When an individual doesnot meet certain societal norms and values, they may be rejected by society andseen as an outcast. In Franz Kafka’s TheMetamorphosis and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,the realm of the outcast is explored through the lives of Gregor Samsa andFrankenstein’s monster. Although the plot lines and time periods of these twoliterary works are different, there are striking similarities in the majorthemes throughout the text. The themesof alienation and isolation permeate throughout the stories and portray themain characters as outcasts. Both Gregor and the Monster are faced withmultiple obstacles which they must attempt to overcome. “One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxiousdreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrousverminous bug (Kafka 3).” This is the opening line and perhaps the best summaryof Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.
Gregor worked as a traveling salesman and earnedmost of the money for his household. Gregor lives with his father, who wasbroke after failing at his own business, his mother, who was old and frail, andhis sister, Grete. Gregor awakes one day not feeling well and also realizingthat he is late for work. He then realizes that his human body hasmetamorphosed into that of an insect. His parents knock on the bedroom door tocheck on him and he assures them he is okay but will not open the door.
Gregor’s boss then arrives at the house to see why Gregor was late, for he hada suspicion that Gregor was embezzling money from the company. Gregor was quiteunsure how to operate his insect legs and ended up rolling out of the bed,causing a loud thud as his rigid exoskeleton hit the floor. Despitebeing late for work and his boss standing outside the bedroom door now, Gregorwas so disturbed by his transformation that he did not want anyone else to seehim in his current condition. After his boss and his parents pressure himenough, Gregor reluctantly agrees to open the door, a task in which he hadgreat difficulty. Gregor reveals his metamorphosis and his parents and boss aredisgusted and terrified at the giant insect that Gregor has become. Gregor’sboss runs away and as Gregor tries to stop him, the boss thinks he is beingchased. Gregor’s mother faints and his father gets angry and shoos Gregor backinto his room using a cane and a newspaper.
Gregor tries to go turn around togo back into his room but has not yet learned how to walk backwards as aninsect so he has difficulty in doing so. When Gregor was attempting complexmaneuvers, “he was afraid to make his father impatient by the time-consumingprocess of turning around, and each moment he faced the threat of a mortal blowon his back or his head from the cane in his father’s hand (Kafka 30).” AsGregor makes it half way through the door way, “his father gave him one reallystrong liberating push from behind, and he scurried, bleeding severely, farinto the interior of his room (Kafka 32).” The creature was finally locked upin his bedroom. Astime passes, Gregor’s sister, Grete, cleans his room and feeds him.
This ismost interaction Gregor has with anyone for a long time. He is still sodisturbed by himself that he hides under the bed when Grete comes in. Afterbeing locked up in a room for an extended period of time and only seeing oneperson when it is time to eat, it would start to feel like a prison.
One day, Grete has the idea of removing thefurniture from Gregor’s room so he would have more room to crawl around. WhenGrete and the mother go into Gregor’s room to move out some furniture, themother catches a glimpse of Gregor and she faints. Later on, when they comeback to move more furniture, Gregor is guarding the portrait of the womanhanging on the wall. Although Grete had good intentions when deciding to movethe furniture out, Gregor may have seen it negatively. He no longer had a needfor human furniture but removing them from his bedroom was stripping away hishumanity.SinceGregor had been out of work so long, the family was having trouble keeping upwith the bills so they took in three renters to stay in their house. Their planwas to keep Gregor locked up in his room and keep his existence a secret fromthe renters.
This shows how the family really feels about Gregor now. They wereonce so reliant on Gregor for income to pay the bills and now they are willingto pretend he does not exist. One day, the door to Gregor’s bedroom was leftunlocked and Gregor came out into the living room when he heard Grete playingthe violin for the renters. The renters reacted negatively to the discovery ofGregor. They proclaim they are leaving and not paying the outstanding rent. Thefather gets quite upset at Gregor for scaring away the renters. He throwsapples at Gregor, one of which was thrown so hard, it stuck between two plateson Gregor’s back.
After these eventstranspired, even Grete, who had been most supportive of Gregor all along, agreedthat it is time for Gregor to go. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,we are first introduced to Victor Frankenstein, the eccentric scientist,through a series of letters written by the Arctic Sea explorer Robert Walton tohis sister in England. Walton was seeking a new sea passage to the PacificOcean from Russia. In one letter, Walton describes how his ship was stuck in anice field far from land when one day the crew spots a man “of gigantic stature”leading a dog sled team across the ice only a half mile from their immobilizedship (Shelley 14). The next day, the crew discovers an emaciated man, floatingon an iceberg. The crew bring him onboard their ship and begin to nurse VictorFrankenstein back to health. After a few days of rest, Victor begins to tellWalton of the creation of the monster and why he was chasing him into the articout of revenge for killing his family.
The narration framing then switches to VictorFrankenstein, as we learn of the events that led up to his arctic death. Victorgrew up in a wealthy family in Geneva, later attending university atIngolstadt, where he perfected his studies of chemistry, alchemy, andelectricity to create and bring to life a creature using body parts fromgraves. Upon completion of his work, Victor was so disgusted and disturbed bythe results that he ran away. After recovering from a bout of illness, Victoris informed that his little brother had been murdered. The family housekeeperis arrested and sentenced to death for the murder because William’s locket wasfound in her jacket. On his journey home to see his family, Victor sees thecreature from a distant and realizes who is responsible for the death of hisbrother. Victor continues home and allows the housekeeper to go to the gallowsinstead of informing his family about the murderous monster he has created.
On a solo mountain climbing trip, Victor encounters thecreature yet again. This time, the monster makes Victor sit down and hear abouteverything he has been through. The monster tells of how he came to life disorientedand completely ignorant of the world around him. He had wandered off into theforest and had to figure out how to keep himself alive eating nuts and berries.
He lacked the slightest understanding of trivial concepts like light/dark orhot/cold. The first human he encountered was an old man living in a cabin, whowas so frightened and disgusted at the image of the monster, he fled in terror.The monster later wanders upon a small village and was amazed at the sight ofhuman culture. When he starts to approach people in the village, they respondby throwing rocks at him until he leaves. The monster later makes a camp out ofshed adjacent to a family home. Between the house and the shed was a smallcrack in the wall, where the monster was able to observe the family and all theinteractions they have with each other in secrecy. Here, he learns language,history, reading, writing, all from spying on the family. He is eventually ableto understand how he came to be, who Victor was, and how he was to blame forhis predicament.
The monster begins to hate Victor and after being discoveredby the family he was spying on, he burns down the cabin and leaves to find hiscreator. Upon arriving in Geneva, the monster grabs a little boy,thinking he would be able to show him around. After the boy reveals that hisfather is Victor Frankenstein, the monster kills the child. The monster findsVictor and demands that he make a companion monster for him and says they willrun away to South America together. Victor grudgingly agrees and begins work ina lab on a remote island. Before he finishes the monster companion, he becomesdisgusted and is unable to complete the project. When the monster finds outVictor didn’t keep his word, he is extremely livid and says, ‘Shall each man finda wife for his bosom, and each beast have his mate, and I be alone? I hadfeelings of affection, and they were requited by detestation and scorn (Shelley205).”.
He then tells Victor, “I shall be with you on your wedding night(Shelley 206).” Victor perceives this asa death threat and on the night of his wedding, he waited up all night with agun in hand, ready to face the monster, should he arrive. The monster, however,had a more sinister plan and snuck into the cottage and killed Victor’s wife,Elizabeth. To add to Victor’s list of family member deaths, his father passesaway from grief soon after the death of Elizabeth.
Victor, having no familyleft, vows to find the monster and destroy it. At this point, Victor beginschasing the monster on dog sleds into the arctic. The narration frame switches again from Victor to Walton.
After a few weeks of being on the ship and telling his story to Walton, Victordies. The monster appears out of the mist and comes onboard the ship to tellWalton his side of the story and bid his final farewell to his creator. Themonster proclaims, “But soon, I shall die… I shall ascend my funeral piletriumphantly and exult in the agony of the torturing flames… to no longer feelthe agonies which now consume me or be the prey of feelings unsatisfied, yetunquenched (Shelley 276).” He then jumps out of the cabin window of the ship,disappearing into the darkness, never to be seen again. Walton turns the shiparound and returns home, realizing scientific discovery is not worth losingyour life over. In both Metamorphosisand Frankenstein, both main charactersare seen as monsters and outcasts, due to a transformation that they gothrough. Gregor Samsa, was alienated from his family while he was locked in hisroom as a prisoner.
As time went on, the family saw him less and less as humanand more and more as monster. The more the family stripped away Gregor’shumanity by removing furniture from his room, the more his metamorphosisprogressed, to a point where he was able to crawl easily on the walls and couldonly insect shrieks as communication. Gregor may have even started to accept histransformative state (Silet, 2); however, Gregor’s feeling of isolation wouldhave been intensified when the renters discovered him and his family all turnedagainst him for good.
Also experiencing the feeling of isolation is VictorFrankenstein’s monster. He is alienated by every human encounter he has exceptfor that of a blind man. Society did not care to understand the personality ofthe monster but immediately judged him solely based on his physical appearance.The monster’s feeling of isolation would have increased greatly when Victortold him that he would make a monster companion for him, and then failed tokeep his word. At that point, the monster knew that he would be alone forever.This is what drove him to kill the rest of Victor’s family instead of killingVictor himself; so that Victor would be forced to experience the same isolationthe monster faced. It is clear to see, then, the common themes ofisolation and alienation throughout the plot lines of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Gregor Samsa and Frankenstein’s monster are both faced with adversity in peculiarcircumstances. Although these two characters were the main subjects of the thematicanalysis, it can also be argued that they were not the only ones who suffered isolationand alienation. Victor Frankenstein suffered isolation when he was the only oneleft in his family. The framing of the novel also illustrates Victor’s and the monster’salienation as Victor’s story is told through the frame of Walton, and the monster’sstory being told through the frame of the monster (Kestner 218). The overarchingthemes of isolation and alienation are thoroughly explored throughout these twoliterary works.