Humanist psychologists believe that human behavior is not determined by psychological nor environmental forces, thus we have “free will” in making choices (Myers, p.437). Abraham Maslow combined the concept of actualizing tendency and free will to develop the theory of self-actualization (Myers, p.436). Self-actualization is one motivation to fulfill one’s full potential (Mayers, p.436). “What a man can be, he must be” (Maslow, “The Need for Self Actualization”) expresses Maslow’s optimistic view about human growth. Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha and Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis shares the story of struggle towards self-actualization. A young protagonist named Siddhartha is a Brahman who devotes his life in search for freedom from the endless life cycle of suffering. As he realizes that life in society is filled with suffering, he escapes from social life by renouncing social interactions and responsibilities.
He progresses towards self-actualization by completing his quest for self-fulfillment. In Metamorphosis, the protagonist Gregor “woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin” (Kafka, 1). Gregor mainly struggles with alienation caused by his family’s abandonment towards him. Gregor escapes from social order by renouncing social interaction and responsibilities. This freedom makes it possible for him to advance towards self-actualization. In the end, he acts bravely and selflessly to sacrifice his life for the love of his family. Both protagonists realize that they are imprisoned by a “dehumanizing society”. The progress of self-actualization is a struggle to escape from social imprisonment accomplished by renunciation of social interactions and responsibilities.
Both protagonists are imprisoned in a “dehumanizing” society (ClassNotes on Siddhartha, “Chapter 3: Analysis”), defined as a society that “deprives
qualities thought of as being best in human beings”(Concise Dictionary & Thesaurus, “dehumanization”). Siddhartha refers to life in society as Samsara, an endless cycle of suffering. Before entering Samsara, Siddhartha acquires spiritual knowledge with the Samanas, Ascetics who spend their lives in the wild without procession. To him, life in Samsara is more of a “game” (Hesse, 67) than reality. He does not commit his life but rather remains “Samana in his heart” (60). He saw people suffer for things that “did not seem worth the price” (57) such as “money, small pleasures, and trivial honors” (57). Watching people “grow grey” or aging, he observes that all people experience the same endless sufferings, and he refers to their lives as “senseless cycles” (Classnotes on Siddhartha, “Samsara”).
Once he accumulates wealth and experience sensual pleasures, he let himself gradually absorb into the world of Samsara represented by fading of his “inward voice” (63). Siddhartha’s moral consciousness is represented as his “inward voice” (63), “which reminded him quietly complained quietly, so that he could hardly hear it” (71). Siddhartha’s dream of a dead bird symbolizes the awareness of imprisonment of the dehumanizing society. The dead bird symbolizes death of Siddhartha’s “inward voice” and the cage trapping the bird is the social imprisonment (Classnotes on Siddhartha, “Kamala”). The “dehumanizing” society changes Siddhartha into a dice player, exerting “power over people” (81) while “nausea over took him” (Hesse 64). A merchant named Kamaswami symbolizes “greed” for money and power. Society, it seems for Siddhartha, develops selfishness in people rather than kindness.
The dream of the dead bird causes his “inward voice” to return. Watching people age fills him with a “secret fear” (65) and he explains that life in society is “a long path which had no joyous goals” (Hesse, 65). This realization causes Siddhartha to reflect on his life that this “game [is] called Samsara” (Hesse, 68). Was it “worth playing continually?” (Hesse, 68) asks Siddhartha, and his answer is that “the game [is] finished and that he [can] play it no longer” (Hesse, 84). Moral consciousness that guides him throughout his life makes him a unique individual. Realization plays a role in regaining of Siddhartha’s self-control and as a solution, he chooses to renounce social interaction by relinquishing city life.
As a father, Siddhartha feels responsible for his son who is without a mother. Knowing that his child brings suffering and that Siddhartha cannot provide him happiness, “guilt” and “love” restrains Siddhartha from abandoning his child. He realizes that his child repeats his abundance towards his own father, and he calls this experience Samsara. Understanding with appreciation that everyone has to experience life in his or her own direction, he is capable of renouncing responsibility of his child (ClassNotes on Siddhartha, “The Son”). Without social contact and responsibilities, Siddhartha’s sufferings are ceased and Siddhartha is free to walk the path to self-actualization.
When Siddhartha finally complete his life long quest towards self-fulfillment, which is mainly the lack of wisdom and happiness, he attains self-actualization. This internal satisfaction changes his external postures. His “glance and his hand, his skin and his hair, all radiate a purity, peace, serenity, gentleness and saintless” (120). He is at the state of Nirvana; this results from final cessation of all desires and sufferings.
The major difference between the two works regarding renunciation of social interaction is that Siddhartha renounces social interactions willingly but in Metamorphosis, it is uncontrollable and undesirable. Gregor turns “into a monstrous vermin” (Kafka, 1) repulsing people by his disgusting insect appearance. His social
interactions are terminated by his inability to communicate and family abundance represents as the door to his room locked. Both protagonists of the two works come to realize the reality of their imprisonment by a “dehumanizing” society. In Metamorphosis, society “dehumanizes” people through “alienation” while in Siddhartha, it is the “devaluation” of human relationships that dehumanize people. Gregor’s experience of alienation originates from his job (ClassNotes on Metamorphosis, “Chapter 1 Analysis”). His frequent business travels left him with “no relationships that last or get more intimate” (2). In addition, he acquires the habit of locking doors that distance him from his own humanity. He also hangs a picture of a woman, which might indicate his desire for an intimate relationship (ClassNotes on Metamorphosis, “Chapter 1 Analysis”).
Now that he is unable to work, the family struggles for survival. Gregor observes that his family becomes too busy to pay attention to one another as they acquire “dehumanizing” jobs (ClassNotes on Metamorphosis, “Chapter 3 Analysis”). The father serves clerks; his sister obeys customers, while his mother sacrifices “herself to underwears of strangers” (42). Society destroys the relationship of Gregor as well as the relationship within his family. Furthermore, the description of his father’s uniform highlights this message. His father wears the uniform at home as if he is “always ready for duty” (41) at “the voice of his superior” (41). The father shows pride of his unconscious dehumanizing job. It symbolizes “the degradation of the individual human core hind that socially useful and servile faï¿½ade” (ClassNotes on Metamorphosis, “Chapter 3 Analysis”). His uniform represents destruction of individuality and humanity (ClassNotes on Metamorphosis, “Chapter 3 Analysis”) and he sleeps “most
uncomfortably and yet peacefully” (41). The passage delivers a message that by “ignoring his own humanity and sacrificing himself entirely to economic order,” one can feel “at peace” at the cost of no longer being human (ClassNotes on Metamorphosis, “Chapter 3 Analysis”).
Gregor blames himself for his family’s struggle and he feels “hot with shame and grief” (29). Just as with Siddhartha, “guilt” restrains Gregor from renouncing social responsibilities. He does not realize however, that his family considers him as a “source of income” trapping him in his room like a slave (ClassNotes on Metamorphosis, “Chapter 3 Analysis”). The family treats him with despair, indicated by letting Gergor’s room duty and leaves the rotten apple buried in his back. Family neglecting towards Gregor turns him to renounce social responsibility. Gregor loses “consideration for the others” (Kafka 48) even though realization through learning and building awareness is a painful process, as with Siddhartha. The difference however, is that Gregor’s realization of his imprisonment is due to changes in his family (abandonment) rather than Siddhartha’s realization of changes in himself (selfishness).
Gergor’s humanity is restored by his sister’s music. “Was he an animal, that music could move him so?” (49). In fact, Gregor is more human than any member of his family (ClassNotes on Metamorphosis, “Chapter 3 Analysis”). The music fills him with “deep emotion” that expresses his love for the family and leaves his room to tell his sister how much he appreciates her music. This action is the turning point where Gregor achieves self-actualization. He gains freedom due to renouncements of social interaction and responsibility to escape from the “imprisonment” (27), symbolized as his locked room. After the family admits their wish for his disappearance, he thinks “back on his
family with deep emotion and love” (54). He decides that “he would have to disappear” (Kafka, 54) in order to restore the happiness of his family. Gregor’s will to totally sacrifice for love of his family is a sign of being self-actualized and death is his way of sacrificing. Both protagonists in Metamorphosis and Siddhartha progress towards self-actualization by escaping from imprisonment by the dehumanizing society. This freedom is gained by renouncing social interactions and responsibility. Siddhartha achieves self-actualization by self-fulfillment; however, for Gregor it is achieved by self-sacrifice.