Literature paper


Alienation is a term used to describe a separation, or even isolation, from people or affairs such as a career, family, or even life in general. In Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener, we can compare and contrast alienation experienced by two distinct characters. The use of alienation through the characters may have also alienated the novels from their audience, both novels found unsuccessful during their release, but over time have developed a cult following and are now imprinted famously in literature history for their unconventional narratives.
Gregor Samsa is a character from Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis who wakes up to find that he’s changed into a vermin. On any other day, Gregor was a traveling salesman living a life filled with contemplating trains, having irregular meals, and constantly meeting different people that made it difficult to make friends. Gregor does his work to support his family after misfortune from his father’s old business, taking on the responsibility of being the sole breadwinner. A chief clerk from Gregor’s work comes to check up on him in the morning, his workplace being unforgiving of Gregor’s tardiness even though Gregor has never taken a sick-day in over 15 years. He has a hard time making it to his door in his insect state, but when he finally does, he’s only viciously forced back into his room by his family who is repulsed by his transformation and injures one of his (now many) legs. His change has also affected his speech, his voice now unfamiliar and incomprehensible, leaving him unable to communicate. His sister leaves him his favorite dish later of sweetened milk and bread, but he finds himself unable to eat it and instead prefers food that is rotten or expired. His sister takes on the role of attending to his room, but never makes actual contact with him since Gregor hides his form from her underneath furniture and large sheet. One day they accidentally encountered each other, and Grete, his sister, alarmingly left the room. Before his transformation, Grete was the only person he was close to, as she would write him letters while he was traveling. Grete plays the violin and always dreamed of going to the conservatory which Gregory was secretly saving up money to take her. When Grete gained the courage to go back to his room, she noticed the leftover adhesive from Gregor’s vermin feet on the walls from his found joy of exploring the ceiling and decides to help remove the furniture from his room to give him space. Both Grete and their mother begin removing items from his room, but Gregor decides to run out of hiding in order to express his want for a few to stay, scared of losing the familiarity of his previous life that the furniture symbolized. His mother ends up seeing him first and faints at the sight. Grete runs to find something to aid her and Gregor follows her, only wanting to help but ends up startling Grete too and she accidentally injures herself. Their dad then comes home and throws apples at Gregor, one getting stuck in the back and wounding him until he retreats back into confinement. The apple takes a way a majority of the mobility Gregor use to have and stays in his back for over a whole month, nobody assisting. Over the course of this time, Gregor’s family has undergone a change themselves. His father, who hasn’t worked in over five years, appeared to attain a job at a bank. His mother sewed underwear for a fancy shop, and Grete had a sales job while also learning shorthand and French. However, expenses were still hard on the family, and they decide to rent out a room to three gentlemen. Moving out would have been the desired option, but they couldn’t with Gregor, who they continued to let stay with them beyond his condition. Gregor is lured out of his room one day by the sound of his sister playing the violin. This startles the three men who didn’t know he even existed and annoys his sister who locks him back into his room. She announces that they must get rid of him, that he isn’t actually Gregory anymore, that if it was really him then he would have gone a long time ago when noticing the toll that’s been taken on the family due to his change. Gregor, injured now both physically and mentally, dies by the next day. Although Gregor’s vermin state caused him to alienate from his family as well as his former self, his life as a traveling salesman was relatively just as isolating. The Samsa family undergoes a metamorphosis, but in the end, they’re liberated from the vermin life (Kafka, Metamorphosis).
Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener is at first different from Metamorphosis because we never hear the point of view from Bartleby himself. Instead, we’re introduced to him by his boss who hires Bartleby as a copyist due to his silent and stoic behavior. His other workers, Turkey and Nippers, have correlating hours of the day when their mood swings and they misbehave. There’s also Ginger Nut, however, he only runs the smallest of errands because he’s only 12 years old. Bartleby starts work exceedingly well, but on the third day, things change. His boss asks him to examine a document for him, but Bartleby responds with “I would prefer not to.” He then proceeds to use this statement to similar requests, such as going to the post office. His boss has never actually seen him leave the office and is shocked when he discovers Bartleby has been living there. Bartleby was already a strange man already, he never spoke unless it was to answer a question, never revealed anything about himself, never read or took walks for leisure, and only ate ginger nuts. His boss believed his hermitage was a result of a suffering soul and let him stay in the office out of pity. However, then Bartleby refused to do copy work altogether. When his boss tries to fire him, Bartleby still insists on staying at the office. His boss realizes the only way to get rid of him is to change offices, so he moves. At his new office, strangers who took over the old office come to demand him to do something about Bartleby, who’s still living there. His boss tries to decline being held responsible for Bartleby but decides to go back to the old office and see if he can talk any sense into him. Bartleby tells him he would prefer not to change anything, refusing a new job and even declining to move into his boss’s own home. This leads to the new owners of the office calling the police, and Bartleby is arrested. His boss visits him at the prison and even pays a man to help give Bartleby food. It turns out that Bartleby now prefers not to eat though, and eventually dies from starvation. His boss finds out that Bartleby uses to work in a dead letter office, sorting undelivered mail, likely playing a part in Bartleby’s alienation (Melville, Bartleby, the Scrivener).
Kafka and Melville give us characters that are eventually sacrificed for their alienation from their society. These characters can be hard to connect with due to their ambiguous antihero depictions, but they both bring awareness to the mechanical lifestyle of the day-to-day working class. They’re existentialist stories that make us question the meaning of our lives and the importance of having a purpose as a whole.



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Literature Paper

16 March 2015


            Alienationentails the isolation from people in terms of family and life in general. In Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka and Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville, it is possible to provide a comparison of the alienation that was experienced by two characters. In Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa wakes up to find that he has transformed into a vermin. Ordinarily, Gregor would be traveling as a salesman and would meet different people all the time, making it difficult to make friendships. He has to work hard because he is the sole breadwinner for his family. However, he is tardy, something that his chief clerk does not like. He finds it difficult to make it to his door because he has now become an insect. His transformation repulses his family, who end up injuring one of his insect legs while repulsing him backward.


            Gregor’s speech has also been affected by his transformation and is not incomprehensible. He also finds that he is unable to eat his favorite dish, instead preferring rotten food. His sister is compelled to attend to his room on a daily basis. One day, Grete, his sister, alarmingly leaves the room after encountering Gregor in his new state. Yet she was the only person he had always remained close to. Gregor was secretly saving up some money to help Grete go to the conservatory. After Grete gained enough courage to look inside the room again, she felt the need to remove some of the furniture from Gregor’s room to create more room for him to engage in exploration.

            Gregor is scared that the removal of furniture will make him lose the kind of familiarity that he used to enjoy from his life in the previous state. His mother faints upon seeing him, and Gregor runs to lend her a helping hand. She startles Grete along the way, thereby inflicting some injuries on her. Their father, upon returning home, wounds Gregor by throwing apples at him. Gregor remains at home, wounded, and with no one to assist him. Meanwhile, Gregor’s family is undergoing some change as well. His dad is getting a job at the local bank, his mother is sewing underwear for sale at a local shop, and Grete is now a salesperson. The family is still going through financial hardship, which forces them to rent out one of the rooms.

            The family wants to move out but this is impossible because of Gregor’s situation. One day, Gregor moves out of the room after hearing the sound of his sister’s violin. The three men who had rented one of the rooms are startled after seeing him. His sister is annoyed and quickly locks the door to his room. She instructs the three men to get rid of Gregor. Gregor ultimately dies the next day from physical and mental torture.

Bartleby, the Scrivener by Melville at first seems different from Metamorphosis simply because the story is not told from the point of view of Bartleby himself. Rather, it is his boss who introduces him after hiring him to work as a copyist. Bartleby’s bespeaks of silence while his two colleagues, Nippers and Turkey, often misbehave because of their mood swings. Ginger, the other colleague, is only 12 and is thus entrusted with running small errands only. Bartleby works well until the third day when he turns down requests from his boss. The boss is shocked after discovering that Ginger lives in the office, tries firing him but is unsuccessful.


The boss moves to a new home but Bartleby refuses to join him there. The office’s new owners also fail in their attempt to eject Bartleby and eventually have to call the police. The boss volunteers to bring him food in prison, which he refuses to eat, eventually dying of starvation. It turns out that Bartleby was working in a dead-letter workplace, and this may have contributed to his state of alienation.

Melville and Kafka present characters whose alienation from society led to their being ultimately sacrificed. The characters are difficult to connect with because they are depicted as ambiguous antiheroes. They are existentialist narratives that compel humankind to critique the meaning of life and the need for a purpose in life.

Works Cited

Kafka, Franz. Metamorphosis. 2013. Online.

Melville, Herman. Bartleby, the Scrivener. 1999. Online.

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