Bugs are everywhere and you can’t avoid them. Whether you love them, or you hate them, one thing is certain, you can’t live without them. The Webster dictionary defines the bug as an insect that have sucking mouthparts, forewings thickened at the base, and incomplete metamorphosis and are often economic pests. Being a pest is just one of their many qualities of being a bug. Bugs are also known to be worthless, sheltered, disease carrying vermin’s. Another living creature that shares the same qualities of bugs is humans. Humans are also known to be worthless, dirty, and also spread a lot of disease. The author Franz Kafka reflects the characteristics of humans in his short story, “Metamorphosis,” in which he captures the vermin-like qualities as a symbol of self-portrayal.
In the story “Metamorphosis”, Gregor Samsa undergoes a sense of worthlessness from his family and employer. Kafka portrays this feeling of worthlessness by turning him into a cockroach. Cockroaches are depicted as ugly valueless arthropods. We have no idea why they exist and what their purpose in life really is. When we see a cockroach, our first reaction is a feeling of disgust and our only intention is to exterminate the hideous creature. Take for example the hit TV game show, Fear Factor. In order to achieve high ratings from their grossed out viewers, they contest the eating of live, ugly, useless arthropods. The main and commonly used bug on that show is the cockroach.
They purposely picked the cockroach because they know it is perceived as an insignificant vermin, and would be considered fanatical if eaten. In reality the cockroach is considered a delicacy in many countries like, Morocco, Singapore, and India. Cockroaches as a group are part of the worldwide food chain. They serve as food for small mammals, birds, and amphibians. Furthermore they are omnivore scavengers which clean up our environment. If it where not for cockroaches to help recycle the organic litter, it would accumulate and pile up to become unusable waste. There are over 3000 species of cockroaches and only 10 species are on the World Health Organization list of human pests.
This case of perception of worthlessness to becoming a reality of importance reflects the life of Gregor. Gregor profusely overworks himself in order to provide a life for his family and profits for his employer, he is looked down upon the day he decides to take a break from his profession of selling. Since he isn’t out making money, he sees himself as a worthless human being, and portrays himself to a cockroach, since it’s the lowest living thing imagined. His family and boss also see him as this empty cockroach and start to treat him as if he were one.
Like the cockroach, it is perceived as a pest or as insignificant, but really has its purpose in life. Kafka states, “Gregor said, to himself, and while he stared ahead into the darkness, he felt very proud of himself for having been able to provide his parents and sister with a life like that, in such a beautiful apartment. But what if now all the peace, all the prosperity, all the contentment were to come to a fearful end?” (25). Gregor has now gone from the forgotten provider to becoming the household pest. His family and employer never acknowledged Gregor as being an importance to their lives. His family has realized that without him, their life style would have to go through a whole transformation. No more cooks, maids, and living of pure luxury.
Because of Gregor’s work schedule, he was unable to be around his family and boss to feel appreciated, By doing this, he made himself lonely and alienated.
My God, he thought, what a strenuous profession I’ve chosen! Traveling day in and day out. The turmoil of business is much greater than in the home office, and on top of that I’m subjected to this torment of traveling, to the worries about train connections, the bad meals at irregular hours, an intercourse with people that constantly changes, never last, never becomes cordial. (11)
Gregor goes unnoticed throughout his life of working. The only thing his family sees from him is the money he sends. Though Gregor worked hard, his actions were not seen and appreciated by his family. He was only working to please his family and not himself. He sacrificed himself and as a result has lived an alienated life of work. Just like a cockroach, it seems to only show up when you get up to fix your self a midnight snack. You rarely see it during the day while you’re awake, and it seems to only come out while you’re asleep. The characteristics of the cockroach is what turns people off from them, if they were to change their qualities we may be more willing to appreciate these creatures. Just as if Gregor were to change his qualities, he wouldn’t feel as lonely, and would be accepted and recognized by his work and family. Symbolically the cockroach resembles how Gregor really felt every time he went out on his missions of a traveling salesman-unnoticed.
Kafka ideally captures the feelings of Gregor with the literal qualities of the cockroach. To describe his feelings of worthlessness, and loneliness, the cockroach was a suitable choice versus any other animal. If for instances, Kafka chose a dog, the family would have still treated him like he was still part of the family. This is because dogs are portrayed to be man’s best friend, not a threat to society like the cockroach. Gregor’s family always knew he was around but never showed their appreciation toward him. Likewise, vermins are always around but once they are gone and cause a disturbance in the world wide food chain then we realize its importance. Gregor is like that vermin whose role was to be unnoticed until one day he turned into a bug and then those around him realized his importance. Kafka chose well in using the vermin because of its distinct similarities between Gregors’ own self image and his feelings of worthlessness.