Isolationism in Metamorphosis

Isolationism in Metamorphosis and Notes from Underground
World Literature: Paper 2
The common theme in both Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka and Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky is isolationism. Both of these literary works contain different examples of isolationism in order to convey the same concept. Seclusion exists in both novels, resulting in the direct flaw of each of the main characters. The difference that Kafka and Dostoyevsky present in their use of isolationism in Metamorphosis and Notes from Underground is how each character is secluded. Kafka writes about the progressive solitude of one character being forced into isolation by others. On the other hand, Dostoyevsky’s entire novel is about the Underground Man, who lives all by his lonesome and is forced to look back on his youthful experiences. These frequent occurrences have lead to the Underground Man’s solitude. However, in both novels, the end results of the main characters in Metamorphosis and Notes from Underground are similar because both individuals’ actions lead to their own demise.

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At the beginning of novel, Metamorphosis, Kafka introduces the main character, Gregor Samsa. After waking up to find “himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect”, Gregor can only think of the repercussions he will suffer for being late to his job. Gregor works as a traveling sales clerk (Kafka 1). He would have quit a long time ago, but Gregor knows that his family depends on him for the money he makes and, ultimately, their own existence. Without his salary, the Samsa family will not survive. After making futile attempts “to put on his clothes and above all eat breakfast” (Kafka 7), Gregor’s boss comes to check on his employee. Reluctantly, Gregor reveals his true identity as an insect. Gregor’s father forces him to go to his room, more specifically, isolationism, which “had merely the fixed idea of driving Gregor back into his room as quickly as possible” (Kafka 31). Due to the size and proportion of Gregor’s new physical appearance, the progression into solitude inflicted a massive amount of pain on Gregor.
On the other hand, the first part of Notes from Underground, the Underground Man, also the narrator, describes the setting of the novel and defines his own existence. “The Underground,” the first words the Underground Man describes about himself are, “I am a sick man . . . I am an angry man. I am an unattractive man” (Dostoyevsky 15). These words tell the reader the ways in which society, from the Underground Man’s youth, has destroyed him as an individual. Also, it makes the reader aware of his low self-esteem. The Underground Man, somehow, utilizes his own sorrow to make himself feel better. He believes that his own self-loathing and unkindness have crippled and corrupted his attitude as well as the people around him. Yet, it is apparent that the Underground Man takes will not take the initiative to change. Due to the impact of societal woes, the Underground Man takes comfort in his own pains, like toothaches or liver ailments. The ability for him to control the aching from his illness is a way for the Underground Man to hide from the actual pain from society. He is not proud of the man he has become over the years and scorns himself for his many wrong doings. One thing that is important for the Underground Man to obliterate is his negative approach to life, in order to thrive. However, the journey that he takes to seek optimism disappears because the Underground Man becomes too lethargic and lazy.
As isolation approaches in Metamorphosis, Gregor becomes more and more like an insect. His change from human to bug also becomes evident in his choice of food. The meals he once liked are now distasteful and unappealing to him, “although milk had been his favorite drink and that was certainly why his sister had set it there for him, indeed it was almost with repulsion that he turned away from the basin and crawled back to the middle of the room” (Kafka 32). Because Gregor knows he will no longer be accepted by his family as an insect, he gives up and secludes himself in his room. Throughout the book, there is a part of Gregor that continues to fight for his own freedom because he still wants to seek equality. He has the desire to break away from his solitary state, but no way of caring out his escape. The one thing that continues to fuel Gregor is the music from Grete’s, his sister’s, violin. Grete does not want her family to neglect Gregor because he has turned into an insect. She believes that no matter the shape of his physical features, Gregor will always be her brother. It seems as though Grete does not want to acknowledge or be convinced that her brother is a bug and will never be the same person. However, it is inevitable that Grete will soon abandon her brother. Their separation continues to become progressively more apparent. Gregor continuously is left alone in his room, all by his lonesome. By the end of the novel, Gregor becomes invisible to his own family. One reason Gregor dies is because of the realization that he is nothing more than an insect without a family or a purpose. Once again, he is left in his isolated room to die, alone.
In the second part of Notes from Underground, “Apropos of the Wet Snow”, the Underground Man comes across numerous prostitutes, many soldiers, and a few past schoolmates. However, the Underground Man intentionally alienates himself from these people by not acknowledging their existence. He makes himself appear to be incapable of interacting with these uneducated low lives. It is as if he does not want to make an effort to communicate because he fears his own humiliation. So, instead, he treats them with disgust and fear for his own life. Liza is the whore and the vehicle for Dostoyevsky’s message of the power of selfless love. She comes to the Underground Man’s apartment one night to speak to the Underground Man. Instead of treating Liza with the love she deserves, he continues to insult her, repeatedly. These social acquaintances cause the Underground Man much remorse and regret. And, once Liza leaves his apartment, the Underground Man is left, again, in solitude.
Examples of seclusion are used constantly by both Franz Kafka and Fyodor Dostoyevsky to convey the idea of isolationism. In these two novels, the solitary state of both characters leads to their downfall. In both of these examples, isolation leads to the demise of the main characters, Gregor Samsa and the Underground Man, even though the motives and basis’s were different. Gregor crawls his own life away because of the pain of being secluded by his own family members. On the contrary, the Underground Man never truly lives his life because of the distain he has for himself and society. The Underground Man hides his personality and beliefs because he fears society’s judgment and ridicule. The isolation that both characters endure leads to their own destruction.
Works Cited
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. Notes from Underground and The Double. New York: Penguin
Books, 1972.
Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis and Other Stories. New York: Barnes and Noble
Classics, 2003.

The Transition from Isolationism to Intervention in America

  Due to the gruesome experience & aftermath of WWI, approximately 90% of Americans supported isolationism regarding U.S. involvement in another war (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum).  The continued efforts to remain in a state of “neutrality” and maintain stability in the world by intervention were choices that kept Americans in opposition with one another. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and administration faced many challenges in striving to keep America “neutral”.  By the mid-1930’s it seemed as though a new world war was taking shape in Asia and Europe. When Benito Mussolini, leader of Italy and the Fascist Party (rejected democratic forms of government and favored dictatorship), planned to invade Ethiopia, U.S. Congress acted to “protect neutral rights” and not become entrapped in the conflict (Brinkley 613-619). On August 31, 1935, the first Neutrality Act was established. It prohibited military weapons, ammunition, etc. against both sides in any military conflict and discouraged Americans to travel (or do so at their own risk) on any ships of the nations at war. On February 29, 1936, Congress revised the first Neutrality Act and prohibited America from advancing any loans to nations at war. The Spanish Civil War in 1936 and the widespread progression of fascism in Europe led to expanding the Neutrality Act of 1937, aka the “cash-and-carry” policy, that allowed nations at war to purchase only non-military goods and do so by only paying cash and shipping their goods themselves on non-American ships. Since raw materials like oil and food were not considered “weapons of war”, it would be a prosperous venture for the nation that acquired it. Unlike the rest of the Neutrality Act of 1937, which was permanent, this part of it had an expiration date of two years (Brinkley 613-619, Longley).     WWII, already happening in Asia, began in Europe on September 3, 1939, when Britain and France declared war on Germany, two days after Hitler and the Nazi troops in Poland. Even though President Roosevelt stated, “this nation will remain a neutral nation”, he and most Americans favored Britain, France, and the Allied nations in the conflict after the invasion of Poland (Brinkley 613-619). Due to numerous defense of armies and weapons that Hitler had acquired for Germany, President Roosevelt began to weigh America’s “neutrality” against the burden to help democratic nations defend themselves against the progression of fascism like that of Germany and Italy. On November 4, 1939, Congress passed the final Neutrality Act. This act lifted the prohibition of military weapons, ammunition, etc., (ending the arms embargo) and trade with nations at war had to adhere to the “cash-and-carry” policy for the sale of non-military goods that the previous Neutrality Act of 1937 indicated. Nevertheless, the prohibition of advancing any loans and transporting goods on American ships to nations at war remained intact, which benefited Britain and France tremendously. Overall, the Neutrality Acts were a way in which America could pacify the opinions of those who supported isolationism, while still intervening and protecting America’s interests in a foreign war (Brinkley 613-619, Longley).     Within the next year, President Roosevelt and his administration gained even more steps to oppose the progression of fascism and intervention in WWII. On May 15, 1940, a desperate Winston Churchill, who had only been Prime Minister of Britain for five days, contacted President Roosevelt requesting his assistance in supplying England with “weapons of war”. The British military was in serious trouble and more than likely without our help they would not survive. President Roosevelt did not hesitate to ask Congress for an additional $1 billion to aid England in the war and it was granted without delay. America supplied them with 50 American destroyers (WWI left-overs), new aircraft, etc., bypassing the stipulations of the Neutrality Acts. However, President Roosevelt wanted something in return for providing aid to them. He wanted the right to build American bases on British territory in the Caribbean and Canada. Thus, the “Destroyer for Bases Agreement” was reached in August that shifted from a loan to a “lease agreement” in exchange for our giving Britain “weapons of war”, America would obtain the British territory to build the American bases. This agreement had a major fluctuation in the American opinion of isolationism from foreign policy to intervention in the war against the Axis forces (Germany, Italy, Japan, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria). According to opinion polls, more than 66% of Americans believed that the Axis forces posed a threat to America and favored our assistance to the Allies (Brinkley 622). President Roosevelt firmly believed that America should be an “arsenal for democracy” to the Allied armies.    At the end of 1940, Britain was “virtually bankrupt” and could not meet the requirements of the “cash-and-carry” provisions of the Neutrality Acts (Brinkley 622).  President Roosevelt knew some changes had to be made in how America was supplying defense aid to Britain. He proposed the “Lend-Lease Act” at the end of 1940 to Congress. The “Lend-Lease Act” authorized the American government to sell, lend, exchange, or lease arms and/or any defense “weapons of war” to any nation it “deemed vital to the defense of the United States” (Brinkley 623, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum). In other words, America could channel “weapons of war” to Britain with no more than a promise to return them when the war was over. The “Lend-Lease Act” was approved on March 11, 1941, by Congress (Brinkley 623, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum).

    On December 7, 1941, a surprise attack from Japanese bombers at our naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, which was a correlated effort to destroy and/or damage American and British holdings in Asia. America lost 8 battleships, 3 cruisers, 4 other vessels, 188 airplanes, etc. and more than 2,400 soldiers/sailors died, another 1,000 were injured, within 2 hours (Brinkley 625). The American military was now compromised and reduced to a minimum in the Pacific. The only positive note about the attack was that no American aircraft carriers (the heart of the fleet) had been at Pearl Harbor that horrific day. With that being said, this tragedy brought unity with the American people to disregard isolationism views and agreed that intervention was inevitable. On December 8, 1941, Congress voted (unanimous vote for the Senate and 388 to 1 for the House) to approve a declaration of war against Japan. On December 11, 1941, Germany and Italy (allies of Japan) declared war on America and Congress retaliated without a hesitation (Brinkley 625-626). America played a crucial role in the war against Germany and Italy. Nevertheless, the price that the Allies paid was far beyond the contributions America made to it. The numerous loss of lives, socialism, and infrastructure was disheartening compared to our tragic losses. Ultimately, it was not American forces that brought the war against Japan to a close, it was the unleashing of the atomic bomb on its’ people that finally convinced the nation to surrender (Brinkley 651). When WWII ended, America was economically better than any other country in the world. America had prospered tremendously-more than anyone could have imagined-before or during the war.

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    After the death of President Roosevelt on April 12, 1945, the new president, Harry S. Truman agreed with the “inside” people of government and many Americans regarding the Soviet Union and the leadership of Josef Stalin that it was not to be trusted. They were viewed as “fundamentally untrustworthy” and “suspicious and even loathing” (Brinkley 658).  By the end of 1945, a new American foreign policy was slowly developing known as containment. This was policy was designed to prevent Soviet expansion and transpired into what is known as the Truman Doctrine. Ultimately, it decreased Soviet pressure on Turkey and help their government defeat communism and containment that survived for over 40 years. Another essential part of the containment policy was the Marshall Plan. In April 1947, Congress approved the Economic Cooperation Administration that executed the Marshall Plan. In three years, it provided aid to the economic reconstruction of the European nations (including the Soviet Union) and generated over $12 billion into the economic rebuilding of Western Europe. By the end of 1950, industrial production had grown to 64%, communism had declined, and opportunities for America to resume trading with them had increased dramatically (Brinkley 661).

   Although many Americans changed their opinions about isolationism to intervention regarding foreign policies, it remains a controversial topic. It has proven to have both negative and positive impacts on America and its citizens. Unfortunately, the attack on Pearl Harbor angered Americans to the point where they wanted immediate retaliation on Japan, which permanently erased isolationism from their minds. It is sad that it took such a horrific tragedy as this to sway the views/opinions from isolationism to intervention. In contrast, it is also a matter of whether it is beneficial or not favorable for America to remain “neutral”. 

Works Cited

Brinkley, Alan. “Chapter 25.” The Unfinished Nation, A Concise History of the American People. 8th ed. Vol. 2. N.p.: McGraw Hill Education, n.d. 613-619, 622-623, 625-626. Print. Ser. 2016.

Brinkley, Alan. “Chapter 26.” The Unfinished Nation, A Concise History of the American People. 8th ed. Vol. 2. N.p.: McGraw Hill Education, n.d. 643-651. Print. Ser. 2016.

Brinkley, Alan. “Chapter 27.” The Unfinished Nation, A Concise History of the American People. 8th ed. Vol. 2. N.p.: McGraw Hill Education, n.d. 658-665. Print. Ser. 2016.

Longley, Robert. “US Neutrality Acts of the 1930s and the Lend-Lease Act.” ThoughtCo, Sep. 26, 2018,

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “The United States: Isolation-Intervention”, Holocaust Encyclopedia,, 03 December 2018.