“The Metamorphosis” is a work of fiction written by Franz Kafka. This is one of a few short fiction books that he ever published because he couldn’t finish his writings or sends to be published since he never felt his writing had reached a point where it was perfect. In this particular short story the word from the title “metamorphosis” means to have a change of appearance in the physical form. This is seen with the main character named Gregor Samsa who wakes up one morning as a beetle in his bedroom. He tried to get-off his bed to go to work but he had to struggle in order to stand-up. His mother, father, sister, and his boss became concerned about the fact that he didn’t go to work or come out of his room. Then they became more anxious because when he talked to them, they heard an animal voice rather than a human one. When he let them see his new body appearance, they got really scared. The office manager left frightened, and also with Gregor’s job. Gregor was locked in his room, where he spent the rest of his life. Concepts of “space” and “place” shape our understanding of setting in “The Metamorphosis” as it helps the characters determine the importance of barriers, feeling of crowdedness, the need to protect, and give meaning to a place.
The action of the story takes place in Gregor’s room which creates a barrier that stops him from coming into contact with his family. When he’s locked in his room the walls become an obstacle between him and his family. The walls act as a frontier where they separate two different groups from each other, the humans and the beetle. The barrier suggests that they aren’t at the same level and that they are very different from each other. Even though there are physical barriers Tuan argues that children become aware of other noises in other rooms and pay attention to them even though they cannot see those who are talking (23). This can be seeing with Gregor who would run to the spot from where the voices where coming from and would lean on it to hear what his family were talking about including their financial situation, etc. Tuan also argues that baby’s don’t try to go beyond their crib barriers to reach objects that are outside of it (23). Gregor just like a baby, has a small place under the couch where he feels he’s home. Even though it isn’t as comfortable as being on top of the bed, or just in an open space in his room, he feels safe just like a child in the crib, where he feels that nothing can hurt him as long as he is under it. He never tried to get out or try to reach for his sister when she came in during the day to feed him. It is as if an imaginary wall was preventing him from going beyond his couch to try to interact with his sister when she entered his room. When barriers exist you acquire a sense of distance when you see where you are and where the other people are (Tuan 23). This is seen when every night the living room door was opened for Gregor to see his family interact with each other while he had to lay in the darkness of his own room (Kafka 321). The physical distance between his room and the living room reflects both the physical and emotional distance that his family has with him. After the metamorphosis his family doesn’t come into contact with him or tell him that they care about him anymore. They didn’t want to have a close relationship with him because now he was a repugnant bug.
A place can feel crowded when there are physical objects that prevent you from moving around freely or when you become aware of other people sharing the same space as you. On one hand Gregor feels that his bedroom is small because he can’t move freely anymore. His room was small and now it seemed even smaller because of his new body size, so it was taking more space along with his furniture. He wanted to move around without worrying about bumping into his bed, desk, etc. but he couldn’t do it because there wasn’t any space. Toward the end of the story, his personal place became even more constricted as stuff that his family didn’t need where being thrown into the room, it was as if now it was a closet. In closets everything is tight. It doesn’t allow any movement at all. “Alone ones thoughts wonder freely over space. In the presence of others they are pulled back by awareness of other personalities…” (Tuan 59) This can be seen with a particular time when his sister stepped into the room earlier one day and she found him sitting still looking out the window, she ran out of the room because that day he wasn’t under his couch (Kafka 316). When she ran out, it was a form of being pulled back from the thought that he wouldn’t be in sight but instead was reminded that he was in that room. Since she became aware of his presence she couldn’t act freely as she would in any other room of the house. Every time she stepped into the room, she felt as if her internal space was invaded by a lot of people and was suffocating as others breathed the air. Therefore the feeling of a lack of air would make her rush to open the window as if the beetle took all the space and was causing her to choke. Tuan’s idea can also relate to Gregor because when he was alone he didn’t have to worry about the fact that he could scare or disgust others with his appearance. The moment that his sister would step into the room, he would become aware of the fact that he was a beetle that he needed to stay still and hidden in order to not frighten her. He also felt that he was been watched by his sister and that thought would make him feel very crowded in his own room as he became aware of space.
Children as well as adults acquire a sense of property when something belongs to them so they feel a need to protect it (Tuan 32) whether it’s a toy, electronic, person and even a room. People feel a need to defend their personal property when others threaten to take it away. In this case Gregor felt the need to protect his things which he didn’t consider valuable until his sister and mother came to his room during the daytime to start moving everything out. He had wished that his desk, bed, etc were moved out so that he could have plenty of space to move freely but when he imagined that his personal place wouldn’t have any memories of when he was a human, he didn’t want them to move anything out anymore. If his room was empty, it would symbolize that he was never going to return to being a human and that now he would be a bug in all sense of the word because he wouldn’t have any attached memories to his past human life.
A place given meaning by humans as it reminds them of personal experiences and status gained at home. Every piece of furniture had a particular memory related to it because as you grow up, you become attached to objects and places (Tuan 29). The alarm clock reminded him that he had to go work as a salesman, in order to support his family and give them a decent lifestyle. His desk was his companion through all his study years ranging from elementary to business school (Kafka 319). According to Tuan space is a symbol of wealth and power as, “The big man occupies and has access to more space than lesser beings.” (Tuan 58) Gregor has access to only one room because he is a bug who is considered to be lower than a human while his family has access to almost all the rooms in the house. Wealth plays a role as who is considered higher than whom. This is seen with Gregor who had access to all the rooms when he worked but by losing his job, he also loss the freedom of moving between rooms. On the other hand his family had power over him and the house because they were the ones who decided who they would rent a room because now they were the ones paying rent.
The setting helped shape how the characters interacted with each other because of the barriers constructed in the apartment, as well as the crowdedness, meaning, and protection of the place. There were physical as well as emotional restrains from each other as Gregor’s family avoided him. He lost his family and his human body with his transformation. The only thing he had left was to protect his personal space because the things in there still had meaning to him. In the story we saw a shift of power from Gregor over to his family where he was the one who once had the wealth as well as the freedom to move around but now his family was the one who could move around and go out to work. Your life might be one way today but in the future there could be a twist that reshapes your entire life.