives up on himself entirely, without even trying to pull out the apple from his back. These symbols show us the beginning of Gregors eventual death and how easy it became for him to give up.
A symbol that really covers the whole story is the number 3. It repeats itself through the dialogue of the characters, the physical aspects of the house, and even religion. There are three doors that lead from Gregors room that represent the three pathways in his life. Gregor also comes out 3 times into the living room, in which after each of his travels there his shrinks to a smaller size. Although these may not represent much, they are the mere correlation of trivial events with important ones, is really very simple and common; so much so that there is no limit to what a sign may mean (Langer 59). What this symbol does is get you to think why the author repeated the number three and what he really meant by the many paths linked to Gregor and his existentialism. As the definition we stated earlier said, through existentialism, you have to take responsibility for your actions and form your own paths.
The most important symbol would probably be the insect itself. The insect most widely represents existentialism and its details that accompany it. With all of the events that took place with Gregor, it would make sense for him so give up. One thing that is hard to pick up on is whether or not Gregor has his mind set on somewhere else as he realizes his imminent death. In the book, Existentialism as Philosophy, Molina talks about the Christian side to it, unlike the Christian concept of existence in which life on earth is merely a path toward a future sacred existence existence is considered sacred enough to justify even a tremendous amount of suffering (Molina 23). Which way did Gregor believe? I think Gregor might have had God on his mind in the end. The fact that life on earth is just a small stepping stone to eternity in heaven with Jesus Christ. Your time on earth is not supposed to be glorious in any way compared to heaven, and maybe Gregor is awaiting his chance at joyful eternal life.
Kafka is able to create several images and symbols to help recreate his ideas on existentialism. Not only does he give them a wide base for a lot of debate to occur, but he also gives them a purpose so that they are helping tell the story clearly. This symbol of the insect represents mankind and the thoughts that they experience. Whether it be about why an event just happened in their life, or whether or not they are going to heaven and how they can make it there. Either way, their existentialistic thoughts are accountable in making sure that they take responsibility for their own actions and form their own paths.
Heinemann, Fredrick Henry. Existentialism and the Modern Predicament. New York: Harper and Row Publishers. 1958.
Lescoe, Francis J. Existentialism: With or Without God. New York: Society of St. Paul, 1974.
Molina, Fernando. Existentialism as Philosophy. Englewood Cliffs. 1962.