In “The Metamorphosis” Franz Kafka examines the alienation from society that turns a human being into a bug, as well as how collaborating with society also turns human beings into lesser life forms. “If I didn’t have my parents to think about I’d have given in my notice a long time ago, I’d have gone up to the boss and told him just what I think, tell him everything I would, let him know just what I feel,” Gregor says. But Gregor can’t tell his boss how he feels, because Gregor is a cog in the machine. Gregor alienation is symbolically represented in his transformation and his bugdom is symbolic of his uselessness to the cycle once he has begun to question the validity of it. Gregor’s family’s buying into societal demands makes them just as buglike as Gregor, but they are the ones who are really more like the bugs we step on. The final scene of the story confirms this as they so very quickly settle comfortably into the rat rate on the bus as “they discussed their prospects and found that on closer examination they were not at all bad – until then they had never asked each other about their work but all three had jobs which were very good and held particularly good promise for the future.”
The point of view of the novel is thematically coherent; it is detached, alienated, cold. The lack of a consciousness behind the narration lends to the overall effect of detachment and loss of individuality. In fact, there is no individuality at all to the narration. Although the point of view could seem at times to be first person, it really isn’t. Gregor isn’t telling his story and that’s important because to allow Gregor to tell his story would be imbue his individuality with a meaning that isn’t really there. This lack of meaning even extends to the minor characters.
The chief clerk isn’t really the antagonist of the story, society is, but the chief clerk is the personification of all that is horrific about society. The chief clerk has been assimilated so completely that nothing but work matters. In some ways the true tragic figure of this story is the clerk. He could never be metamorphosed into an actual bug, because he’ll become something that society needs to step on. He is society, he is everything that Gregor wants, but can’t, rebel again. “I thought you were a quiet, dependable person, and now all at once you seem bent on making a disgraceful exhibition of yourself.”
By transforming into a bug, Gregor’s metamorphosis is into something more than human, not less. The unnamed bug that Gregor becomes is not meant to be taken as a symbol of inhumanity. Rather it is humanity that are the bugs, the insects, the mindless creatures striving after the meaningless pursuit of nothingness.