Thesis: Self-Destructive Behavior Depicted in Kafka's the Metamorphosis

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Self-Destructive Behavior Depicted in Kafka's

The Metamorphosis" and "A Hunger Artist"

Self-destructive behavior is not always obvious, especially to the one practicing it. Many people find themselves feeling that the only way that they can live on this earth is if they are experiencing some soft of difficulty or hardship and if the world does not freely provide them with one, they will happily give it to themselves. Such is the case for Franz Kafka's characters in "The Metamorphosis" and "A Hunger Artist." Donna Freed writes that Kafka's stories "often wind up condoning that they set out to defy. It is this respect and acceptance of madness-as-norm by his doomed characters that make his stories so seductive and unforgettable" (Freed ix). Our antagonists share the fact that they willingly choose professions that have become dangerous to their well being; they do not actively seek new directions in which to take their lives as to improve their lot in life, so things remain status quo and eventually sour in the process. Furthermore, these men give up on the hope that there is something better for them, both appear to be isolationists that appear to enjoy suffering. In addition, both men cannot accept responsibility for what is happening to them and, as a result, die pitiful deaths because of their lifestyle choices. Gregor and our starving artist illustrate the powerful nature of choice and how we are all responsible for our own destiny.

Our human insect and our hungry artist share numerous qualities. Both men choose professions that are not healthy for them. In "The Metamorphosis," Gregor is the antagonist in this story because he seems to do everything he can to make his life miserable up until he becomes a bug. One of the first things he thinks after he wakes up to find himself in this strange state is:

What an exhausting profession I picked on! Traveling day in, day out. It is much more irritating work than the actual business in the office, and then on top of that there's the trouble of constant traveling as well, of worrying about train connections, the bed and irregular meals, casual acquaintances that are always new and never become intimate friends. (Kafka Metamorphosis 741)

Here we see that Gregor hates his life even before he becomes a bug. He event thinks, "The Devil take it all!" (741). The more Gregor thinks about his work life, the more agitated he becomes. He goes on the observe that getting up early "makes one stupid. A man needs his sleep" (741). Here, Gregor is more focused on what he hates about his life than he is at the state of his body. This is an indication of his mental state, which is, at best, poor. Our hunger artist seems to have found a niche for his talent of starvation but it is certainly not the best thing for him, especially his physical health. In "A Hunger Artist," our artist's chosen profession is perhaps on of the most dangerous and this is perhaps why he has selected it for the basis of his art. Many would argue the fact that starving is not exactly an art but that is beside the point; this artist has willingly chosen a deadly profession. Gregor and our artist seem to have a penchant for unhealthy behavior.

In addition, both of these men do not actively pursue other professions that might increase their quality of life. In "The Metamorphosis," Gregor plods along day after day, blaming his family for most of his misery. We read that Gregor will quit his job once he has "saved enough money to pay back my parents' debt" (Metamorphosis 741), noting that he might reach this goal in "five or six years." (12). Any reasonable person would see that five or six years is a considerable amount of time to spend at a miserable job. Gregor might have high hopes but he is not motivated enough to go out and get them while he can. He is complacent and, at times, that is easier than attempting something different. Gregor's job does not provide him with any satisfaction and he is only in it for the money. However, Gregor needs his job desperately, regardless of how awful it may be. He tells the clerk that he is "not obstinate, and I'm willing to work; traveling is a hard life, but I couldn't live without it" (750). While it is normal for people to feel dependent upon their jobs, they should never stay employed in conditions they consider deplorable. Gregor had skills that he could put to use for another corporation that might afford him lighter, more enjoyable duties but he never actively seeks to discover what is out there. In "A Hunger Artist," the artist is completely devoted to his profession, never giving in for any reason whatsoever. After forty days of struggling, when he is completely emaciated and exhausted, he would still starve himself because it was the "easiest thing in the world" (780) to do. For this reason, he continues with this profession. He never admits to being happy with his profession, only that it is something that he can do fairly well and he apparently enjoys the attention it brings him. However, we read that after the spectacle of starving in a cage, we read that "no one had any cause to be dissatisfied with the proceedings, no one except the hunger artist himself, he only, as always" (Hunger Artist 782). He lives for "many years" (782) this way, with "regular intervals of recuperation, in visible glory, honored by the world, yet in spite of that, troubled in spirit, and all the more troubled because no one would take his trouble seriously" (782). Our artist never considers another profession even when he seems to be depressed most of the time he is fasting. We read that when someone remarks that his "melancholy was probably caused by fasting" (782), he would react with an "outburst of fury" (782). Here we see that the artist is not completely satisfied with his profession. It is clear that he enjoys moments of fame and adoration but this is certainly not enough as he enters into the long hours of his fast and suffers from depression that it is not rewarding enough for him. Our antagonists do not possess the willpower or determination it takes to seek out something different that might allow them more happiness in their lives.

As a result of their complacency, both men have given up on finding any alternative lifestyle that might prove to be just as fulfilling as the tedious one they are presently living. In "The Metamorphosis," before Gregor's opportunities are stripped away because he is no longer human, he is content to stay in a miserable job. As we have mentioned, he no doubt possessed skills that he could have utilized elsewhere for perhaps more money and better conditions. However, he let the opportunity pass him by and the rest of his days will be spent wondering. In "A Hunger Artist," the artist is constantly bombarded with what appears to be warning signals that maybe he needs to consider doing something else. He refuses to look at his situation in this way; instead, he would rather continue doing the same thing. Even when his cage is removed from the middle of the ring and he is no longer a "main attraction" (784), our artist continues on with this lifestyle. He complains that he is too close to the animal cages to stand out as an attraction and he must come to terms with the fact that he is only getting attention because his cage is situated near the "menagerie" (784) of animals and people have no choice but to pass his cage to get to their cages. Our artist even endures the "stench of the menagerie, the animals' restlessness by night, the carrying of raw lumps of flesh for the beasts of prey" (784-5) and other inconveniences that "depressed him continually" (785) without thinking that perhaps he should try something innovative that was not so difficult for him. All he thinks to do is be thankful for the animals because they were the reason that "troops of people" (785) passed his cage at all. Steinhauer contends, "In the meantime he lives in utter neglect" (Steinhauer). In addition, he adds the irony of the story is, "Now his great dream of being allowed to fast beyond the allotted forty days has become a reality. He can fast on and on...When the hunger artist had an audience, he was prevented by an external force from fulfilling himself; now that he can do so, he has no audience" (Steinhauer). Both of these men have the capability of pursuing superior lives but they do not.

Both men are isolationists by choice. In "The Metamorphosis," Gregor blames his job but the reality is that he is not proactive in seeking a fulfilling social life. He maintains… [END OF PREVIEW]

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