Existentialism in Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis and The Hunger Artist
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Existentialism in The Metamorphosis and The Hunger Artist
Existentialism is a philosophy dealing with man's aloneness in the universe. Either there is no God or else God stands apart from man, leaving him free will to make his own choices. From this basic idea of man being alone in an uncertain and purposeless world, many related ideas have developed. One great worry of existentialist writers is that life is becoming too complicated and too impersonal. People become more and more involved with their work, which is taking them away from their friends, family, and culture. However, these provide the only "meaning" that life could possibly have. One author prominently known for his work with existential ideas was Franz…show more content…
Kafka also uses the existential idea that man's fate is sometimes beyond man's control. In his stories, chance or destiny rules man's life. Gregor could not control his metamorphosis, just as he cannot control his "new" legs which "waved helplessly before his eyes" (1). The hunger artist's fate is to die of starvation, since as he says, "I have to fast, I can't help it" (8). Gregor dies; the artist dies. Their lack of control over their fates emphasizes man's helplessness and "forlornness," to use Sartre's term.
For both Gregor and the hunger artist, work leads from dehumanization to death. Their deaths illustrate another theme of existentialist writing: that man, though alone, cannot survive by himself. He needs to interact as a member of society in order to give "meaning" to his life. Man needs mankind in order to "be alive." Before his metamorphosis, Gregor was very much a loner. He got up at four every morning to travel all over the region to sell products, and he didn't have the time or the opportunity to make lasting friendships. Nor did he really try. In his free time, he read or did artwork, neither of which required anyone else. Nevertheless, Gregor's employers did not understand that he was trying to do a good job. They thought that he was trying to cheat the company. His company treated him like a piece of machinery to be replaced at the first sign
Argument: A person’s will to live is strongly linked to the opinions of loved ones have of that person. While some persons allow the will of their lives to become influenced to the opinions of their loved ones, others do not forget to factor the ideals of human existentialism. In order to appropriately approach the point brought across, one must factor in the underlying tone of the existentialist values of ‘The Metamorphosis’ as written by Frank Kafka.
Although many existentialist philosophers hold conflicting values across the board, there are many key traits that follow existentialism. Therefore, I am inclined to, due to my level of understanding remain impartial towards both sides of the argued statement. Humans, as sentient beings, have free will and are responsible for the effects of what they decide to do. Existentialism also rejects the concept of ‘human nature’, a generalization that has become popular in attempting to identify objective external truths rather than the subjective for the individual approach.
Thirdly, I say this because existentialism shows the indifference of the world towards us. Firstly, we all possess free will as independent entities apart from our society. As Gregor is dehumanized by his transformation, his family quickly deserts and rejects him of his former place in the household. The transformation can be seen as dehumanization as Gregor loses his human aspects to his self-sacrificial working ethic due to his family’s wages. One must make the balance between himself and society.
When Gregor chooses work over himself, he quickly loses his humanity, hence, the transformation. Although being alienated from his family through his dehumanization causes him to ultimately lose his will for life, Gregor is yet a prime example of how free will creates a ‘cause and effect’ ripple due to the individual which is not influenced by another’s opinion but one’s subjective tastes. Additionally, a generalization cannot be approached for this situation.
Existentialism as whole, strives to reject the idea of a human nature obtained by the external objective truths that cannot be applied to the subjunctive self. Instead, humans are radically liberated by their free will in order to shape their own life and defy any generalized ‘nature’. This is not seen in Gregor’s life or in Kafka’s novel. Irregardless, the existentialist value must be factored in an argued due to the underlying tone of the philosophy throughout the novel.
Moreover, this approach dictates the world’s indifferent existence towards human beings. As possibly symbolized by Kafka where the household represents society’s indifference to its people, the Samsa family never cared for Gregor as the universe does to society. The absurdist branch of existentialism is then clearly revealed throughout the novel. The absurd nature of the novel highlights Gregor’s quest for purpose, for which he has lost due to the world’s indifference.
It can only be here that existentialism can justify as an appropriate response. However, for some, this might not be a worthwhile approach due to the subjective nature of the mind. In conclusion, I remain indifferent to both sides due to the inability of existentialism to pinpoint whether or not this is appropriate. Human beings have free will, and this philosophy rejects the ideal of the objective truths of ‘human nature’. The will may be affected by absurdist, but infinitely varying across the board.