How does one’s relationship to parental authority shape a person’s development? Freud analyzes the importance of such “opposition between the generations” for individual development in his Family Romances (Freud, 37). In Mann’s The Blood of the Walsungs, the twins Siegmund and Sieglinde exaggerate generational opposition and position themselves as independent of the authority of their parents. At the other extreme, Gregor in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is so attached to his family that he lacks a distinct self. Each story follows this chasm to its conclusion: Gregor collapses inward and dies without the reliance of his family while Siegmund and Sieglinde forge not only their own family, but their own metaphorical race. Although Mann’s portrayal of the twins leads to utter independence from authority and outsiders-in contrast to Gregor’s lack of character-it is only through an equilibrium of the two extremes that results in the brightest future for development: Gregor’s sister Grete.
First, Mann and Kafka introduce their characters’ relationships to their families. At the beginning of The Metamorphosis Gregor lies in bed, grousing about his job, thinking “If [he] didn’t have to hold back because of [his] parents [he’d] have given notice long ago” (Kafka, 54). It is already apparent how Gregor readily sacrifices his own desires for the sake of his family. However, when Siegmund and Sieglinde enter for family dinner, they wear each other’s gifts, dress in a similar fashion, and walk “always hand in hand” (Mann, 293). Although there is no outright conflict within the family, Mann emphasizes the twins’ special relationship apart from the rest of the family. Whereas Gregor is consumed by his work and efforts to repay his parents’ debts, Sieglinde’s and Siegmund remove themselves from the affairs of the greater family.
Once a person’s relation with his or her family is settled, problems arise along with yearning for something “better.”Freud writes in Family Romances that “daydreams [show] that their purpose is wish-fulfillment and the correction of real life” (Freud, 38). Gregor’s strange and terrifying metamorphosis arises from repression of genuine desires, while the twins’ desire for cleanliness and disdain for their Jewish parents convey their desire to be apart from the family. Gregor metamorphoses because he nurtures his resentment towards his job and boss instead of openly revolting against both the company and his parents. These suppressed desires manifest when Gregor thinks “The devil take it all!” and as if in response he immediately feels “a slight itching up on his belly” which reminds him of his newfound condition (Kafka, 54). Rather than an illness, the metamorphosis is the vehicle through which Gregor no longer has to report to work. Although Gregor continues to suppress his desire for independence with thoughts of obligation to his family, his condition is a form of wish-fulfillment. On the other hand, in Blood of the Walsungs, Sieglinde and Sieglinde communicate “together in an understanding from which everybody else [is] shut out” (Mann, 297). Additionally, Siegmund has “so abnormal and constant a need for purification that actually he spent a considerable part of his time before the wash-basin” (Mann, 301). In these actions, the twins “dream” of purifying themselves of their racial and familial ties.
Intentions link wish-fulfillment to reality. In Gregor’s case, his liberation from duty effects his downfall. Gregor’s benign intentions paradoxically make him more bug-like and lead him closer to his eventual death. When the chief clerk comes knocking on Gregor’s door in the morning, Gregor responds to the chief’s threats by begging “Oh sir, do spare my parents!…Don’t let me detain you here, sir; I’ll be attending to business very soon” and consequently he loses both his ability to speak and his job (Kafka, 63). Later, Gregor’s attempts to see his mother fails miserably, when his mother begins to panic and Gregor’s father throws apples until one “[lands] right on his back and [gets stuck] in it,” which leads to his loss of sight (Kafka, 90). Finally, Gregor inches closer to his sister as she plays the violin for the boarders, fantasizing about being her protector. Yet Gregor’s presence horrifies the boarders, who then refuse to pay their rent, and his sister declares that they “must try to get rid of it” (Kafka, 103). This final denial by his family causes weakness and finally a paralysis in Gregor that leads to death by starvation. When he ceases even to be a member of the family, Gregor has no reason to live and consequently dies.
Sieglinde and Siegmund’s intentions aim for purity. The twins make their independent relationship known to the family. As they announce their intentions to attend the Walkure, Beckerath voices his enthusiasm in joining, but Siegmund replies with “Sieglinde and I were asking you to permit us to hear the Walkure once more alone together before the wedding” (Mann, 300). The intimate nature of their relationship is expressed in an incestuous caress prior to the opera. Each description of the opera further reveals the erotic tension between the twins; the twins even consummate their relationship by having sex on the same bear skin rug as in the opera. As Siegmund looks down at his sister, he sees “her love and her destiny and [knows] that so life must be and to be creative” (Mann, 313). This final act of incest is the ultimate act of defiance against both the family and the outside world. Rather than please their parents with the marriage to Beckerage, Sieglinde and Siegmund defy parental authority and prove they do not need parents or authority figures for a family. In a sense, the twins have developed completely and independently from their parents.
Although clearly a better alternative to Gregor’s tragic death, Mann’s system is an imperfect solution for two reasons: the twins can never truly be individuals, and they have no outside friends. Rather than either extreme, Grete is an intermediate: exhibiting both independence and familial duty. After Gregor’s transformation, Grete “[grows] accustomed…to consider herself an expert in Gregor’s affairs as against her parents” (Kafka, 85). The small acts of rebellion that ensue as Grete argues with her mother over care of Gregor’s room color her character. Whereas Gregor blindly heeded his duty to his family, Grete is not afraid to speak out. Furthermore, while Gregor’s father remarks that Gregor would only sit in his room when he came home from work, Grete “[loves] music and could play the violin movingly” (Kafka, 78) in addition to other educational joys. Additionally, it is Grete who finally announces to the family that it is time to get rid of Gregor. Consequently, Grete’s independent assertions allow her to grow into a young woman, so that when the family is finally free of Gregor, the parents watch as Grete “[springs] to her feet first and stretch[es] her young body” (Kafka, 111). Where the Walsungs have a closed future and Gregor dies from lack of substance, Grete’s is open, individual and full of vitality.
Achieving maximum development is a matter of balancing independence with family obligations. Mann’s Blood of the Walsungs, expresses the danger of too much disconnect with authority, while Kafka’s Metamorphosis demonstrates the consequences of too much familial devotion. Therefore, one must maintain individuality and a confidence to pursue avenues outside of the family without divorcing oneself completely from the family structure.
Freud, Sigmund, David McLintock, and Hugh Haughton. The Uncanny. New York: Penguin, 2003. Print.
Kafka, Franz. The Sons. New York: Schocken, 1989. Print.
Mann, Thomas. “Blood of the Walsungs.” Death in Venice and Seven Other Stories. New York: Vintage, 1954. 293-319. Print.