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Isolationism in Metamorphosis and Notes from Underground
World Literature: Paper 2
The common theme in both Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka and Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky is isolationism. Both of these literary works contain different examples of isolationism in order to convey the same concept. Seclusion exists in both novels, resulting in the direct flaw of each of the main characters. The difference that Kafka and Dostoyevsky present in their use of isolationism in Metamorphosis and Notes from Underground is how each character is secluded. Kafka writes about the progressive solitude of one character being forced into isolation by others. On the other hand, Dostoyevsky’s entire novel is about the Underground Man, who lives all by his lonesome and is forced to look back on his youthful experiences. These frequent occurrences have lead to the Underground Man’s solitude. However, in both novels, the end results of the main characters in Metamorphosis and Notes from Underground are similar because both individuals’ actions lead to their own demise.
At the beginning of novel, Metamorphosis, Kafka introduces the main character, Gregor Samsa. After waking up to find “himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect”, Gregor can only think of the repercussions he will suffer for being late to his job. Gregor works as a traveling sales clerk (Kafka 1). He would have quit a long time ago, but Gregor knows that his family depends on him for the money he makes and, ultimately, their own existence. Without his salary, the Samsa family will not survive. After making futile attempts “to put on his clothes and above all eat breakfast” (Kafka 7), Gregor’s boss comes to check on his employee. Reluctantly, Gregor reveals his true identity as an insect. Gregor’s father forces him to go to his room, more specifically, isolationism, which “had merely the fixed idea of driving Gregor back into his room as quickly as possible” (Kafka 31). Due to the size and proportion of Gregor’s new physical appearance, the progression into solitude inflicted a massive amount of pain on Gregor.
On the other hand, the first part of Notes from Underground, the Underground Man, also the narrator, describes the setting of the novel and defines his own existence. “The Underground,” the first words the Underground Man describes about himself are, “I am a sick man . . . I am an angry man. I am an unattractive man” (Dostoyevsky 15). These words tell the reader the ways in which society, from the Underground Man’s youth, has destroyed him as an individual. Also, it makes the reader aware of his low self-esteem. The Underground Man, somehow, utilizes his own sorrow to make himself feel better. He believes that his own self-loathing and unkindness have crippled and corrupted his attitude as well as the people around him. Yet, it is apparent that the Underground Man takes will not take the initiative to change. Due to the impact of societal woes, the Underground Man takes comfort in his own pains, like toothaches or liver ailments. The ability for him to control the aching from his illness is a way for the Underground Man to hide from the actual pain from society. He is not proud of the man he has become over the years and scorns himself for his many wrong doings. One thing that is important for the Underground Man to obliterate is his negative approach to life, in order to thrive. However, the journey that he takes to seek optimism disappears because the Underground Man becomes too lethargic and lazy.
As isolation approaches in Metamorphosis, Gregor becomes more and more like an insect. His change from human to bug also becomes evident in his choice of food. The meals he once liked are now distasteful and unappealing to him, “although milk had been his favorite drink and that was certainly why his sister had set it there for him, indeed it was almost with repulsion that he turned away from the basin and crawled back to the middle of the room” (Kafka 32). Because Gregor knows he will no longer be accepted by his family as an insect, he gives up and secludes himself in his room. Throughout the book, there is a part of Gregor that continues to fight for his own freedom because he still wants to seek equality. He has the desire to break away from his solitary state, but no way of caring out his escape. The one thing that continues to fuel Gregor is the music from Grete’s, his sister’s, violin. Grete does not want her family to neglect Gregor because he has turned into an insect. She believes that no matter the shape of his physical features, Gregor will always be her brother. It seems as though Grete does not want to acknowledge or be convinced that her brother is a bug and will never be the same person. However, it is inevitable that Grete will soon abandon her brother. Their separation continues to become progressively more apparent. Gregor continuously is left alone in his room, all by his lonesome. By the end of the novel, Gregor becomes invisible to his own family. One reason Gregor dies is because of the realization that he is nothing more than an insect without a family or a purpose. Once again, he is left in his isolated room to die, alone.
In the second part of Notes from Underground, “Apropos of the Wet Snow”, the Underground Man comes across numerous prostitutes, many soldiers, and a few past schoolmates. However, the Underground Man intentionally alienates himself from these people by not acknowledging their existence. He makes himself appear to be incapable of interacting with these uneducated low lives. It is as if he does not want to make an effort to communicate because he fears his own humiliation. So, instead, he treats them with disgust and fear for his own life. Liza is the whore and the vehicle for Dostoyevsky’s message of the power of selfless love. She comes to the Underground Man’s apartment one night to speak to the Underground Man. Instead of treating Liza with the love she deserves, he continues to insult her, repeatedly. These social acquaintances cause the Underground Man much remorse and regret. And, once Liza leaves his apartment, the Underground Man is left, again, in solitude.
Examples of seclusion are used constantly by both Franz Kafka and Fyodor Dostoyevsky to convey the idea of isolationism. In these two novels, the solitary state of both characters leads to their downfall. In both of these examples, isolation leads to the demise of the main characters, Gregor Samsa and the Underground Man, even though the motives and basis’s were different. Gregor crawls his own life away because of the pain of being secluded by his own family members. On the contrary, the Underground Man never truly lives his life because of the distain he has for himself and society. The Underground Man hides his personality and beliefs because he fears society’s judgment and ridicule. The isolation that both characters endure leads to their own destruction.
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. Notes from Underground and The Double. New York: Penguin
Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis and Other Stories. New York: Barnes and Noble
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