Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Postcolonial Critique of Kafka's 'Metamorphosis'

"Literary Theory Week" has come to an end!  In my English 2600 class taught by Professor Albrecht-Crane at UVU, we began by reading the short story "The Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka.  Then we applied every theory we discussed (one a week) to that short story.  Here is my final paper, this one on postcolonial theory:

Resisting the inclination to universalize literature and thus ignore the cultural differences in the human experience—like a liberal humanist would—postcolonial criticism recognizes the biased Eurocentric views being promoted in this attempt at “universalism.”  In discussing postcolonial criticism more fully, I will begin by summarizing this approach as explained by Peter Barry in the third edition of his book Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory.  After this summary, I will apply these ideas practically to Franz Kafka’s short story “The Metamorphosis.”

According to Barry, postcolonial criticism traces back to a psychiatrist named Frantz Fanon who published a book called The Wretched of the Earth in 1961(186).  In the book, Fanon voices “cultural resistance” to France’s empire in Africa and, as Barry states it, argues that the colonized must find their voice and “reclaim their own past” from the colonizer (186).  Edward Said, author of Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism, has much to say about the colonizer, and as Barry paraphrases, Europeans have a “long-standing way of identifying the East as ‘Other’ and inferior to the West” (186).  Barry summarizes them both: “If the first step towards a postcolonial perspective is to reclaim one’s own past, then the second is to begin to erode the colonialist ideology by which that past had been devalued” (186). 

This idea that the East is somehow inferior to the West fits perfectly into the first of four characteristics of postcolonial criticism that Barry identifies (187).  According to Barry, the culture of the non-European is seen as “exotic or immoral,” and the postcolonial writer will try to evoke a “precolonial version of their own nation” to try to go back to their roots (187).  The second characteristic Barry sets forth involves the colonizer’s language and how it is imposed on the colonized (188).  Barry expounds by saying, “This linguistic difference amounts to a sense that the linguistic furniture belongs to somebody else, and therefore shouldn’t be moved around without permission” (188).  The language of the colonizer seems foreign and tainted.

The third characteristic in postcolonial writing, as Barry puts it, is one of “hybrid identity” where the colonized begins to identify with the colonizer in certain ways while still maintaining a close connection to his or her own roots (188).  “This stress on ‘cross-cultural’ interactions,” as Barry writes, “is a fourth characteristic of postcolonialist criticism” (188).  The colonized first adopts the ways of the colonizer, then adapts them to form his or her style, and then finally becomes truly adept.

When analyzing “The Metamorphosis,” one can easily see Gregor as the colonized while his family is the colonizer.  Kafka writes, “But their little exchange had made the rest of the family aware that, contrary to expectations, Gregor was still in the house” (5).  The use of the word “exchange” seems to imply the act of their colonizing and despite what the family wants, Gregor won’t leave the house which he himself purchased.  And like most colonizers, the colonized is seen as unwanted and doesn’t seem to live up to expectations.

In fact, Gregor doesn’t seem capable of commanding the language of his colonizers.  The words coming out of his mouth seem “garbled” (Kafka 5) and the manager asks the family, “Did you understand a word?” (Kafka 10).  Nobody does.  No matter how hard Gregor tries to communicate, his family never understands him.  They continue to see him as the “exotic and immoral ‘Other’” that Barry writes about.  To them he’s “vermin” (Kafka 3) and they simply cannot understand the way he eats or the way he lives, holed up in his room crawling around on the ceilings.  Here the colonized is clearly seen as inferior to the colonizers, and they want nothing to do with him.

Postcolonial criticism is an unforgiving critique of the effects of European colonialism.  The way many of us, as Westerners, see the world is obviously tainted and it is important that we recognize that.  We must strive to understand the view of the colonized, realize that all cultures have value and try to “erode the colonialist ideology” as Fanon and Said would have us do.

Works Cited

Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. 3rd Ed. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2009. Print. 

Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. Trans. and ed. Stanley Corngold. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996. Print.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hey thanks for posting your papers! i'm doing a final paper on kafka and postcolonialism, so this helped a lot, as i have not found much in libraries about them both.


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