A Study Of The Theme Of Self-sacrifice In The Metamorphosis

Franz Kafka wrote the stories “The Metamorphosis”, In The Penal Colony”, as well as “The Fasting Artist”. The protagonists are Gregor Samsa the officer and the fasting artist. These characters risk their lives to help others. But those who are supposed to benefit from their sacrifices don’t appreciate them. Only the victim can truly understand the sacrifices made.

The Fasting-Artist, the most well-known example of such a tendency, is perhaps the best. For public admiration, the artist fasts so that his body can be held by ladies and that people can see him. He believes fasting doesn’t require any sacrifice. He feels his true sacrifice was “lying in bed almost as soon as he can…the consequence for the premature end of his fast” (215). But he does this again after “about forty day…the audience vanished” (212). He is so dedicated to his art and his sacrifice that he will even join a circus when the business gets worse. (216). He realizes that the people who see him at the circus aren’t interested in seeing him. They simply pass his cage as they go to the animals. The circus keepers soon stop counting the days the artist fasted. His sacrifice is now not for his audience but his art. It is remarkable that the fasting-artist sacrifices for art in a way that is unrecognizable from the art. The Artist is the only one who is aware of his fasting. The plea of the artist shows that even people who admire his work don’t understand it. Try to explain to somebody what fasting is. It’s impossible for anyone to feel it. (218) The narrator tells you. However, the absurdity that public exhibition fasting has, whose appeal is beyond comprehension, only emphasizes the private nature and performance of the artist. The artist is not content with his fasting. He is the only one who can appreciate his death by starvation. Gregor hates his job, but he does it to support his family. He keeps only “a few strange coins” (98), but he gives his parents most of the salary. He also plans on raising the funds to send his sister violin-practicing at a conservatory. The reader can appreciate Gregor’s efforts to help his relatives and pay off their debts more than the artist’s fasting, but Gregor’s loved ones are less than the artist’s. “They simply got used [Gregor’s family receiving his salary] and both the family as well as Gregor…it stopped giving rise to any special warmth or feeling” (97). Gregor’s family doesn’t help him pay the debt. They conceal from him that they’ve been saving money instead of using it for Gregor’s debt.

Gregor’s great sacrifice becomes even more severe when he is transformed into a huge insect. He and his family seem to be in denial at first. Gregor attempts to return to work but has “no intent at all to abandon his family” (83). His mother speaks of the moment “when Gregor comes back to us” (103), and Gregor seems to think he will soon recover. Grete, his sister brings him food. His father never mentions that Gregor might change and drives him back into his room, “threat[ing] to give him a fatal blow.” (91). Gregor’s family will only help him if he recovers. If he continues to be an insect, they abandon him. Gregor’s family loses their savings and Gregor and his sister find it hard to sacrifice. Herr Samsa starts to think, “What an amazing life!” So is my peace in old age. (110). Grete doesn’t clean Gregor’s bedroom; “streaks dirt ran the lengths of the walls” (112). Eventually she gives up and says goodbye to Gregor.

Grete asserts that his family has done everything humanly possible to care for it [Gregor(!)]. )]” (119), Gregor seems to be more human that his family, who call him “it”. He is a selfless man who will do anything to help them. He does all he can to keep them from seeing him. Realizing his sister dislikes him, he “transport[s]] one sheet to the sofa on the back-the task took him 4 hours-and arrange[s] it so that…his sibling would not be in a position to see him” (100). He continues to work to ensure that his family is financially responsible. “Whenever the conversation turned to the necessity of earning money…Gregor…felt hot all over with shame and grief” (99). He dreams of “taking [families’ affairs] in their hands again” (111). His sister wishes that he would disappear. Even his death seems to have been in response to this wish. Gregor’s family no longer considers him human at this point. They may be able to appreciate his passing, and use it to excuse themselves from work, but they are unable to appreciate Gregor’s motives. “If it was Gregor…he would’ve gone away of his own initiative'” (120). Grete claimed this in Gregor’s hearing, but she never realized that he did, since she believes he can’t understand human speech. Gregor’s family has forgotten him since his death. They accept the charwoman handling his corpse. Herr Samsa even checks her story of it disposal with a firm hand (125). They fled the apartment “Gregor had chosen” for them (125), erasing all traces and memories. Gregor’s family doesn’t acknowledge his sacrifices. Perhaps they feel guilty for not paying attention to him or simply want to be able to ignore him. They are not obligated to care for the insect once they have confirmed that it isn’t Gregor. Gregor has never doubted the identity and loyalty of his family. But he is now a different person, not in their eyes. Although Gregor does not ask his family to abandon him, he recognizes that his death was a selfless act of humanity.

The officer’s act of self-deprecation, however, can’t be called humane. The officer at the penal colony tries to prosecute, sentence, and executes prison inmates convicted of insubordination. He shows a voyager colony’s execution method: death by a machine which carves the commandment onto the condemned man. The officer claims that the condemned man sees “enlightenment” (137) when he realizes the gravity and is able to accept the consequences of his crime. Justice triumphs. The colony’s new colony commandant is opposed to execution. The voyager, who was understandably upset about the justice process, resolves that he will condemn it. The officer finds out and commits suicide with the machine. If he’s reacting to the voyager’s condemnation, the officers has sacrificed his own life for justice. Although he remains a vocal supporter for this justice, and would consider it just, he cannot benefit from the sacrifice. He was dead and could not detect any signs of the promised deliverance. All the other machines had been found by the officers, but the officer had not.” (152). The voyager thinks that if this procedure is on the verge to being canceled, it could be because of his own intervention, which he felt committed, then the officer is now acting completely rightly (149). The sacrifice results in the victim suffering and the beneficiary benefiting. This is how sacrifices are supposed to work. However, there is no logic to the punishment of the officer.

Both the officer’s reaction and that of the voyager are completely opposite to what we expected. After all it is not right for an officer, for example, to execute himself for his injustice through the use of injustice. The officer execution is considered a just act according to morality, but the officer execution is unjust. However, the officer doesn’t find any enlightenment, as his punishment was not fair. On the other hand, the voyager considers the officer’s actions to be correct, as the voyager has compared the voyager’s standard to determine the severity of the crime. This logic implies that neither the voyager nor the officer are making any sacrifices. An officer’s true sacrifice would be to leave his beloved machine. A voyager would not have made the same decision and would have opted to support the execution of the condemned man. He is the only one who makes a sacrifice, he has to give up any future administrations of justice.

While it is unfortunate that the protagonists don’t appreciate one another, the officer’s suicide is well-deserved. His self-condemnation is reversed and his death is a sentence. The fasting artist is not only dedicated to his craft, but also because Gregor is devoted to his family. His death effectively ends his life and does nothing to help him. Satisfaction is not available to those who die without regard for their causes.


  • rubywatson

    I am a 27-year-old educational blogger and volunteer and student. I love writing and sharing knowledge with others. I believe that education is the key to unlocking opportunities and achieving our goals. I also believe that it's important to give back to the community and volunteer my time to help others.

rubywatson Written by:

I am a 27-year-old educational blogger and volunteer and student. I love writing and sharing knowledge with others. I believe that education is the key to unlocking opportunities and achieving our goals. I also believe that it's important to give back to the community and volunteer my time to help others.

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