Kafka, Freud, and Fantasy

Cora Wilke-Gray German 390 November 17, 2010 Kafka and Fantasy The Metamorphosis touches upon several of Freud’s dream theories. It presents the idea of dreams as a portrayal of wishes. Another one of Freud’s theories that is presented is the concept of condensation as the representation of an object or idea through an action or person in a dream or fantasy. In this story, the unconscious wishes of the characters are brought to light through Gregor Samsa’s transformation and visualized during the time that Gregor spends in a fantasy-like life as a cockroach.

One problem with the text is that it does not clarify whether this is fantasy or reality. For example, the story’s introduction shows that there is a thin line between reality and unconscious fantasy. When Gregor Samsa wakes up in his bed and first notices his metamorphosis, he instinctively relates this transformation to the fact that he must be dreaming. “What has happened to me? ” (Kafka, 89) he wonders and then beings to realize while looking around his room that everything happens to be organized just as it is in real life.

This produces his explanation that he must not be dreaming although his transformation is impossible. His thoughts then begin to stray from his awful situation and instead head towards his wish of a new job and life. The concept of wish fulfillment manifests itself at the very beginning of the story when the conflict within Gregor is introduced. He is upset with his job and his boss.

As he slowly wakes up, he can feel that something is wrong with his body, but the only thing that his mind is able to focus on is how the work at his job is: much more irritating work than doing the actual business in the office, and on top of that there’s the trouble of constant traveling, of worrying about train connections, the bed and irregular meals, causal acquaintances that are always new and never become intimate friend. The devil take it all! (Kafka, 90) Only the love that he has for his family and his family’s need of a stable income have forced Gregor to keep his job.

If this were not the case, Gregor exclaims, “I’d have given notice long ago, I’d have gone to the chief and told him exactly what I think of him” (90). His distaste for his job and his boss cause him to be thankful for the fact that he is unable to get out of bed this morning. Not only is Gregor Samsa tired of his job and boss, but he is also tired of the daily routine of his family and the way his parents do not appreciate the work he puts in for them. He complains about his father’s sluggishness and unconsciously wishes that his parents would help the family, although they seem to grow slower and older daily.

However, when Gregor metamorphoses into a bug, his father and the rest of the family must fend for themselves and take care of Gregor. The first the Gregor sees his father after his metamorphosis, his father has become the man he always wished for him to be: in “fine shape; dressed in a smart blue uniform with gold buttons, such as bank messengers wear; his strong double chin bulged over the still high collar of his jacket;” (121) His father has noticeable changed into a working man, and Gregor’s dream of not being the one taking care of the entire family has finally come true.

Instead of nurturing the family, his family members are now the people that he is relying on to nurture him. Ironically enough, Gregor Samsa continues to try to fend for his family throughout the first couple days of living as a cockroach. The wish of not being the one in the family who everyone relies on is an unconscious wish, and because Gregor has been used to supporting his family throughout the years now, he feels the need to support them comes naturally to him. However, while Gregor’s wishes are fulfilled, he ends up sad, alone, and finally, dead.

Freud claims that the dreamer actually censors his wishes because “he has no liking for them, in short. So that their fulfillment will give him no pleasure, but just the opposite” (Freud, Sigmund 580, footnote 1). The benefit of the fantasy transformation is highly significant. Gregor Samsa wishes to diminish his role in the family because he feels he is taking care of everyone and everything while his parents are deteriorating. Instead of transforming into an animal that is pretty and noticeable, Gregor wishes to be ugly and invisible to the rest of the world.

Furthermore, cockroaches are also known to be animals that everyone generally hates. This represents the appreciation that Gregor is missing from his family as well as the resentment that he receives from not only his family but the rest of society as well. His transformation alludes to the concept that a working man is appreciated and given respect to, but an unemployed man is seen as the lowest of the low, a vermin. Before Gregor’s transformation, Gregor’s father is seen as the lowest of the family because he has nothing going for him while Gregor is clearly the important man of the house.

After the transformation however, Gregor’s parents automatically want nothing to do with him, but worst of all, his mother had to beg for his life from his father. Gregor’s family members always misinterpret his innocent actions. Another reason that Gregor’s fantasy portrays him as a cockroach can be attributed to Freud’s theory of dream distortion. His wish to censor his feelings about life being so boring, uneventful, and not directed towards his best interests causes his thoughts to enter the conscious mind as manifest content.

Gregor not only portrays his own unconscious wishes through his metamorphosis, but the wishes that he perceives in his other family members as well. His transformation has opened new avenues to the family and to those who were clearly jealous or felt threatened by his position of authority. Gregor’s father is one of those people who misinterpret Gregor’s actions. The role that Gregor had been fulfilling for his family caused tension between himself and his father. Gregor has always wanted his father to provide for the family, and immediately after Gregor’s transformation, the father finally becomes the head of the household again.

Gregor had been a threat to his father’s manhood because his father had begun to notice that his place in the family was being taken over. His unconscious wish for Gregor to become incapacitated is portrayed in his hostile actions toward his son after his son’s metamorphosis. Another character whose unconscious desires are perceived by Gregor and reflected through his metamorphosis are those of his sister. Right after the transformation, she is attached to Gregor. She brings him food daily and cleans his room.

Her attachment to him lies partially in the fact that right after his becomes a cockroach, his presence still somewhat signifies the dominance that he had over the family by providing for it. She is also still a little girl at this point in the story, but slowly, as she begins to mother him, her affection for him dwindles until she begins to disregard and disrespect him. She grows into a fine woman and her motherly affection is instead directed toward the father who has regained control of the family head. Her transformation symbolizes Gregor’s insecurity when it comes to women.

Gregor tries to possess his sister as well as his mother but both women in the end completely disregard him and wish death upon him. His projection that Grete enjoys disregarding him shows how insecure about life he is as well as his want for his sister to be with her, or at the very least, to be like her. He also realizes though that this must never happen. Grete’s transformation from a young girl into a young and beautiful woman shows that the family is ready to rely on the next person to support them, and that next person is Grete.

By marring her to a well-off young man, they can secure their existence and revert to their average life of being dependant on the income or inheritance of one person. Now that Gregor has given up his awful job, he realizes that it falls on the shoulders of his younger sibling to make sure that the family, though more than able to support itself without the help of outsiders, leads a comfortable lifestyle. His jealousy of her stems from the fact that Grete will never have to work at a dead-end job in order to establish her support for the family, she has many options, including studying at the Conservatorium.

Her bright future makes his jealous and is the leading cause of his wish to be his sister. With their mother’s asthma and their father’s increasing age, Gregor understands that his parents acknowledge their deteriorating health. Hence, they put all their faith in Grete at the end of the story. Her blooming “was like a confirmation of their new dreams and excellent intentions that at the end of their journey their daughter sprang to her feet first and stretched her young body” (Kafka, 139). Freud also claimed that the images and figures in a dream could in some way epresent another object. He called this mechanism condensation. This dream-theory idea is quite present in Gregor’s portrayal of his sister, Grete. The first foreshadowing that is presented to the reader is the similarity in these two names. As Gregor’s fantasy continues, it becomes obvious that he wishes to have what his sister does. For example, Grete attends the Conservatorium because Gregor pays for her education. Gregor is jealous of her because instead of working, she is able to do what she loves most, which is to play music and enjoy herself.

His jealousy becomes even more apparent in one of the final scenes of Gregor’s fantasy, when he watches his sister playing the violin. At this moment, he wishes to possess her and that he could “pull at her skirt and so let her know that she was to come into his room with her violin, for no one here appreciated her playing as he would appreciate it. He would never let her out of his room, at least, not so long as he lived; (Kafka, 131). Gregor wishes to possess his sister, to be everything that she is and that he is not. Grete is also representative of the motherly affection that he has been missing due to his professional duties.

As she assumes the motherly role in the family, he looks more towards her for affection instead of the mother that he was close to before his transformation. ADD TEXT Condensation is visible throughout the entire fantasy, not only in Grete, but also in the apples that Gregor’s father throws at him. The apples have inhibited Gregor, giving him a permanent infection that refuses to go away. They represent the castration complex, whereby the son perceives the hatred his father has for him and therefore castrates him. Gregor’s fantasy shows he understand that he has taken on the role as head of the family.

In dream logic, his father’s jealousy and translates into the idea that his father wishes to castrate him and regain power. Only through the constant pleas of his mother is Gregor able to stay alive when his father’s wrath gets the better of him. All in all, Kafka’s work embodies Freud’s ideas concerning dreams. Freud once said that it could always be proven that “there is a psychological technique which allows us to interpret dreams, and that when this procedure is applies, every dream turns out to be a meaningful psychical formation hich can be given an identifiable in what goes on within us in our waking life” (27). Gregor’s fantasy confronts the reader and reveals exactly what Gregor wants: to free himself from the burden of the familial and professional obligations. The one issue with Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Freud’s idea of dreams is that the reader never quite understands whether or not what Gregor Samsa is experiencing is real or fantasy.

Because of the unreal nature of the story, it is assumed that only in fantasy could a human being be turned into a giant cockroach while his entire family neglects him without seeking any form of medical attention because they are ashamed and frightened of him. The reason that Kafka portrays the story as a sick form of reality is so that the reader understands the way in which Gregor’s dysfunctional family works, the harshness of Gregor’s transformation, and that this story is fantasy.

Works Cited: Elbaum, Alexandra. “Kafka and Freud. Blogging at Queens College. Web. 04 Nov. 2010. <http://blogs. qc. cuny. edu/blogs/dreams/aelbaum/>. Freud, Sigmund. (1968). The Interpretation of Dreams, Volume V. 1900-01. London: The Hogarth Press. Kafka, Franz, and Nahum Norbert Glatzer. “The Metamorphosis. ” The Complete Stories. New York: Schocken, 1983. 89-139. Print. Steinfeld, Gabriel. “Why Kafka Only Uses Fantasy in The Metamorphosis. ” Arts and Entertainment (2007). Web. 3 Nov. 2010. <http://www. associatedcontent. com/article/361034/why_kafka_only_uses_fantasy_in_the_pg2. html? cat=38>.

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