Discussing The Theme Of Human Animal Transformations English Literature Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Animals, throughout history, have held an important place in literature, and have acted as symbols and representations of society, economics and human relationships. Perhaps the most well know example of this are Aesop's Fables, thought to have been written in 150 BC, in which animals such as The Hare and the Tortoise and The Lion and the Mouse which were written to serve as moral guidelines. These early animal stories tended to be religious stories, for example, in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible animals are shown to represent various human and godly attributes such as the snake, the swine, and the lamb. Similarly, Native Indian cultures have used stories of animals to help explain the mysteries of life and the universe, as have people in Asia, India, South America, and Africa. However, following the publication of Charles Darwin's controversial book Origin's of Species in 1859 which advanced the theory that humans had evolved from animals rather than being created separately, animals in literature began to take on a more literal meaning. In his book The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka uses the traditional animal fable structure to articulate his angst against twentieth century society. In the later part of the century the use of animals in literature became an important tool in gender studies and women's literature. Female authors portrayed the struggles and confines of the animal world as a comparison for their own struggles for freedom and equality often comparing their restrictions to that of a caged animal. In this essay I will discuss two novels from the twentieth century which involve not just animals but the transformation of humans into animals. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka and Pig Tales by Marie Darrieussecq both portray the similarities between humans and animals and use their chosen creatures to represent their criticisms of twentieth century society.

Franz Kafka was born in Prague in 1883 to an upper-middle class Jewish, German family. Although his mother was loving she was somewhat secondary to his upbringing and his highly father was domineering and 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, behaviour 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.

Metamorphosis, is fundamentally a fantasy novel however, it represents a very real scenario. A Marxist interpretation and perspective shows a worker being abandoned by his employer and family after becoming unable to work and support them financially. This 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. Thus using this perspective it can be seen that the protagonist Gergor represents the proletariat and his manager the bourgeoisie.

Gregor, the protagonist of 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, then his manger symbolises the bourgeoisie and 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. He also acts superior as a result of his advanced economic position. Kafka's portrayal of the manager makes highly indicates that he is not liked and , if anything encourages the reader 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 is therefore of no value to him. As a worker Gregor is valueless unless he can work and therfore to his manager he is expendable. The manager knows that he will be able to find a replacement worker. However, once Gregor becomes unable to support his family financially they decide 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 then immediately abandon him once he can no longer earn a wage . 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. However, this affection dwindles over time when 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. 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. As are result of this she 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 causes the family to change their attitude towards working for themselves from being reliant on their son.

The eventual conclusion to the Gregor's story is his inevitable death. Once transformed he was no longer able to feed himself and his life depended on the charity of his parents who considered him useless and a financial burden and so 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 he 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 uses the transformation of an animal to provide a critical analogy of society. In this case our protagonist, an unnamed narrator living in an alternate future Paris, who slowly turns into a pig. The reader is encouraged to believe that this is as a result of her amoral lifestyle. Her gradual transformation into an animal is reflective of the changes occurring in the society in which she lives which is becoming increasingly 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 modernist-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-modernist 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, 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 likely 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 these corrupt acts 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. The most striking element of the novel is the narrators metamorphosis into a pig, although there is mention of other characters also transforming (Yvan becomes a werewolf at full moon and the director of the perfume store is also referred to as a pig) she is the only character who undergoes a complete and lasting transformation into an animal.

Writing for The Guardian, John Mullan argues that 'Marie Darrieussecqs first book, Pig Tales is clearly a version of Kafka's The Metamorphosis for a later age [12] '. Indeed one can see clear similarities between the two novels, despite the 50 year time period between publications. Both authors use human-animal transformation to reflect society and issues of their time. Although Kafka is looking at socialism and Darrieussecq feminism they both deal with issues concerning the corruption of the societies their protagonists live in. One can also see Darrieussecqs criticism of the corrupt capitalist French society. Nonetheless, both authors are writing about a form of dystopia influenced by the societies they live in. Kafka was published in Germany in 1915, just a year after the outbreak of World War I, when Europe and the rest of the world were in a state of great confusion and turmoil. Kafka's work is often explored in the context of his own experiences with alienation. He was a Jewish Czech living in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, speaking German, alienated from his overbearing father, the opposite sex and his desire to further his passion of literature which conflicted with the confines of his bureaucratic job and bourgeois life.

The Metamorphosis begins with what should be the climax of the novel, the transformation of Gregor into an insect. There is no build up of tension just the immediate declaration within the first sentence, which leaves the reader with the realisation that Gregor is a bug and the consequences of this fact. Similarly, in Pig Tales we learn from the beginning that something is not right, the narrator reveals that she is writing when she can the story of what happened to her. One major difference between the two novels is that the Metamorphosis ends with Gregor's seemingly inevitable death where as Pig Tales ends with a somewhat happy ending whereby the narrator leaves behind the disappointment of civilization (and is happy enough to retreat almost permanently to her pig form only holding on to her human qualities long enough to write her story. However, whilst in The Metamorphosis, the transformation of Gregor, is a very disturbing and eventually destructive change, the conversion of the narrator in Pig Tales from a human to a pig signifies her transformation to a thinking being. Darrieussecq states herself that the novel is 'the adventure of an alienated woman (to the point of not realizing that she is a prostitute)… Her body, transforming itself, signifies to her that now, right away, if she wants to survive, she is going to have to start thinking. [13] '

A novel that can be compared to both The Metamorphosis and Pig Tales is Animal Farm by George Orwell. Although in this story the transformation takes place from animal to human rather than human to animal. As with Pig Tales, Orwell chose to make his animals pigs, this summons the stereotype that pigs are greedy and uncouth and reduces the characters humanity. However, Orwell's novel is a satire about socialism specifically within the Soviet Union. Here we can see more similarities with The Metamorphosis although Orwell is critical of the socialist regime and Kafka is criticising the capitalist one. One could also argue that there are reflections of this novel in Pig Tales which can be illustrated by the fascist dictator Edgar and the xenophobic religious figure of Marchepiede, however I think that perhaps Pig Tales is more of a cautionary tale predicting a fascist dictatorship in France should the corruption and exploitation evident in Darrieussecq's novel prevail.

To conclude, the use of animals and specifically the transformation of humans into animals in twentieth century literature aided in the representations and reflections that authors wanted to make on society. In The Metamorphosis the reader can note many Marxist reflections and in Pig Tales there are the obvious feminist connotations. However, in both the novels discussed not only can we see the obvious metamorphosis from human to animal but also many other transformations that take place. In Kafka's Metamorphosis, the initial transformation of Gregor into an insect is demonstrated, which is representative of his monotonous life and the abusive treatment by his manager. However, there is also the transformation of his sister Grete, her first transformation is from being sympathetic and a friend to Gregor to his enemy whereby she only refers to her brother as 'it'. The reader can also witness Grete's transformation into womanhood, she wakes up to find that her body is blossomed in the wake of Gregor's death. Therefore one can conclude that Grete's changing behaviour and feelings towards her brother coupled with her physical transition parallel Gregor's transformation. Although as Gregor deteriorates Grete seems to flourish. Similarly, in Pig Tales, we can see the female protagonists transformation from a women to a pig which shows connotations of the corrupt society in which she lives and the corrupt life style in which she participates. However, there is also the transformation of this women into a physical being who thinks and understands, there and the transformation of society which becomes more and more corrupt, thus having a negative effect on the narrator. The use of animals helps in representations as readers will already have a predetermined judgement of that animal and therefore they are symbolic, however, both the authors discussed are attempting to break down these judgements. Kafka uses an insect which is something that many people dislike and fear however, throughout the book although the other characters are disgusted by Gregor the reader is encouraged to empathise with him. Similarly in Pig Tales, the narrator transforms into a pig which has connotations of being disgusting and uncivilized however, this is more a reflection of the society and again the reader is encouraged to empathise with the narrator.