Month: March 2013

Franz Kafka’s Divine Dung Beetle

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“Eternity is set in every man’s heart” Ecclesiastes 3:11

There is one literary motif which has transcended them all—the Christ archetype. One of the most used and most noble archetypes found in art, literature, music, and more. According to Carl Jung, an archetype is part of our “collective unconsciousness;”a recurring pattern in the stream of our cultural world. An archetype is part of our “dream world” a world in which many ideals and virtues become manifest and are stored. We could not fathom a world without archetypes which are part of who we are and what we are capable of being. Unbeknownst to us, we are not aware of these archetypes until we start seeing patterns in our TV shows, our books, our communication, and in our daily lives. Many other cultures (Indian, Native American, Chinese, and more) have the same divine hero i.e., a teacher of enlightenment, goodness, and compassion. A teacher who stresses the acts of servitude in the face of a self-seeking world bent on instant gratification. These archetypes have no beginning and no end. The Christ archetype, one of many, found in the works of Carl Jung, is an image of a savior and the traits that follow are, 1) those who sacrifice all they have for the greater good (Sacrifice), 2) those who exemplify forgiveness in the face of rejection (Forgiveness), and 3) those who suffer and/or die for the betterment of humanity (Martyrdom).

The image of Christ is found in many stories. For example, the epic trilogy of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, where Frodo Baggin’s a humble hobbit, living a simple life in the shire, is given a great responsibility to save the world, and J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, a young boy set apart from all other’s to defeat a Dark Lord for the common good, and C. S. Lewis’s Aslan, a noble loin, in The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe, who gives his life for one child who falls victim of a White Witch’s promises of greatness. Most divine motifs in literature are part of the fabric of our culture. We love heroes, especially heroes who are unassuming, humble, long-suffering, and sacrificial. I believe Franz Kafka’s Gregor in The Metamorphosis (1915) is another motif worthy of investigation to be added to the divine Christ archetype.

Trait One: “Present yourself as a living sacrifice.” Romans 12:1

Franz Kafka’s dark fantasy is about a traveling salesman who wakes up one day to find he has turned into a massive dung beetle and his family’s response to this physical change. This change becomes Gregor’s burden or his cross to bear. His family becomes fearful, angry, and non-accepting of this change. Five years prior, the father losses his business and falls into financial despair. After this financial blow on the family, Gregor takes on a job he is not very fond of to secure his family’s future. It gave Gregor pleasure to think he was providing a comfortable life style for his family with a maid, a cook, and other amenities. Gregor, who was already an adult male, gave up a life of having children and having his own family for his mother, father, and sister, Grete. He sacrificed his life for his family’s dept. By Christmas, he wanted to announce his desire to pay for Grete’s higher education (he saw promise in her ability to play the violin). Toward the end, Grete’s violin playing was the only food he desired. He believed in his sister’s talent and wanted to nourish it. He worked so much as a traveling salesman that he was never able to establish deeper connections with others (esp. romantic). Gregor would never abandon his family and would help them with their debt.

Trait Two: “Forgive one another as God has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32

During Gregor’s transformation, he had more concern for his mother’s tears (and worries) than he had for his own foreign, awkward, and pain staking beetle body. There were times he wanted to crawl the walls but didn’t. He didn’t want his father to think him wicked. There were times when Gregor wanted to eat the rotten food but he felt that he shouldn’t. These feeling of shame and guilt prevented him from embracing his new life because his old life was contradictory to these new desires. It showed numerous times where Gregor, the one in need, was reaching out to a family devastated and frightened by his change. He would hide under his sofa so his sister didn’t have to look at him. He would stay locked in his room so as to not disturb the family i.e., anger his father or give his mother another asthma attack or fainting spell. When the father found out Gregor was loose in the house, he became angry and started chucking apples toward his only son. Finally, one last apple hit Gregor so hard that is was permanently lodged into his back. The wound from the apple, the families neglect of feeding Gregor who was locked in his room the majority of the time, and the resolution that Gregor was not Gregor anymore but an “it” who needed to be kicked out of the house was what slowly killed Gregor. During the story, the reader discovers the father had set aside money without telling Gregor. But, still in the end, Gregor had no hard feelings. He silently agreed with his sister; it was time for him to go. He did not want to be a burden on his family anymore. As the sun was rising, Gregor, who was becoming weaker and weaker, took one last breath and died. Just like Christ on the cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Gregor’s last breath was not of hatred toward his family but his last breath was “love.” The last of Gregor (his corpse), was swept up and thrown away by the Samsa’s cleaning lady (this is not stated directly but implied). In the beginning, he was too big to fit through an open door; in the end, he was small enough to be swept into a dust pan. I find this to be very fascinating i.e., the more we reject and push people out of our lives the smaller they become.

Trait three: “He loved not his own life unto the death” Revelation 12:11

After, Gregor’s death, the family became closer. The mother and father took a greater interest in wanting to secure their daughter’s future—an attribute the family did not possess until after the metamorphosis. After Gregor’s transformation, the father, mother, and sister procured jobs and started working. The father walked more upright and had more respect for himself and his family. In the end, they got rid of their rude tenants and the house cleaner who threw Gregor away. Gregor’s death became the family’s cure—they weren’t codependent on each other anymore. This transformation, from out of nowhere, transcended the Samsa’s into something better. Before the transformation, Gregor’s family was incompetent in taking care of themselves. After the transformation, the family was pushed to working harder for their livelihood viewing the future with hope and courage. In this instance, Gregor becomes the symbol of martyrdom. It is unfortunate Gregor’s life had to be sacrificed for the sake of his family. Grete stated if this “creature” or “it” was Gregor he would have left. However, I believe Gregor was trying to leave but his family (esp. his mother) wouldn’t let him go. In addition, Gregor’s heart was trying to reverse his metamorphosis so he could get back on that train to work, pay off his father’s dept, and send his sister to an expensive Conservatory school.

In the television series, X-Files, created by Chris Carter, the character Fox Mulder, paranormal investigator, is typing away on the existence of aliens and the popular human response being fear and distrust of the unknown. In this science fiction thriller, Mulder has seen and believes in the existence of aliens and bizarre phenomena. Mulder goes on to type how he would embrace and not act in fear toward an alien encounter. While relishing on his pedestal, unexpectedly, out of nowhere, an exotic beetle the size of a pancake, with white and black patches, alights on his desk. In the dead night, under the scrutiny of a desk lamp, Mulder looks at the beetle in awe. Then, in one nanosecond, the beetle flutters slightly, Mulder, instinctively, grabs a book, lifts, and lunges– “black out” (end of scene).

Are we ready for the unknown? How would we respond? How do we respond to today’s unknowns? We may not understand everything. We may not know everything this Universe has to offer. Despite it all, we are capable of logic and virtue. Today, I challenge you to look at the Gregor’s in our world– the misunderstood, the feared, and the rejected. Franz Kafka’s story is unique and many readers have interpreted Gregor’s metamorphosis in many ways i.e., Gregor as chemically dependent, Gregor as one having a psychotic breakdown, Gregor as a homosexual, Gregor as a person suffering from mental illness, and (now) Gregor as a divine figure who lived and died for the sake of his family. A metamorphosis is unique—it is also final. It is the final transformation in which others, who bear witness, deem it to be either wicked or divine. I guess some changes in life may not be the changes which fit worldly expectations. However, I find myself agreeing with Sheryl Crow’s pop cultural lyrics, “A change would do you good.”