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My Thoughts About The Story “Metamorphosis” by Kafka

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When asked “What do you want out of life,” the majority of people will say their goal is to be happy. This is a simple answer, but with a deep, foggy meaning. Many people want to be the epitome of happiness, but what exactly is happiness? Happiness by definition is “a state of well-being and contentment,” but what does that actually mean? A full life of happiness is an idea that one can never reach. An individual can be content in one moment, and not in the next, but that does not mean that person is any less happy (“Happiness”). Today’s society, similar to the past, is continuously infatuated by the idea of happiness and how to achieve it, and in turn this translates into the literature we read today. The story “Metamorphosis” by Kafka is a prime example of this. In this short story, the effects of one’s feeling of unhappiness is shown through an extreme metaphor of Samsa’s metamorphosis into a cockroach.

Since the subject of happiness is so debated, many studies were conducted on the topic and the results showed that there are multiple factors that contribute to a person’s level of contentment and joy, that in turn increase an individual’s levels of happiness. Happiness can be split into two different categories. The first category is a person’s “changeable, day-to-day mood: whether [one is] stressed, bummed or exuberant” while the other is “the satisfaction you feel about the path [one’s] life is taking” (Luscombe). “According to the ‘domain satisfaction approach’” discussed in the Journal of Happiness Studies, the “overall satisfaction relates to specific satisfaction associated with a person’s job, marriage, family, leisure activities, and the like” (Meng-wen Tsou and Jin-tan Liu). The first, and one of the most dominant factors, is job satisfaction, which is the “contentment (or lack of it) arising out of interplay of employee’s positive and negative feelings toward his or her work” (“What Is Job Satisfaction…”). In a study led by Meng-wen Tsou, data was “collected by means of face-to-face interviews with… questionnaires” to prove this correlation between happiness and job satisfaction. It was confirmed that “happiness is generally found to correlate negatively with unemployment and education, whilst correlating positively with health” (Meng-wen Tsou and Jin-tan Liu). It was further discovered in the study that people who were previously affected by unemployment had a continuously decreased satisfaction with their lives and had decreased levels of happiness (Meng-wen Tsou).

Part of this job satisfaction is the relative income an individual earns compared to those close to them rather than the absolute income a person makes. This means that, “the higher the comparison level of income is, the lower is the individual’s relative income and the lower is their well-being or satisfaction” (Meng-wen Tsou and Jin-tan Liu). However, this satisfaction only extends to a certain amount of money. In a study led by Belinda Luscombe, they found that “no matter how much more than $75,000 people make, it doesn’t bring them any more joy,” but “the further a person’s household income falls below that level, the unhappier he or she is” (Luscombe). If one makes over $75,000, it does not necessarily make them happier, it reassures them and makes them believe that their life is better which in turn makes them feel happier throughout their life. Job satisfaction also is important in the fact that “people are happiest in jobs that afford a certain amount of freedom and decision-making power” (Claudia Wallis). Job satisfaction is one of the most important things that affect an individual’s happiness and contentment in life. Without any job satisfaction, a person can fall into a lull and depression, which is exactly was happened to Gregor in “Metamorphosis”. In the story, of a man that dedicates his life to his job, even though he doesn’t necessary enjoy it, for his family’s sake (Kafka).

In the short story of “Metamorphosis”, Kafka uses this main component of happiness to create a metaphor of unhappiness through the main character, Gregor Samsa. In the beginning of the story, Gregor’s nightmare becomes a reality when he wakes up and realizes the cockroach from what he thought was his own dream is actually him. Kafka chooses to use the image of a cockroach to symbolize two meanings. The first is to show how Gregor feels like a “trodden vermin” in the social ladder compared to others, while the second meaning is to push the disgust others see when they look at him onto the majority of the audience (Kafka 209). As the story continues, it is revealed that Gregor is unsatisfied with his profession and is only “exercise[ing] restraint for the sake of [his] parents,” but he “would have quit a long time ago” if his family was not so dependent on him (Kafka 211). He wakes up and automatically thinks negatively about his job describing it as “an exhausting profession” (Kafka 211). His negativity transfers into his dislike and jealousy of his coworkers. Gregor would much rather work in the head office, instead of having a “more strenuous” job with “additional traveling…the irregular, bad meals, new people all the time, no continuity, [and] no affection” as a sales man (Kafka 211).

Throughout the short story, “a picture of a lady in a fur hat and stole, [that was] sitting bolt upright, holding in the direction of the onlooker heavy fur muff into which she had thrust the whole of her forearm” that was placed in “an attractive gilt frame” was mentioned multiple times (Kafka 210). This picture was the last thing he wanted to let go. Gregor would “never surrender it” because it represented the last of his humanity and his dream to rise on the social ladder (Kafka 229). Referring back to Tsou and Liu, these events, from job dissatisfaction to unhappiness created a void in his life that would eventually led to his death. The life Gregor knew changes and he has to adapt. Before the metamorphosis, all Gregor knew was work, however once this transformation into a cockroach happens he suffers from continuous unemployment and other traumatic occurrences, such as alienation that led to a lull in happiness and depression. The author, Franz Kafka, also suffered with “dissatisfaction with his personal and work life” similarly to the main character in this metaphor (Kafka).

The author, Franz Kafka wrote Gregor in his image, not in the physical sense, but in the sense of beliefs and relations with his family. Kafka had a similar situation to Gregor with his job as lawyer at an insurance company. He, like Gregor, worked “while living at home with his parents” doing what they believe is a respectable job, when his true interest was writing. This led to strand relations with those who were close to him, especially his father since he was “a self-made man who could not take his son’s writing seriously” (Kafka 208). This relates to Gregor’s own father as when discovered that Gregor turned into a cockroach, his father was the first family member that beat him and felt that Gregor was a something that needed to be thrown out (Kafka 237). Kafka wrote this to express his realization of “the oedipal tension in aspects of his family life” and tried to transfer this “uneasiness with authority” into his works (Kafka 208). Both the author and the main character were not respected as people, and felt as if they were a cockroach to society. This shows that the unhappiness from the author’s real life is transferred into his character.

In Kafka’s short story, the effects of one’s feeling of unhappiness is shown through the extreme metaphor of Samsa’s metamorphosis into a cockroach by the descriptions of dissatisfaction in his place of work and role in the social ladder. Science says that a person’s happiness is most affected by one’s job satisfaction, but this subject is still being debated. Studies and stories in literature like “Metamorphosis” have supported this theory of happiness throughout history, but new findings are still being discovered based on today’s society. According to researcher Veenhoven, “After working in the field for 25 years” he has “concluded that happiness is ‘how much you like the life you are living.

People can live in paradise and still be unhappy because they screw up everything in their lives” (qtd. in Wallis). It is shown that an individual’s satisfaction is linked to one of two happiness destroyers. The first “is memory; if some bad thing happened, it’s done, [one] cannot go back and correct it” (Jawaid). These can keep one’s peace away if they do not stay in the day and choose to focus on the haunting memories of one’s past. The second joy destroyer “is imagination, most of [society] remain[s] frightened of many things which can happen but mostly never happened” (Jawaid). This is the one that job satisfaction is linked to. Many people like Gregor imagine themselves like a bug in society, however they are not it is just the way they view themselves. This shows that if one can keep these two categories of thoughts away, then one might just achieve the most sought after goal in life- Happiness.

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