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Comparing and Contrasting Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” With Leo Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilych”


When people are trying to achieve professional success while also maintaining a stable family life, they commonly want to establish a balance optimal for both goals. Nevertheless, the harsh reality of life is that it is impossible to possess both of these things; rather, a person must give up one to have the other. A similar sentiment might be expressed in the short tales “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka and “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” by Leo Tolstoy. One of the most important recurring themes that runs across both of these stories is the overwhelming obstacle of attempting to strike a balance between one’s professional life and the responsibilities that one has to one’s family. Gregor Samsa, the protagonist of Kafka’s work, and Ivan Ilyich, the protagonist of Tolstoy’s story, have had their lives impacted by the issue. As a result, the paper aims to examine how “The Metamorphosis” and “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” depict the challenges of balancing the two sides of life and compare and contrast how individuals deal with the demands of professional achievement and familial responsibilities.

Difference in Plot

The framework used by the director of “Metamorphosis,” Franz Kafka, depicts the narrative as an adult fairy-tale that is somehow inverted based on kindness; this virtue is seemingly not rewardable or appreciated in the society characterized by the narrative as evil always wins. Of course, the ideal narrative concept is sarcastic; however, it can be felt mainly due to how the novel addresses the idea of the fairy tale. In the context of a child’s fairy tale, Gregor may go from insect to man who eventually enjoys the sunlight and, in the long run, a prize for his suffering and patience; in Kafka’s narrative, however, Gregor transforms into a bug from a man and perishes before enjoying the sunlight. The tale is an inverted plan to mirror modern life’s inverted ideals where self-love looks nobler than self-sacrifice.

The plot of this narrative depicts Gregor waking up to discover himself changed into a human-sized insect. He does, however, retain his human essence. The irony of this “transformation” is that Gregor is the only one who handles it with decency and respect. After witnessing him looking like a bug, his family forces him back into his room and barricades themselves on the other side of the door. They demonstrate a total lack of human traits such as sympathy emp,athy, patience, and compassion. Their primary worry is the shock to their senses.

Gregor’s transformation occurs while he is asleep and has mind-blowing nightmares. His shift has been seen as a subconscious attempt to escape the pressures of being the family breadwinner. The framed portrait of the woman with the feather boa might represent the suppressed desires experienced by Gregor. Before his transition, his familial commitments kept him from seeking sexual connections. When Gregor resolves to sacrifice himself so his family might have a better existence, he becomes Christ-like. The Metamorphosis might be seen as a theological metaphor that compares Gregor’s death to Jesus Christ’s.

In “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka, the style contributes to the overall horrific aspect in various ways. It is possible to utilize this passage from lines 304-306 to demonstrate what Gregor says, “I’ll open up immediately, just a moment. I’m slightly unwell, an attack of dizziness. I haven’t been able to get up.” In the text, these lines demonstrate that Kafka uses a straightforward approach to depict this nightmare. Gregor takes the situation as if it might happen to anybody, and he continues to strive to fulfill his usual tasks even though he has entirely converted from a human into a bug. Gregor is under the impression that his change is nothing more than a cold, and Kafka portrays it fairly vaguely, leaving it possible for the reader to choose their interpretation of it.

Nonetheless, in Leo Tolstoy’s short story, “The Death of Ivan Ilych,” Ivan’s friends and relatives’ lack of concern for him after his death was the primary focus of Tolstoy’s emphasis. Because the first portion is presented from Peter Ivanovich’s perspective, we only see and meet Praskovya, Ivan’s wife, via his point of view the entire time. Given that it was not stated from her point of view, we can only base our thoughts on the acts she took. All she could think about was the money she was going to collect from the government now that she was a widow, rather than grieving over the loss of her husband like she should have been. It is clear from this that she never had any feelings for Ivan. The only reason she was using him was to provide financial assistance.

Throughout his ordeal, Ivan’s narrative is seen as a tragedy because he is left with no one to care for him except his miserable servant boy. Even though they are supposed to love him to distraction, his family is pulling away from him and trying to conceal the truth that he is passing away. As the guys he worked with, all of whom are said to have liked the deceased man, discuss his death as if it were a passing trend and ponder the tedious duty that lies ahead of them, his links to the world are depicted in equally superficial ways. The closer of Ivan Ilych’s acquaintances, his so-called pals, could not help but think that they would now have to satisfy the extremely tiresome duties of propriety by attending the burial ceremony and making a visit of sympathy to the widow. This was something that they could not think about. The subtexts in this context describe the tale of a guy who lived in the nineteenth century and possessed all of the characteristics of the contemporary, twenty-first-century self. This man did not have a spiritual life, who estranged himself from other people, and who was pushed by his disease to search for and discover genuine meaning. Ivan does not become fully conscious of his actual solitude in the world until he is lying in bed, having passed away.

Achieving Professional Success While Balancing Family Responsibilities in the Stories

“Death of Ivan Ilyich” by Leo Tolstoy and “Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka are works of literature published in the latter half of the 19th century and the early beginning of the 20th century. Both of these works depict characters who are members of the middle class but who are experiencing mental and physical instability. In both of these pieces, the characters have been through a huge crisis in their life and have found a way to settle their concerns with death. In their respective works, Gregor Samsa and Ivan Ilych demonstrate the process of liberating oneself from the burden of being depersonalized by one’s family, friends, and society. In each of these tales, the action, which was death, generated important similarities and variances regarding the protagonists and the other characters.

“The Metamorphosis” and “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” examine the challenges of meeting the demands of professional achievement and familial responsibilities. However, the aspect that sticks out the most is the sense of sacrifice shown in both works. Kafka portrays Gregor as the primary provider for his family, and he asserts that before the transformation, he was obligated to put forth a great deal of effort to guarantee that he had earned sufficient funds to support his family and settle their financial obligations. It is because of his family, who have been living in terrible conditions that he is forced into this position and assumed to work hard. Even when he is feeling ill, he is scared to tell his mother about it because he is terrified of what she would think of him. As soon as Gregor realizes that he has transformed into an insect, the author demonstrates that he is not preoccupied with his condition but rather with the necessity of getting ready and going to work for the sake of his family. Therefore, because of this, he is portrayed as having difficulty getting out of bed and getting ready for work. After some time, the family realizes that Gregor has become an insect. This is the same circumstance in which Gregor is troubled by the fact that he cannot provide for his family since he overhears the family discussing the family’s difficult financial position (Kafka 341). Consequently, it portrays the idea that Gregor’s level of professional achievement is determined by the amount of duty he has for his family.

Similarly, the main character in the narrative “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” Ivan Ilyich, might be described in the same way. It is presented that the protagonist is a person who has always been motivated by the desire to achieve success to provide a better life for his fellow family members. When Ivan decides to quit his job before moving into his brother-in-law’s house in the county, he demonstrates the concept of devoting oneself to one’s work to reward family responsibilities. This situation is where Ivan loses a chance in his career that would signal advancement in his professional life. Ivan realizes that the wage he receives is insufficient to cover his family’s costs. As a result, he decides to leave them behind and depart for St. Petersburg in search of a position that offers a greater salary (Tolstoy 312).

Similar to the situation that Gregor found himself in, Ivan thinks that his family would not be able to have a respectable life if he did not work. Therefore, he must work diligently throughout his life to earn a higher wage that will allow him to provide for his family. Thus, the concept of sacrifice may be observed in the two characters, who, about their families, do not value themselves other than the requirement to care for them. As a result, they experience feelings of helplessness whenever they observe that their families are going through or may be going through a period of financial difficulty, which in turn causes them to feel guilty about failing to fulfill their responsibilities to assist their families.

On the other hand, it is made clear that the two characters cannot strike a balance between their professional achievement and their responsibilities to their families, which ultimately results in a feeling of preoccupation with professional success. Gregor’s life is shown as that of an individual solely focused on his profession, and this state of mind is represented in a number of the initial ideas he has when he first opens his eyes. The fact that the protagonist has transformed into an insect does not worry him in the least, and the only thing his mind focuses on is his task. He describes how he is distinct from other salespeople, including that he cannot engage in some activities, such as eating breakfast, since he is required to satisfy his superior (Kafka 355). Gregor is not even bothered by the fact that he is an insect, and this status would not work in his favor because he is already at a disadvantage. This demonstrates that Gregor is not an insect. The concept that he needs to get out of bed and catch the train is something that he is adamantly opposed to. This gives the impression that he is unaware that he is not in a good state of affairs; nonetheless, the fixation on helping his family pay off their debt and pleasing his boss is the break he looks forward to experiencing.

Additionally, Ivan is a person who adopts the same obsessive mindset, and this demonstrates how he has failed to fulfill his responsibilities as a husband and a father to his family. Because of this, the author of “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” makes the observation that immediately after his marriage, Ivan realized that the only way he could fulfill his responsibility in his marital life was by becoming more ambitious at work to build a good existence according to the norms of society (Tolstoy 330). On the other hand, Ivan and Praskovya’s relationship is negatively impacted by this, and it becomes increasingly acrimonious as the years pass in their marriage. Ivan falls victim to an accident shortly after relocating to St. Petersburg, which puts his life in jeopardy and even threatens his position as the primary provider for his family. However, he does not pay attention to this. As a result, he does not realize that it will eventually cost him his entire life, which he put in jeopardy by equating career achievement with family responsibilities. After the stories, it is made abundantly obvious that the two protagonists end up losing their lives because they cannot strike a balance between their professional achievement and their responsibilities to their families.


Gregor Samsa, the protagonist of Kafka’s work, and Ivan Ilyich, the protagonist of Tolstoy’s story, are depicted as people who are immersed in the concept that they must make sacrifices to care for their families. The only way to achieve a perfect equilibrium between the two is to reduce the amount of time spent at work and to redefine the goals that one has for themselves when they are employed. The individual loses their responsibility to cultivate stronger connections with their family members when they adopt the mindset that they are obligated to work always to fulfill their obligation to provide for their family. As a result, the two narratives both illustrate the same notion of irony: people assume that they may fulfill their commitments to their families by achieving success in their respective professions.

Works Cited

Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. Modern Library Publications, 2013.

Tolstoy, Leo. The Death of Ivan Ilych. Melville House, 2008.


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