Dr. Dirk Wendtorf
Spring-2242-HUM2250 Humanities: 20th & 21st Cent-2048
In this short excerpt of Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”, there are many, many objects. There is the bed he cannot get out of, laying on his hard, armor plated back which apparently is part of his body now, along with numerous legs wiggling helplessly and a brown belly. Did his alarm clock fail to go off, preventing him from waking? There’s the train schedules; will he make to work on time?
There’s the room he is in; door locked, quiet space. He is very much in his safe space – a neutral space he does not even have to think about much, but there is so much he must scurry to. He must carry the samples, deal with dreaded people, make the sales, when he’s much rather stay at the office, presumably a similarly quiet, safe space. But the noise beckons and he must leave this neutral territory whereby were it not for the tyranny of the hectic work schedule of the modern world and demands of family and despite whatever the furred woman from the cut out magazine represents; the key and then the door and he must make it through to his duties.
This large collection of objects shown in even this short excerpt in this surreal, dream-like situation makes it a perfect story for Freudian analysis and is a demonstration of the thinking of the era and the influence of Freud. Situating the main character in such a situation pulls us out of our comfortable realities, questioning what our ‘self’ consists of and viewing all of these objects with the eyes of someone who is just as confused as everybody is about their own unconscious makes this a safe exploration of this strange realm.
For Freud, objects can represent unconscious psychic realities, drives and conflicts, repressions and urges alike. It is significant that there is so many; as a whole they represent aspects of a single consciousness. Gregor Samsa’s consciousness, represented best by his bedroom space at present, is a little cramped but familiar. The locked door parallels his new hard shelled armor in keeping him safe but unable to move without difficulty, just as being trapped in the room is safe but prevents him from moving ahead; presumably there is no additional freedom to be found beyond the door either with the addition of chaotic modern life that he cannot turn over, go to sleep and wish away as he can in his locked room, protected by his hard shell, holding him to his bed and unable to move through life with ease – legs numerous yet inadequate despite the desire to scurry all at once.
As Freud says in a footnote in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900),
It was not for a long time that I learned to appreciate the significance of the phantasies and unconscious thoughts relating to life in the womb. They contain the explanation of the curious dread, felt by so many people, of being buried alive, as well as the profoundest unconscious reason for the belief in a life after death, which represents only the projection into the future of this mysterious life before birth. The act of birth, moreover, is the first experience attended by anxiety, and is thus, the source and model of the affect of anxiety. (Freud)
To further a Freudian psychosexual analysis, there is the representation of the mysterious new image of the woman in the gilded picture frame cut out of a magazine in the story:
It showed a lady, with a fur cap on and a fur stole, sitting upright and holding out to the spectator a huge fur muff into which the whole of her forearm had vanished!
This represents an idealized mother from which he wishes to be born. The fur cap, the fur stole, the huge fur muff into which her whole forearm had vanished, inviting him to be reborn. The open muff facing the viewer represents the birth canal and the fur overall representing the mother’s pubic hair.
Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams Sigmund Freud (1900). 1900, psychclassics.yorku.ca/Freud/Dreams/dreams.pdf.
Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. 1915. https://canvas.fscj.edu/courses/80886/files?. PDF downloaded.[responsivevoice_button voice="US English Male"]