Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Kojima Nobuo’s The American School
Does every story need a hero? Not necessarily, but every story does need a leading character. But does that make him or her they hero of the story? Not precisely. Many leading characters do not possess heroic qualities, therefore they are called antiheros. Antiheroes are the protagonists that do not have hero-like qualities and characteristics, such as Gregor Samsa in The Metamorphosis and Isa in “American School”. After much analyzing, these two characters can be understood as antiheros. Who are antiheroes?
An antihero, according to the literacy glossary on Norton’s website, is a leading character who does not possess typical hero-like and tends to be an ordinary, or even less than, average person. An antihero can be any leading characters, where race, gender, and even social status are not taken into consideration. The characteristics of antiheroes are defined by Webster’s Online Dictionary by “lacking in heroic qualities”. Therefore, antiheroes are opposite of heroes in characteristics, views, and qualities. To better understand antiheroes, defining a hero is a must.
Hero is “a mythological or legendary figure” with “great strength or ability” and is “admired for his achievements” and “great courage”. (Webster) An antihero must not have heroic qualities such as courage, daring, self-sacrificing, impressive size, and power. Therefore, qualities of an antihero include average characters, lacks courage, inferior, belittled, shy, and a follower. Antiheroes are literary figures (leading characters most of the time) that do not possess typical heroic qualities. Their roles in the stories are to represent the irony of imperfect characters.
Stories tend to have this hero, or leading figure, that is brave and saves the day. Antiheroes are important to the story because their “saving the day” may not be clear cut and can be argumentative. Antiheroes usually are proving a point that is understated and misunderstood. Their sympathetic failed attempt to play the hero in the stories makes their role look ironic and sometimes pathetic to the readers. These pathetic characters can be found in Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Kojima Nobuo’s “The American School”. Gregor Samsa is the protagonist in Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.
He works full time as a salesman to support his unmotivated dependent family. Along with being the only source of income for his family, Gregor must sacrifice his personal life and enjoyments. After waking up to find himself morphed into a bug, his family is forced to find jobs and be independent again. Gregor is a very work-oriented young man. He was willing to put aside all his needs and selfishness to provide for his needing family. After the metamorphosis, ironically, Gregor’s family turned against him and his deformed physical.
Gregor’s death was indirectly because of his family’s lack of support and care. Gregor Samsa can be seen as an antihero in The Metamorphosis. Although Gregor is selfless, sacrificing for his family, Gregor’s other characteristics define him as an antihero. Gregor is a coward because he let himself become inferior to his work. He does not have the courage to stand up for his rights and question the company’s stressful workloads. Even though he expressed he feels unhappy at his work, he continues to let them step all over him. He is a slave to his work willingly and this is why he is an antihero.
On page 1998, Gregor thought to himself about his hectic work position, claiming “having to put up with these agonies of traveling… never forming any lasting friendships”. Gregor is truly unhappy with his position, yet he refuses to do anything about it, whether it is quitting his job or speaking up to his managers. Heroic qualities include courage and leadership, both he lacks due to his choice of being pushed around at his job. Gregor is also a slave and coward towards his family.
Gregor expressed “if [he] weren’t holding back his parents, [he] would had given notice long ago”. 2000) If Gregor was courageous, he would have stand up to his family and ask them for understand why he cannot stand his job any longer. He should have suggests a word or two asking his family members to help with the income. Instead, he accepts his responsibility and the endless mindless work is what caused him to transform into a bug, and eventually leading to his death. Gregor is viewed as antiheroic because he did not receive the proper respect from his family and coworkers, who all look upon him as a pest and annoyance instead of care and love because of all the assistance he provided.
Towards the end of the story, the family’s dislike of Gregor is expressed when his father and sister decided how to get rid of him, saying “We’ve got to get red of it”, referring to Gregor as an “it” instead of a “him”. (2026) The lack of respect from his family shows his insignificance and how he can be understood as an antihero. Isa is another interesting protagonist in Kojima Nobuo’s “American School”. Isa is a quiet and timid man who teaches English, yet fears or despises speaking the publicly.
He reminisces to time when he was ran away from a black American soldier because Isa of the fear “of being addressed in that unfamiliar language in front of a crowd”. (2587) Isa’s fears are so great he literally ran away from any possible chance where he might speak. Isa, along with 29 fellow Japanese English teachers are required to travel in inhumane conditions to an American school (hence the title of the short story) and observe their teaching styles. Isa faces several embarrassing challenges during the trip, including having to walk barefooted due to uncomfortable shoes and being mocked by the story’s antagonist and group leader Yamada.
Isa is ashamed to conform to the American ways because of the recent defeat of Japan by the Americans. This is one of the reasons he refuse to speak English, saying that once he speak speaking English, it will be dishonoring his native language of Japanese. Isa is a patriotic man, yet his shy and meek personality overshadows and he is only seen as a weak follower, one who cannot defend for himself. Isa is the epitome of an antihero in this short story. Following the definition of antihero, Isa shies away from attention and any opportunity where he has to present himself in front of others.
Isa is not a leader, but a follower. He is a fearful man, cautious, suspicious, and paranoid that everyone is out to get him. Isa knows he is being a coward, yet allows himself not to change or do anything about it. For example, on page 2586, Isa is willing to stab his pride by “feigned illness, lying in bed for several days” in order to avoid any embarrassing confrontations. Isa may have good intentions and moral, but he is ineffective in expressing them. Isa allows Yamada to treat him as inferior and Isa does not stand up for his dignity or pride.
When Isa was offered a ride to the school by the Americans, Isa was “dragged… into the Jeep” by Yamada against his will. (2595) Isa should have stood up for himself and tell Yamada no, he does not need a ride. Instead, he allows Yamada to order him what to do, despite his fear of being in a Jeep with Americans. He is content with being viewed as timid and weak, just as long as he is not embarrassed or attract any attention. A hero will never let him be pushed around or ordered what to do. This is why Isa is an antihero.
Although the story is focus around him, he does not portray himself as the typical lead character, or a hero of a short story. Both Gregor Samsa and Isa are antiheroes of their own story. Both may have a conviction to live and move forth, but neither would stand up for himself, let himself be viewed as inferior, and act cowardice. Antiheroes are followers, fearful, insignificant, and pathetic. The characteristics of the antiheroic qualities fit both Gregor’s and Isa’s character description. This is why they are understood as the story’s antiheroes.