The Predicament of Modern Man

5 Sep

“Kafka is important to us because his predicament is the predicament of modern man.”
-British poet W.H. Auden

British poet W.H. Auden claims, “[Franz] Kafka is important to us because his predicament is the predicament of a modern man.” While on the surface, Kafka’s novel may appear to lack clear substance and intent, one begins to realize how much the main character, Gregor, relates to man in today’s world. Gregor is a salesman, carrying the weight of his entire family on his shoulders. As soon as he transforms into a bug, it is no wonder his dominant train of thought is about his occupation and empathy for his family, because they depend on him. It becomes evident that his family starts to fall apart subsequent to his transformation.

Gregor essentially epitomizes Kafka himself. He too grew up in a family where he was forced down a specific path (law) and was given little parental investment. We can see this repressed loneliness leak out in Metamorphosis, where Gregor progressively becomes detached from his family. Sadly, it seems like the only reason Gregor’s family paid any attention to him at all was so that he could continue supporting the family. Once this responsibility was dropped, so was his family’s love and attention. Kafka was a German Jew living in Prague, where he faced isolation and discrimination. His father had little time for him and drove him away from his passions (such as writing). After losing his siblings and being so far apart in age from his remaining ones, Kafka was left to fulfill his father’s wishes and seek a respectable profession. Thus, it is blatantly obvious that Gregor’s strained, deficient relationship with his father symbolizes that of Kafka and his father.

All of this trouble with family support and pressures, as well as employment is faced today, especially under the current economic hardships. In many families, kids are raised with their professional life already planned out for them by their parents, which yields immense pressure. This especially seems to be the case in more conservative, traditional families. I myself can think of a very similar situation to Kafka’s and Gregor’s in a good friend of mine. As the oldest sibling, she has been raised with a lot of responsibility and faces the pressures of family expectations and support. Aside from doing a lot of housework, she has also been steered in the direction of pursuing a more “respectable” career, whether it is in Business, Computer Sciences or Electrical Engineering. Like Kafka, she too has a passion: in music, especially singing. However, I do not imagine her parents would approve of her heading into the music industry. This is a shame, because aside from having the passion, she also has the skills or talent for music, just as Kafka had for writing. These kinds of family pressures are faced by all of us, and can often build resentment and repressed emotions that may or may not manifest later on in life.

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