The routine of life can bring some people a sense of stability and happiness. For others this routine can be the cause of immense discontent and a feeling of entrapment. The main characters of the books The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka and Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton both experience this feeling of being trapped by their everyday responsibilities and environment. Family obligation, societal expectation, and their internal and external appearances trap both Gregor Samsa and Ethan Frome.
One main cause for Gregor being trapped is his obligation to his family. His financial obligation alone is enough to put a great amount of pressure on him. His job and his secret plan to put his sister through school also place a demand on him. Gregor is solely responsible for repaying his parents’ old debts. The weight this puts on him is demonstrated when he says, Well, I haven’t given up hope completely; once I’ve gotten the money together to pay off my parents’ debt to him-that will probably take another five or six years-I’m going to do it without fail(Kafka 4). Even after discovering he has turned into a bug he still feels his obligation to his family.
Society also has expectations of Gregor that he cannot escape even when he is locked up in the room that eventually becomes his grave. On one of his agonizing sleepless nights he is still thinking of his workday and of people he mingles with on a daily basis. He realizes that instead of helping him and his family, they were all inaccessible and he was glad when they faded away(Kafka 43). Gregor receives no help from the society that he is so loyal to.
Gregor is obviously trapped by his external appearance. His physical limitations deepen his feeling of futility. His external appearance mimics his internal feelings, as he now feels helpless by not being able to physically carry out his responsibilities.
Ethan was also trapped by obligation to his family. It trapped him when he wanted to go off with Mattie and it trapped him for the rest of his life after the accident. Zeena was the main source of the futility of Ethan’s existence. This is shown when Ethan reflects grimly that his seven years with Zeena seemed to Starkfield ‘not so long’(Wharton 64).
Societal expectations further pressured Ethan. It hindered him from showing public affection to Mattie by its looking down upon their relationship. His marital obligation forced him to stay with Zeena even though he loved Mattie as divorce was looked down upon. His frustration about this is shown when Mattie has to leave and he says, what good’ll writing do? I want to do for you and care for you(Wharton 115). Ethan knows that society will never accept a relationship between himself and Mattie.
Ethan’s internal disabilities take on an external appearance after the “accident”. His physical form solidifies his being trapped in Starkfield, in his marriage, and in his life. He complains that he is tied hand and foot(Wharton 115).
Both Ethan and Gregor are trapped by a physical disability, but they are also trapped by what most would consider the normal daily routine of life. It is important for people to be able to fulfill their obligations to family and society while still being content within themselves. Although these two cases are extreme, the consequences of feeling trapped within one’s own environment can be similar to those of Ethan and Gregor.