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The Theme Of Human And Animal Transformation English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1821 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Throughout history, animals have held and important place in literature, they act as symbols and representations of society, economics and human relationships. Franz Kafka was born in Prague in 1883 to a upper-middle class Jewish, German family. Although his mother was loving she was somewhat secondary to his upbringing and his highly domineering father was both emotionally and physically abusive. Throughout his life, Kafka always felt somewhat of an outsider as well as being plagued with guilt about his hatred for his father who he perceived as ‘a giant of a man, my father, the ultimate judge, coming to get me in the middle of the night [1] ‘ As an adult, Kafka lived a double life, working as a clerk by day and writing by night, something that was highly disapproved of by his father. He never married or had children and spent most of his adult living with his parents and sister something that one can see reflected in the Metamorphosis.

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Metamorphosis, is fundamentally a fantasy novel however, it represents a very real scenario. By looking at the novel from a Marxist perspective one can see a worker being abandoned by his employer and family after becoming unable to work and support them financially which is representative of the proletariat, bourgeoisie conflict described by Marx. Kafka’s Metamorphosis is an illustration of a capitalist society dominated by economics and the abandonment of those unable to provide for themselves. If one studies the novel from this perspective we can see that the protagonist Gergor represents the proletariat and his manager the bourgeoisie.

Gregor, the protagonist of the novel represents the proletariat, he is forced to work in a job that he hates as a travelling sales man as he is trying to support his family and pay off his fathers debts. Gregor’s social status would be defined by Marx and Engels as a member of ‘the class of modern wage labourers who having no means of production of their own are reduced to selling their labour power in order to live [2] .’ At the beginning of the novel we learn that Gregor has transformed into an insect. The identity of this creature however, is never disclosed; this is because the characteristics of the insect are relatively unimportant in understanding the conflict and class struggles that are occurring within the novel. Instead the transformation signifies Gergor’s new inability to work and provides a focus on Gregor’s value as a labourer rather than a person and how this diminishes when he is no longer able to go out and earn money or support his family.

If Gregor is representative of the proletariat his manger symbolises the bourgeoisie he is an example of ‘the class of modern capitalists, owners of the means of social production and employers of wage labourers. [3] ‘ The manager is not given a name which signifies his lack of humanity and acts superior as a result of his advanced economic position. Kafka’s portrayal of the manager makes him highly unlikeable, if anything the reader is lead to empathise more with Gregor as an insect than his human manger.

The first to abandon Gregor is his manager who leaves as soon as he realises that Gregor is unable to work and therefore has no value to him. As the worker Gregor is work nothing more than his labour to his manager he is also expendable as the manager knows that he will be able to find a replacement worker. However, one Gregor becomes unable to support his family financially they to abandon him. Marx claims that ‘the bourgeoisie has torn away from the family it’s sentimental veil and has reduced the family relation into a mere money relation [4] ‘. Kafka’s metamorphosis is a clear example of this, Gregor worked in a job he hated for years trying to support his family who abandon his the minute he is unable to continue. His father is the most emotionally unattached and deals with Gregor in the harshest manner. Gregor’s presence seems to anger his father as he clenches his fists and throws fruit at the insect [5] . Although his mother and sister Grete are initially upset and sympathetic towards Gregor – his sister brings him food and cleans his room- this affection dwindles over time as they cease to receive any financial support from Gregor. Grete even begins to refer to her brother as ‘it’ and states that if the bug was really Gregor he would have ‘realised long ago that it isn’t possibly for human beings to live with such a creature and he would have gone away of his own free will [6] ‘. Her indifference towards her brother shows that as a result of his transformation he has ceased to exist to her. The relationship of the family was based on shared wages and once Gregor could no longer contribute to that he no longer existed within the family relation. This is further supported by the fact that as a result of Gregor’s inability to work his father and sister have to start earning a living. His father takes over as head of the household and his sister flourishes in her new occupation, becomes more beautiful and earns the respect of her parents. Even his mother becomes stronger and starts to work more around the house. It seems that Gregor’s transformation forces the family into working for themselves and not being reliant on their son.

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The eventual conclusion to the Gregor’s story is his inevitable death, once he transformed and was no longer able to feed himself his life depended on the charity of his parents who considered him useless and a financial burden and locked him away. However, rather than being upset at their sons death, his family appear relieved – their economic needs superseded any emotional attachment that the family had to Gregor and therefore they could not love him once he became a strain on the family. Following his death Gregor’s family travel to the country, they discuss the economic benefits of not having to support Gregor and then move on to talking about Grete. They discuss her marriage and the financial benefits of this, it appears that while Grete is financially useful to the her parents she is welcomed as part of the family but the novel ends with a subtle warning that if she started to become a burden she could have the same outcome as Gregor.

Pig Tales by Marie Darrieussecq was published in France in1996 more than 50 years after the publication of The Metamorphosis. However, like Kafka Darrieussecq the transformation of an animal to provide a critical analogy of society. In this case our protagonist, an unnamed narrator living in Paris slowly turns into a pig, which the reader is encouraged to believe is a result of her amoral lifestyle. Her gradual transformation into an animal is reflective of the changes occurring in the society she lives which is becoming more right wing as a result of consumer capitalism. The novel follows the life of this nameless girl and begins with her being interviewed at a perfume store where the director tells her that ‘The important thing [is] to look lovely and well groomed at all times [7] ‘. Pig Tales was highly successful and very popular amongst adult readers, Sallie Muirden argues in her essay on the novel that this success could be because of the way that Darrieussecq channels ‘contemporary female resentment about the patriarchy in a post-feminist era, in particular the… continued control over what women do with their bodies. [8] ‘ Through her book, Darrieussecq is articulating experiences and feelings that the modern day female reader will be able to relate to. She dealing with issues concerning the women’s body and women’s rights but in a post-feminist manner, as she is arguing that one may not have an issue with selling their body and may in fact enjoy working as a prostitute. Although this may be criticised by early feminist as being degrading to women I think what Darrieussecq is really fighting for is that we don’t see her protagonist as a victim but rather as women making her own choices and decisions with regard to her body. Equally, Darrieussecq is not condemning the women in this novel, rather, she is criticising the social circumstances the narrator finds herself in which is most like a result of her lack of education which makes it hard for her to concentrate [9] . Her inarticulateness and naivety make it easier for those around her who are corrupt (mainly the men in the novel) to take advantage of her which is shown at the beginning of the novel when she is sexually assaulted by the director during her interview ‘The director of Perfumes Plus was holding my right breast in one hand and the job contract in the other [10] ‘. As a result it takes her a long time to realise that it is her participation in this corrupt act that are causing her apparent transformation and that she must resist form amoral behaviour in order to remain human. However, there is still something about the narrator that makes the reader empathise with her, she is very sincere and has much emotion for others which can be seen in her relationships with Yvan the werewolf and her lost pig babies, ‘I licked the poor mites as carefully as I could. When they grew cold, I felt as though I couldn’t go on. I curled up in a ball and didn’t think about anything any more [11] ‘. Here her response is protective and tender which supports my belief that she is inherently good but living in society that is corrupt.


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