Desire is an expression of the Id - a mixture of pleasure, pain and shit. Desire’s subjugation to Reason is the epitome of the Western ideal. Desire is explosive - it breaks through boundaries of gender, class, and security and therefore presents a challenge to disciplinary systems. In Kafka’s metamorphosis Gregor experiences desire distorted through systems of production – i.e. capitalism and the Victorian household – and is punished when his desires become non-productive.
Gregor has transformed into a “vermin” (p.1). One interpretation of his “vermin” state is that of un-Reason. His ego self has retreated. His family “no longer understood his words” (p.13). Gregor becomes an incomprehensible bug without recognizable human conscious. Furthermore, Gregor finds that his bug body squirms without his control. He watched “his little legs struggling…with each other and saw no way of bringing peace and order into this mindless motion” (p.7). His desire, the Id, is unleashed and is now in control. The ego is buried. Reason no longer directs Gregor’s interactions with the world.
Gregor’s has become non-productive. The “vermin” also represents non-production. From the day Gregor transforms he stops going to work (p.11). “The manager” has come to punish Gregor for “flaunting strange whims” – desires are not to be exhibited openly. The manager tells Gregor “a season for not doing business, there is no such thing” (p.11). Gregor’s infantile desire for withdrawal is in conflict with the production required of Gregor. Furthermore, the value of Gregor’s life is based on capitol – not the fulfillment of desire. Capitol is the source of power and exercises its power on desire in this system. By refusing his productive role in the capitalist system, Gregor becomes worthless. His manager is completely unwilling to stick-up for him once he has become non-productive.
Likewise, Gregors role in the family is based on the need for production in the capitalist system. “Whenever the conversation turned to the necessity of earning money, Gregor would let go of the door and throw himself down on the cool leather sofa which stood beside it, for he felt hot with shame and grief” (p. 27). Gregor cannot be comfortable in his household, because he has transgressed his role as provider. His punishment is constant shame and revulsion.
His role in his family the Victorian household is further undermined by the capitalist system. Not only has Gregor failed his economic role of provider, but the reproductive role of the Victorian family is also frustrated by Gregor’s sexual desires. We know Gregor’s is obsessed with the “lady all dressed in furs” (p. 35). He possesses the picture when his sister and mother remove the other furniture in the room (p.35). Gregor’s sexual desire has been channeled by the machinations of capitalism and production. “Sex sells” – Sexual desire is utilized to feed the system of consumption. Because capitalism channels sexual desire into consumer goods, it follows that Gregor’s desire has become fashioned onto on an object. He “pressed himself against the glass [of the picture], which gave a good surface to stick and smooth is hot belly” (p. 35). Gregor experiences sexual pleasure when he possesses the picture. His desire has become fetishized by the machinations of capitalism.
Likewise, the Victorian model household is designed to coerce sexual desire into productive channels; this in turn, distorts and confuses Gregor’s sexuality. Michel Foucault says in his first History of Sexuality that the Victorian family was inherently incestuous (p. ?). Sealed from the rest of the world children’s sexuality naturally attaches itself to siblings and parents.
Gregor’s father forces an apple into Gregor’s back (p. 37). The apple is often a symbol for original sin – or sex. The apple, therefore, represent an unholy expression of sexuality which rots inside Gregor. This sexual link is reinforced by Gregor’s response to the insertion: “he felt nailed to the spot and stretched out his body in a complete confusion of all the senses” (p.37). Gregor experiences the pleasure and pain of frustrated sexual desire with the insertion of the apple. Despite his desire, he cannot possess the apple and it eats him up inside.
Indeed, incestuous desire only makes sense, since the only intimate relationship Gregor has is with his sister. Because of this relationship her parents accept her as “the particularly well qualified expert” on Gregor (p. 32).
However, while incest may be natural to the Victorian way of life, it is also antithetical to the goal of economic reproduction which the household is designed to bring about. To control the economic impropriety of incest, discipline and control of sexuality becomes a predominant fascination in the structured roles of the household. When Gregor’s Id becomes manifest, the family seals him off from his sister in his room. The father, then, assumes the role of the enforcer of the Victorian rules of conduct. He drives Gregor back with a cane when he first tries to “come out” of the room (p. 18-19). Then again when Gregor leaves the room his father stands in a protective role between Gregor and his sister. He inserts the apple in Gregor’s back (p. 37) – a shame-filled punishment for Gregor’s sexual impropriety. Immediately after inserting the apple – which throughout the story continues to bring Gregor pain and discomfort (p. 41) – his father embraces his mother. “Embracing him, in complete union with him” the mother demonstrates to Gregor the proper, reproductive, expression of sexuality. Gregor’s pleasure is not (re)productive and is therefore denied.
His parents, at the end of the novel, turn to the daughter to fulfill their “dreams and good intentions” by “finding her a good husband” (p. 55). The (re)productive role of the household is reaffirmed with Gregor’s death.