Freudianism is defined by Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis on the psyche as consisting of three parts: the id, the ego, and the superego. The main character, Gregor, of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis exemplifies these three parts of the psyche. The id, “the seat of human instincts and the source of all physical desires”, refers to Gregor Samsa’s secret sexual desire for both his sister and his mother (Fiero, 26). The ego, “the administrator of the id” or “the ‘manager’ that attempts to adapt the needs of the id to the real world” refers to his attempts to feed his urges, but having to hold back in order to conform to society (Fiero, 26).
Finally, the superego, “the moral monitor commonly called the ‘conscience’”, refers to Gregor’s ethics and their influences (Fiero, 26). Gregor’s true struggle is because of the repression of his feelings towards his sister and his mother, which define the id of Freudianism.
The id refers to the unconscious; the internal feelings humans first have in order to satisfy their urges. These feelings only correlate to the self, which is “the instinctual pool from which the ego and superego evolve” (Askay and Farquhar, 76).
Throughout the book, Gregor’s sister is the only one who cares for him when he is turned into an insect. His father shoos him away with a cane and while making hissing noises, and his mother runs away in disgust. His sister brings him food, cleans his room, and takes care of him. She is the one he feels the strongest connection to in his family. He also loves that she plays the violin. He finds her musical talent incredibly beautiful, just like her; “for no one here appreciated her playing the way he would appreciate it” (Kafka, 46).
Gregor is secretly sexually attracted to his sister, which shows when he thinks about how he would comfort her if she were to get upset “… and Gregor would raise himself up to her shoulder and kiss her on the neck which, ever since she started going out to work, she kept bare, without a ribbon or collar” (Kafka, 47). Gregor wants to respond to his innate sexual desire for his sister, but he is trapped by his metamorphosis. Gregor Samsa also had a questionable affliction for his mother, with whom he is the most frustrated. Though she is initially disgusted, his mother loves Gregor and wishes to help him.
When his father started throwing apples at him to make Gregor go away, his mother intervened and begged for his life: “She forced herself onto his father, and embracing him, in complete union with him…” (Kafka, 37). There is somewhat of a competition between Gregor and his father for the attention of his mother. There can only be one man in his mother’s life, and his father has already taken that position. Gregor is required by his father to be submissive towards him and repress his true feelings for his mother, which makes him miserable.
Gregor’s desire fulfills the id part of Freud’s psychoanalysis because the id is characterized as innate urges needing to be satisfied and is basically “a repository of instinctual impulses, the reservoir of libidinal energies” (Askay and Farquhar, 76). Gregor has all these impulses, feelings, and desires that he wants and needs to fulfill, but he cannot. Gregor’s inability to fulfill his urges is the result of the ego, or the mediator of the id, which controls his urges and provides other ways to satisfies them that are acceptable to society.
Askay and Farquhar describe the ego as “essentially a defense against threatening forces as well as a means for survival” (76). Since, after his metamorphosis, Gregor’s family refused to see him or let him come out of his room; he was forced to find other ways to try to see or hear what was going on outside of his containment. “In the living room, as Gregor saw through the crack in the door, the gas had been lit… ” (Kafka, 21). Even when Gregor’s sister would come in to bring him food, or clean up his room, he would race under the couch, otherwise she would not come.
While squished uncomfortably under the couch, he “had pushed out his head forward just to the edge of the couch and was watching her” in order to fulfill his need to human contact (Kafka, 22). Gregor desperately needed to know what was going on with his family, so “as soon as he heard voices, he would immediately run to the door concerned and press his whole body against it. Especially in the early days, there was no conversation that was not somehow about him, if only implicitly”, and that was his only way to find out (Kafka 24). The ego can fluctuate between thoughts of unconsciousness and consciousness.
“Thoughts that can easily become conscious again are considered ‘preconscious;’ those that sink below all access-for example, censored and rejected as a defensive maneuver-return once again to the unconscious id. When this occurs, thoughts are said to have undergone repression” (Askay and Farquhar, 77). Gregor wishes he could come in contact with his family, especially his sister, and he thinks of this often. Ultimately, he cannot come in contact with his family even though he hopes every day that something will turn around and he will wake up from his ‘dream’ or everything will go back to normal.
Once he realizes these thoughts are useless, they, along with his feelings, slip into repression. For example, “If Gregor had only been able to speak to his sister and thank her for everything she had to do for him, he could have accepted her services more easily; as it was, they caused him pain” (Kafka 28). Although the ego is supposed to control the id, Gregor’s ego slips when his sister and mother are removing the furniture from his room as “he saw hanging conspicuously on the wall which was otherwise bare already the picture of the lady all dressed in furs, hurriedly crawled up on it and pressed himself against the glass” (Kafka 34).
Gregor’s past was being taken away from him, all the items that reminded him of his life as a human, and he acted out of fear. His conscious thoughts slipped into the unconscious, or the id, where he needed to fulfill his urges. The superego is defined as “internalization of family values and social/cultural rules” (Askay and Farquhar, 77). In the Metamorphosis, Gregor’s family takes him for granted. Gregor has an absence of family values, or even a family at all. His mother and father are both out of work, and expect Gregor to pay off all of their debt to his boss.
Gregor’s superego, influenced by his parents (who have trapped him for financial stability), is telling him how important it is for him to work which clouds his thoughts after his alteration: “But what should he do now? The next train left at seven o’clock; to make it, he would have to hurry like a madman, and the line of samples wasn’t packed yet, and he himself didn’t feel especially fresh and ready to march around” (Kafka 4). As Velleman states, “the superego tells us what to do; the ego ideal gives us a model to emulate” (531). Every decision Gregor makes is based off of his superego.
Every time he takes a chance and ventures out of his room, or out of his hiding place, is the result of his conscience, which lacks family union and love: “Was he an animal, that music could move him so? He felt as if the way to the unknown nourishment he longed for were coming to light” (Kafka, 46). He came out of his room to hear his sister play because he felt a connection, one he did not feel with his mother or father. Gregor has been in a constant battle with his conscience, but at the end he finally agrees with it: “His conviction that he would have to disappear was, if possible, even firmer than his sister’s” (Kafka, 51).
After all this time, hoping something would turn around and he’d be back to normal, or that his parents and sister would accept him for what he has become, he finally realizes that will not happen. That he was a burden to his parents, and the hurt he caused to his loved ones (though they did not really seem to love him), was not worth the fight anymore. The Metamorphosis’ main character, Gregor Samsa, contains all aspects of Freudianism, an analysis of the psyche defined by three parts.
The id, the ego, and the superego of Gregor Samsa correlate between his parents and his surroundings. Gregor has urges he needs to fulfill but cannot based on the containment of his job and societal rules (the id). He has to conform to society and attempts to find different ways to satisfy his needs (the ego). And finally the influence of Gregor’s family and job create the origin of his decision-making (the superego). Gregor Samsa’s human and bug-like behavior is all based off of Sigmund Freud’s examination of the psyche.
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