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Unpacking Hellmuth Kaiser: Kafka's Fantasy of Punishment

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Andrew Zulker

on 4 February 2011

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Transcript of Unpacking Hellmuth Kaiser: Kafka's Fantasy of Punishment

Kaiser argues that Gregor's metamorphosis is his own subconscious self-punishment for usurping his father, and as a result of the metamorphosis, they switch roles: Gregor regresses into childhood, and the father resumes dominance. “This development is introduced by the collapse of the father’s business…so that [Gregor] soon becomes the breadwinner for his parents and sister" (148). Gregor's "ambition grows with his success, [and he] finally goes so far in his care of his family that he resolves to send his sister to the conservatory" (148). "The son becomes strong as a result of the business failure of his father, through his competence cripples his father's self-esteem and acquisitive sense, and finally takes over the father's position in the family while the latter sinks into the degraded state of a dependent, helpless, needy creature" (149). “At that time Gregor’s only concern had been to do his utmost to make the family forget as possible the business failure that had plunged them all into a state of total disrepair. And so he had set to work with tremendous zeal, and had risen almost overnight from junior clerk to become a traveling salesman, which naturally opened up completely new financial opportunities so that in not time at all his success was instantly translated, by way of commissions, into hard cash, which could be laid out on the table under the eyes of his astonished and delighted family. … Later on, Gregor had been earning enough to pay the entire family’s expenses, and in fact had been doing so. They’d simply gotten used to it” (351). It was Gregor’s “secret plan that [Grete]…should next year attend the Conservatory. … His parents weren’t happy to hear even these innocent remarks, but Gregor’s ideas on the subject were firm” (351). Agree or Disagree? “The word ‘punishment’ does not seem appropriate, since after all the son has done nothing more than that which a keen sense of family responsibility would have prescribed to anyone in his position. … But if we look very closely, we shall still be able to discover…concealed traces [of hostile feelings toward the father]” (150). "'Ah!' [Gregor's father] roared ... in a voice that sounded at once furious and gleeful" (Kafka 357). Oedipus Complex Gregor ends up dying under the couch, and his father becomes the primary breadwinner again. Kaiser uses Freudian psycho-sexual development theory to explain the deterioration. Sigmund Freud: 19-20th century psychoanalyst
Five phases of development:
Oral
Anal
Phallic
Latency
Genital Ages 3-6: Oedipus Complex Father Gregor Huck Finn Jim and Huck switch roles " 'Is your man white or black?' I didn't answer up prompt. I tried to, but the words wouldn't come. I tried for a second or two to brace up and be out with it, but I warn't man enough--hadn't the spunk of a rabbit. I see I was weakening, so I just give up trying, and up and says: 'He's white' " (Twain 89). Huck Immature Jim fatherly and loving “When I got all wore out with work, en wid de callin’ for you, en went to sleep, my heart wuz mos’ broke bekase you wuz los’, en I didn’t k’yer no’ mo’ what become er me en da raf’” (Twain 85). Huck matures, gains "upper hand" "It was a close place. I took it (the letter) up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: 'All right, then, I'll go to hell' - and tore it up" (235). “The insect of The Metamorphisis feels a decided pleasure in things that are unclean and disgusting, hence, in feces, and can therefore enjoy the spoiled food without disgust” (151) “The son cannot put himself in the father’s position without the father’s putting himself in the son’s position… anality… driven out of one person, must enter into another” (156) “There are two scenes of maltreatment. In the first scene two injuries occur; in the second, two apples strike. The repeated occurrence of the number two strengthens the interpretation, in any case obvious, that the mistreatments are ‘acts of castration’” (157) Kaiser quotes Kafka: “‘[Gregor] saw his mother run up to his father and on the way her unfastened petticoats slide to the floor one by one; and saw as, stumbling over them, she forced herself onto his father, and embracing him, incomplete union with him’” (154) progresses to genital phase regresses to anal phase
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