The role played by distorted ideas of love in the breaking point of both Thomas Mann’s character Aschenbach and Franz Kafka’s character Gregor.
In Death In Venice by Thomas Mann and Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, the idea of love is both distorted by the main characters. This distorted idea of love is the main cause of why both the central characters are driven to the breaking point where they would lose what is valued to them the highest.
Thomas Mann, through the construction of Aschenbach’s attention to morals such as discipline, explores the corruption of his character through his glorification of love, which is Tadzio. Therefore his breaking point of where he loses the most valued to him, is when he had declared his love for Tadzio.
Franz Kafka, uses Gregor as a character that gives unconditionally, ‘ lovingly’ as he would put it, Kafka is opening up areas through Gregor’s selflessness toward his family. His main point of affection being his sister. Gregor’s breaking point would have been when his sister disowns him as a brother.
Both Kafka and Mann both use the theme of love in a distortional state.
Gregor had a love for his family.
In Metamorphosis, Mann uses the first action of Gregor’s transformation to start off to show the priority that Gregor had given his family in his life. But in attempt to express his love to his family, he has warped the idea of love. He had equated the amount of work and material benefits to the way he loves his family.
Despite waking up as a ‘monstrous vermin’ Gregor’s first action of the day was to look for the time. He completely disregards the need to be shocked due to his transformation and proceeds on with the schedule that would support his family. Mann is defining the cause of why Gregor first thought was to catch the train. Gregor is holding back his own comfort and prospects at a better job for his parents’ benefit. He has taken on the burden of the family, which is his parent’s debt towards his boss.Gregor had provided the family with comfort and a stable income until that morning where he had transformed. His family led a lazy and unmotivated life. This is overindulgence in Gregor’s part. Despite his un-willingness in carrying on the job of a travelling salesman, he was preserving for his parent’s sake, he was carrying on for the love of the family that he gained through selflessness.
‘ This getting up so early’ he thought ‘ makes anyone a complete idiot’
Gregor had a subconscious viewpoint of how he viewed his work to his family. He was aware of his contributions bringing more harm than good. There was a sense of realization of what he was doing wrong but since there was the use of the words ‘complete idiot’, Gregor has also subconsciously perceived himself to be distanced from the idea of logic. Kafka has set the stage for Gregor’s beginning downfall.
Aschenbach had a love of order.
In Death And Venice, Aschenbach’s first outright emotion was to show disgust at a figure that shows false youth. He felt that this youth was unnatural, harsh and that underneath all the flamboyance was still the evidence of age. He at that point felt that his moral compass was the strongest. He was brimming with criticism for the ‘false youth’ he had just encountered.
‘A shudder ran through Aschenbach as he watched him and his interplay with his friends’
His disgust ran though him, unlike Gregor, Aschenbach consciously knew what was that was wrong with this scene that he was going through. He was put off by this figure of ‘false youth’, Aschenbach finds that he is a complete misinterpretation of what it means to be embracing old age.
As compared to Gregor, Aschenbach has a much heavier hand on those that do not share the same feelings about order as him. As for Gregor, he does not mind, or rather he is more tolerant of different conflicting portrayals of love when compared to Ashenbach. Gregor works hard, he is working hard for his family but he tolerates his family. He puts up with their unwillingness to contribute to the family. While for Aschenbach, he is instantly overwhelmed with his disgust with this figure of impropriety, this can been seen to his acute attention to details. ‘ scrawny , emaciated’ as described by him. These two words are of similar meaning but to put the point of his disgust through Mann has used repetition to place the emphasis on how Aschenbach feels. Aschenbach feels so strongly about this issue that what he feels cannot be expressed in only one word. While for Gregor, his language is hardly descriptive, mundane if you can say. He is shown as a calm individual even upon the subconscious realization of his delusions, he quickly switches back to the man who does not question his family priorities.
Mann and Kafka are both setting the stage for the downfall of Aschenbach and Gregor. They both have outlined what was important to them and set the scene so that a shocking incident would shake this important belief in them. Their reactions both show the effect of the delusions of love on them. Aschenbach and his beloved morals and Gregor and his love for his family.
The final act of love displayed by both Aschenbach and Gregor was also shown to be distorted.
‘If it were Gregor, he would have realized long ago that it isn’t possible for human being..away of his own free will’
In response to his sister displeasure to his existence, his only reaction was to die. He still puts up with this failure for his family. His family lack of care towards him, their use of him. When he became a insect, they saw no use for him, they then in turn become ungrateful. His sister only motive for looking after him was the fact that he could be the brother or the supporter of the family he was before. Therefore she threw a fit when her mother started to clean in place of her. She is unwilling to allow Gregor to know that she was not treating him as well as before. But when Gregor rushed out to listen to her music, a common topic where they initially loved, there is a smack realization of that the Gregor that she used to play to, is gone. He would never be the same again.
In Metamorphosis, Gregor’s final act of love was to die. He was utterly broken down by his sister comment to him on how he should die if he was really Gregor so that he would just become a fond memory not a horror. His final act of love was to show that he was still Gregor, he still has this humanity inside of him. Him dying would prove that he was aware of all that was going on in the family. How he apologizes to them for bringing too much trouble. Gregor’s love was too selfless, too delusional, too dependent on the fact that his good work would bring him his family’s love.
In comparison to Aschenbach who had abandoned his love of order for Tadzio, this is extremely evident when he becomes the very thing that he was disgusted with. The way in which he describes the blush of the old man was , ‘ matt crimson’ while his own ‘ sparely applied carmine’. The result in where they looked like was similar. An old man disguised in youth. But yet as compared to before his reaction towards the old man, his was one of pleasure and surprise. ‘ his heart pounding’ He was excited by this transformation. This too shows a change in his morals.
Aschenbach’s final act of love , was to try to protect Tadzio, just like how Gregor tried to protect his family.
‘ Horrified, Aschenbach was about to spring to his aid… quarry free’
‘ He thought back on his family with deep emotion and love’ – Metamorphosis page 51
Both of their final thoughts, show selflessness, their ability to put others before themselves on why this ability is shown as love for them. Gregor was one who had placed his family before, Aschenbach was one who replaced his morals with Tadzio. Both caught up in illusions of how love should be shown.
In conclusion, Aschenbach and Tadzio had a similar relationship as Gregor and his sister. Their love both remained unappreciated and questioned if their love was even love at all. Or was it just delusions that were played out. Aschenbach and Gregor both met their death after an attempt to reach out to their loved ones. This shows that their love was falsified to begin with, with the expressions of love that they have given. The delusions that they will be appreciated and loved back. The hope that they both carry to be recognized.