Parallel Themes in Metamorphosis and The Death of Ivan Ilyich



Several themes occur in both Franz Kafka’s, Metmorphosis and Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich, however the way in which these themes are presented and the meanings associated with them vary in each work. Isolation, materialism, and self discovery are ideas found in both pieces of literature.


Both works have a constant theme of isolation. In Kafka’s work Gregor is transformed into an insect. His entire family and employer immediately reject him. His father locks him in his room; his mother faints at the mere sight of him. None of them worry about how Gregor is feeling in regards to his transformation. Their worry is more about who will provide for them now, since in the past Gregor had been the sole source of income for the family. To add to his feelings of loneliness, Gregor, being an insect is incapable of communicating with them. Rather, he must stand by in silence; powerless to speak, complain, or protest anything.


The idea of isolation presents itself differently in Tolstoy’s story. The isolation that Ivan experiences comes from the fact that whenever Ivan encounters a situation that does not promote his pleasant existence, he alienates himself from it.


“In his work itself, especially in his examinations, he very soon acquired a method of eliminating all considerations irrelevant to the legal aspect of the case, and reducing even the most complicated case to a form in which it would be presented on paper only in its externals, completely excluding his personal opinion of the matter, while above all observing every prescribed formality” (1191)


Ivan was masterful at taking the most complicated of matters and reducing them to simple forms on paper. This ability was reflected in the way he dealt with potentially emotional and personal situations with apathy and objectivity, reflects in all aspects of his life. As aforementioned, Ivan deals with unlikable affairs and relationships by pushing them away and erecting barriers between himself and the possible offensive influence. When married life grows challenging for Ivan he spends more and more time at work, and when he ends up having to be at home he keeps a safe distance from his wife and family by inviting guests to join him. Ivan expects the world to be predictable, and as soon as something unexpected arises, he retreats. Much like his professional life, Ivan\'s personal life is reserved and detached. By shutting out his wife, family, and the rest of the world, Ivan manages to shut himself in. The isolation Ivan feels is in part self-inflicted.


Economic livelihood and the importance of material possessions play a part in both of the stories. In Metamorphosis Gregor is almost enslaved by forces of materialism. By turning Gregor into an insect that can observe his family from a different perspective, Kafka can show man\'s preoccupation with financial security. Before his transformation, Gregor is miserable at work, but he cannot quit since he is the sole wage earner for the Samsa family. Nothing at work satisfies him, and his boss treats him unfairly. His selfish family does not appreciate the lengths he goes to for them. Unfortunately, Gregor does not have the courage to go out and find something better; he accepts his miserable existence in order to have financial security. The concept of money is also shown as important to the family when they take in the boarders to compensate for Gregor not providing for them anymore. They do whatever the boarders request, even turning Gregor’s room into a catch-all for trash.
Money means something different in The Death of Ivan Ilyich. For Ivan, money makes him fit in. The Ilyich family bases itself upon the unsure foundation of wealth. As Ivan ascends the rungs of the corporate ladder, he acquires new possessions and articles. Ivan eats at “first class restaurant[s].” (1190) His clothes came from “the fashionable tailor.” (1190) His things were “purchased at the best shops” (1190) to keep up appearances. For his wedding to Fiorodovna, Ivan buys “new furniture, new crockery, new linen[s]” (1192) to be proper and “decorous.” Ivan even decorated his home in a certain manner to appear that he was successful and wealthy.


“In reality it was just what is usually seen in the houses