Franz Kafka. The Metamorphosis: Similarities Between Gregor Samsa and AIDS Patient
It is unlikely that when Kafka wrote his novel The Metamorphosis, he thought about those people, who were thrown from the normal life because of their malady like AIDS. The crisis the protagonist experiences is more of a moral nature and can be explained by deep depression, feeling of being unnecessary in life and lack of sense of belonging to the society. Though, it is also possible to assume that Gregor Samsa was suffering from AIDS, because his both physical and emotional problems were similar to the symptoms of HIV patients in many aspects.
The first thing that AIDS patients and the protagonist of the novel Gregor Samsa have in common is the attitude of the society towards them. In several words the way people treat HIV positive patients is silent alertness that becomes an open aggression if the person does not suffer from good manners. People who have AIDS are often ill, that is why it is not rational to hire them, because they will be on ill most of the time and someone will have to work for them. In addition, it is not profitable to hire a HIV positive person because his/her energy is quite limited. From the point of view of the society, an AIDS patient is a potential menace. Not all people know that the virus can not be transferred by air or when people shake hands with a HIV positive person despite the active propaganda of this information. Such attitude makes ill people outcasts of the society. The others try not to pay attention to them at all, if they do not openly express their negative attitude. The attitude of closest friends of the AIDS patient and his/her family can vary. Sometimes they make all possible attempts to support an ill person, sometimes they can not overcome their prejudice. However, in all cases there is certain alienation between an AIDS patient and the family, because this illness changes the sick person too.
Gregor seems to be treated by the society as a sick person, who suddenly stopped being useful. He creates a lot of problems to those people who surround him and does not perform his functions, which makes those people irritated and angry. An example from the beginning of the novel illustrates the moment when the protagonist becomes useless vividly. The narration starts with the scene when Gregor can not open the door of his room and is late for work. He had never been late for work in the past, that is why his family supposes he fell ill. Soon his co-worker comes and wants to take Gregor to work with him. No one from this company understands what had happened to Gregor, and in fact they were not very interested in his malady. The main and the only problem was that he was not going to work and soon the family would have nothing to eat (Kafka, p. 4-5).
Judging by this example, it is possible to suppose that Gregor as a person meant nothing to his family and acquaintances. He was considered to be a part of the working machine, and when this part stopped to function, everybody lost their interest in it. The AIDS patients have similar problems. The majority of them were not born with this diagnosis and became ill suddenly. Their lives changed dramatically in several days and the attitude of people, who used to be their friends and family, often became alienated. Ill people might go through inner conflicts every day of their malady, until they understand how to live on with such attitude of the society towards them.
The main metaphor of the novel that Gregor is suddenly transformed into a gigantic insect, is very similar to the feeling that people who suffer from AIDS experience (Kafka, p. 3). They just wake up one morning and learn that they are ill, and soon will die. Their illness is like a gigantic insect to the other people, because it makes them fear the patient and provoke the sentiment of disgust.
The protagonist says that he is not able to explain to someone, even to his closest friend, to his sister, what is happening in his mind. The transformation influenced not only his body, but also the way he thought and felt. Gregor was not able to explain it even to himself (Kafka, p. 16-17). Such symptoms are really similar to the metamorphosis that happen to AIDS patients. It is really difficult to imagine what happens in the consciousness of a person who was healthy and active for 25 years of his/her life, for example, and in one moment the way of life he/she is used to ruined. Chances are the person can not understand that from now on he/she ill, everything functions in a wrong way in the organism and he/she is not the master of the body no more. The organism undergoes significant changes. The immune system is not able to fight with infections and viruses, so the patients can fall ill form insignificant minor things. Such changes in a body usually makes an ill person alter his/ her life style in order to minimize the dangers. In fact, everything becomes a potential danger for a person who suffers from AIDS. Just like for an insect, even if it is gigantic like Gregor Samsa.
The theme that a person who suffers from AIDS can become even more ill from a minor reason is also present in The Metamorphosis narration. Gregor Samsa is almost dying because an apple fell on him and broke his flesh. He was not able to remove it by himself and it started to rotten. Neither his sister, not his father wanted to help him remove the apple. Perhaps, they did not do it because they were afraid to make the situation even worse or they just found this procedure too repulsive to start. Everything in the text of the novel supports the idea that they just did not wanted to do it. A gigantic insect who used to be their Gregor Samsa was not the part of their universe and they wanted it to vanish. Though, even his father, who could not stand the gigantic insect, was not able to treat it as his enemy when Gregor was suffering from the apple.
Kafka describes this episode in the following words:
“Gregor’s serious wound, from which he suffered for over a month – the apple remained embedded in his flesh as a visible souvenir since no one dared to remove it – seemed to have reminded even his father that Gregor was a member of the family, in spite of his present pathetic and repulsive shape, who could not be treated as an enemy; that, on the contrary, it was the commandment of the family duty to swallow their disgust and endure him, endure him and nothing more”(Kafka, p. 29).
Chances are that HIV positive people experience the same attitude from their family members. They seem to be too pathetic to be angry with and no one has enough mental forces to help the person fight with the disease. There is also a possibility that the fight with AIDS took too much time and efforts, and the family of the patient has no energy to continue it.
Another peculiar psychological issue that Gregor Samsa has in common with HIV positive patients is the feeling of alienation from the world. It is a well known thing that many ill people who are deprived of the possibility to live a normal life, are irritated by the fact that someone can do it without much efforts. The protagonist of The Metamorphosis is sitting in his room and starving. The members of his family refuse to enter his room and give him food. They are frightened by his appearance and they feel too much disgust towards him. In addition, no one also wants to clean in his room, so the living conditions of Gregor become worse day after day.
He can hear that his sister and father are having dinner in the kitchen. Gregor hears the sound their jaws make when they chew their meals. He starts to think that these sounds were made especially to make him angry and to remind him that he has no teeth, he is not a human being no more and he can not eat together with his family. Kafka describes the thoughts and feelings of Gregor Samsa in the following words:
“It seemed remarkable to Gregor that above all the various noises of eating their chewing teeth could still be heard, as if they had wanted to show Gregor that you need teeth in order to eat and it was not possible to perform anything with jaws that are toothless however nice they might be. ‘I’d like to eat something,’ said Gregor anxiously, ‘but not anything like they’re eating. They do feed themselves. And here I am, dying!” (Kafka, p. 32).
In The Metamorphosis there is nothing about the transformation itself. Gregor Samsa wakes up in the morning and is already a gigantic insect. He remembers nothing about the transformation. Though, it is possible to imagine this obviously fantastic process if we take the metamorphosis as something synonymous to the way HIV is attacking the organism.
According to Walker (p. 46-47) the research of the last 30 years have shown that the immune system of all people is making all possible attempts to fight with HIV. The organism tries to defend itself from the virus. It produces an exceeding amount of the antibodies that might be helpful against the initial infection. Though, the antibodies can not cope with the virus and a person becomes infected with AIDS.
HIV can not reproduce itself and that is why it uses the existing cells of the organism and changes the “program” according to which they used to function. It also instructs the occupied cells to produce new HIV viruses. As the result, HIV ruins the immune system of the organism and as the result the organism can not defend itself from the infection, even if it is minor and a healthy organism will cope with it without any problems.
Perhaps, Gregor Samsa was infected in the evening before the metamorphosis. During the night, his body was trying to fight with the virus first, but it did not succeed, and Gregor started to transform to the gigantic insect on the cellular level. With the time, his thoughts and senses also started to mutate. For example, in the middle of the novel he understood that the normal human food he was used to was not that tasty as it seemed to be in the past, when Gregor was a human. As an insect, he preferred the food that was slightly rotten. Perhaps, on that level the virus changed all of the cells in his organism, even the ones in his brain.
Just after the transformation, Gregor could not understand that he was a human no more, and so he made a great number of attempts to tell something to people around him. They did not understand what message he wanted to convey to them, even though Gregor thought he was speaking like a normal man. When the agitation passed, the process of acknowledging the reality started. It is written in the novel: “However, Gregor had become much calmer. All right, people did not understand his words any more, although they seemed clear enough to him, clearer than previously, perhaps because had gotten used to them” (Kafka, p. 28).
The majority of HIV infected people try to tell the others that are not that dangerous as those people imagine. They try to persuade them in the fact that they should not be afraid to sit near them, to take a cup from their hands and to inhale the same air in one room. Though, when the society remains deaf to their words, they stop their active attempts to change the dominant point of view, just like Gregor Samsa did.
One of the issues that the society does not want to accept is that a law abiding normal person can become infected with HIV. It is often considered that an AIDS patient is an unmoral person and he/she deserved it. Siapka (p. 505) writes about the following populations that are in the risk zone for HIV infecting: prisoners, injecting drug users, truck drivers, men who have sex with men and commercial sex workers. As it is evident form this list, all categories do not correspond to the description “an innocent victim of circumstances” and HIV infected people are not eager to break the prejudice.
In the end of the novel Gregor Samsa is dying in his room. He is absolutely alone, he is neglected by his sister and father, who do not even enter the room to feed the gigantic insect. The only person who still enters the room to clean it and to give Gregor food is an old charwoman, who was hired by the family to look after “the monster”. She finds him after his death and buries him. No one else is interested in Gregor’s destiny. There is no mourning and tragedy, when he dies. His death becomes a relief for Gregor’s father and sister, who have buried Gregor in their hearts when he turned into the insect.
In other words, it is possible to say that Gregor Samsa finishes his life in the hospital, like an AIDS patient. His health conditions are becoming worse, he can not move and can not take care of his basic needs, just like an ill person, whose state is hopeless. It often happens that AIDS patients are left alone and the hired personnel takes care of them. It also often happens that the death of an HIV infected person becomes a relief for his/her family, who are tired of suffering together with the patient.
As the current essay shows, there are many similarities between an AIDS patient and the disease from which Gregor Samsa suffered. The transformation of a human into a gigantic insect is a fantastic metaphor, though in a metaphorical sense it can be easily referred to the HIV infecting. Both the attitude of the society to the infected person and the inner processes of the patient’s psyche change under the pressure of the mortal disease. Depression and prejudices become the stable background of the patient’s life. All these symptoms can be literary described as the human transformation into a gigantic insect, that is pathetic and repulsive at the same time.
Siapka, Mariana, et al. “Is There Scope For Cost Savings And Efficiency Gains In HIV Services? A Systematic Review Of The Evidence From Low- And Middle-Income Countries.” Bulletin Of The World Health Organization 92.7 (2014): 499-511AD. Health Source – Consumer Edition. Web. 7 Feb. 2015.
Walker, Bruce D. “Secrets Of The Hiv Controllers.” Scientific American 307.1 (2012): 44-51. Health Source – Consumer Edition. Web. 7 Feb. 2015.