Symbolic Alienation in The Metamorphosis
The grotesque world is -- and is not -- our own world. The ambiguous way in which we are affected by it results from our awareness that the familiar and apparently harmonious world is alienated under the impact of abysmal forces, which break it up and shatter its coherence.
-- Wolfgang Kayser
Modernity has added irony to injury. The study of the humanities is intended to bridge something inescapable in the human condition: the fundamental alienation of the individual. The keen reader of literature will gradually grow familiar with the unifying substance that binds peoples of all times and cultures. Joseph Campbell, quite famous for his work in mythology, says that storytelling is "the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation" (3). Apparently, it is through our (that is, mankind's) use of symbols that we tap our humanity, and our universal experience.
When symbolic imagery is used, whether or not it is used consciously, it is an appeal to dream, and thus an appeal to the psychological fabric that we all share. Of course, that's the way it's supposed to be. Existentialism, nihilism, and Marxism are all viable alternative philosophies that celebrate, if a nihilist can be said to celebrate anything at all, in man's alienation. These darker, strikingly modern philosophies are well applied to The Metamorphosis, though a formalistic approach to the book's symbols does in fact help illustrate their themes.
Gregor Samsa does not fit conveniently fit Campbell's archetype of the hero. The reason for this should be clear: Gregor is not a typical hero. He is rather the unwilling, perhaps unwitting antihero in an absurd circus that is the modern world. Gregor's world, as well as the world of many existentialists, exists...