Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Darwinian Theory
Reading Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”, one is inclined to think that perhaps the writer had Darwin in mind when he wrote the story. The story centers on the transformation of its protagonist, Gregor Samsa, and his family’s journey of survival through it. At the heart of the story resounds Darwin’s theory of the evolution of the species – that organisms change and evolve in order to survive, that the ultimate game is the survival of the fittest.
Gregor’s transformation precipitated two struggles to survive – his own as a giant bug, and his family’s. It could be that Kafka was thinking along the lines of the essential Darwinian concepts – organisms change to cope, and that organisms adapt to the changes in their environment in order to survive. In the story, Gregor wakes up as a giant bug without his knowing or ever finding out the reason for his transformation. He was a traveling salesman, and was the family’s breadwinner – he takes care of his aging parents and younger sister, pays off his father’s debts on top of addressing the family’s needs like rent and groceries.
He was dissatisfied with his work but he is forced to keep at it to support his family. He dreams of eventually finding a better job as soon as he pays off his father’s debts. He devotes much of his time working sacrificing his own needs and desires, having no time to pursue his own interests or to foster any lasting or satisfying relationships. Perhaps his transformation was subconsciously desired – that Gregor wanted more than what his current life offered, and it was his subconscious’ way to show what he felt inside – him, a human being treated like an insect, dehumanized by the demands of work and family life, struggling to keep a bit of humanity he still has left. As in Darwin’s theory, it is not that organisms transformed themselves in an instant, but rather realized their needs and wants and developed the means to achieve those.
Whatever the reasons behind Gregor’s transformation, what is clear is that Gregor and his family both struggled to live after it happened. Gregor, having accepted the fact that his body has changed and that in order to move about he will have to get used to it, worked at moving his limbs to walk and move around. It was difficult to move around with new body, but he managed to learn how to, he needed to. Further, he and his family learned that with his new form, he could no longer eat the food that he used to enjoy, and that his dietary needs have changed. Whereas when he was human he wanted fresh foods, now he finds out that he is repulsed by it and can only eat rotting left-overs.
The family, too, struggled with Gregor’s transformation. First, they cannot bear to see him as an insect, and more than that, they were worried about their financial situation. Although in Gregor’s eyes the father was but an old man who has not worked for five years and is entitled to a retirement of leisure, and his mother a frail woman who has asthma, and his younger sister a thing of beauty whose life has been so protected and pampered, and perhaps the family saw themselves the same way, but nevertheless, under their present circumstances they found it in them to fend for themselves.
The father found work as a bank messenger, the mother sewed lingerie for an apparel shop, and the sister became a salesgirl and studied French and shorthand to find a better paying job in the future. Moreover, they also took in boarders to increase their income. They found that they could survive by themselves when they had to, that they did not really need Gregor – they adapted to the situation in order to live.
In the end, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is a story that chronicles man’s means and ways of survival, as he has done so all throughout history transforming into what he is today. In a way, it could be seen as a tribute to the principles that Drawin espoused in his theory of the evolution of species – that organisms, man above all, will adapt just to live, and that only those who are the fittest will survive.