Crime And Punishment And The Metamorphosis English Literature Essay

Motifs being an essential part of any literary work help to accentuate the central idea of a novel and provide a better understanding of the plot. In Crime and Punishment and The Metamorphosis, the authors have explicitly used narrative motifs as a means to convey the key themes such as alienation, criminality, suffering and existentialism. The motif can be a recurring idea, an object, a place, color or a statement. Here it showcases the internal and external conflicts of the central characters and brings meaning to the novel. The interior motifs outline the characteristics of the protagonist as they transform from one phase to another, whereas exterior motifs draw parameters within which they work. The furniture in Gregor’s room is a unique tangible motif used by Kafka which includes the door and the window which apparently stand for liberty in his novella. By contrast, Dostoyevsky has striven to penetrate the mind of a common man by employing the color ‘yellow’ as a vital idea. Very often emotions are precisely understood when colors are used to express them. Hence, most of these motifs used are common to an ordinary reader and can be comprehended in a better way.

In The Metamorphosis, Kafka has used interior motifs that express Gregor’s point of view. The motifs are confined to Gregor’s bedroom and hence are indicative of his state of mind. He evokes his past in “…the picture which he had recently cut out of a glossy magazine and lodged in a pretty gilt frame. It showed a lady done up in a fur hat and a fur boa, sitting upright and raising up against the viewer a heavy fur muff in which her whole forearm had disappeared.” [1] . He liked gazing at it after his transformation as it also made him reminisce the fact that he was originally a human. The picture is the only human element left in his life after the change”…then he saw hanging conspicuously on the wall, which was otherwise bare already the picture of the lady all dressed in furs, hurriedly crawled up on it and pressed himself against the glass… At least no one would take away this picture, while Gregor completely covered it up.” [2] The framed picture had been cut and the gild frame had been artistically made by Gregor, those were the times when he tried to foresee his future optimistically, wanted to be a successful salesman and also considered marriage since the picture was that of a lady’s. Although his efforts were in vain, he still wants it to be intact on the wall; this displays his inclination towards becoming human again.

Moreover, the door in Gregor’s room is another interior motif which symbolizes his existential alienation; his discontentment pertaining to his job is conspicuous “…Gregor has absolutely no intention of opening the door and complimented himself instead on the precaution he had adopted from his business trips, of locking all the doors during the night even at home.” [3] The locking of his room’s door denotes his shunning of thoughts and isolation from the society. The window used as a motif illustrates Gregor’s estrangement from the elements of humanity; “Gregor’s eyes then turned to the window and the overcast weather- he could hear raindrops hitting against the metal window ledge- completely depressed him.” [4] After his physical change “…he would crawl up to the window sill and, propped up in the chair, lean against the window, evidently in some sort of remembrance of the feeling of freedom he used to have from looking out the window.” [5] The window is an imperative interior motif that depicts his abandonment from the outside world and thus is symbolic of his constricted freedom.

The hospital visible from the window in Gregor’s room captivates the attention of the readers as an exterior motif, from Gregor’s room “…across the road one could see clearly a section of the endless, grayish-black building opposite- it was a hospital…” [6] the help that Gregor should have gotten to cure him seems remote. “The hospital opposite, which he used to curse because he saw so much of it, was now completely beyond his range of vision,” [7] as he loses his sight due to his metamorphosis. Kafka creates a vivid picture of his mental journey from being a self-made salesman to a helpless vermin. His vision starts blurring and the hospital appears to be farther away from his room. The fact that it appears more distant is suggestive of Gregor’s ailing health because “In the meantime it (hospital) had grown much lighter…” [8] 

Likewise, in Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky has used interior motifs that coordinate with the thoughts of the protagonist, Raskolnikov. The color ‘yellow’, synonymous with delirium of Raskolnikov is patent as “The little room, into which the young man walked, with yellow paper on the walls, geraniums and muslin curtains in the windows, was brightly lighted up at that moment by the setting sun.” [9] Though the color yellow on account of its brilliance, is reckoned to be healthy, Dostoyevsky unusually perceives it as the color which represents the feverish and sinister mind of Raskolnikov. He does not fail to notice as such, the ‘yellowness’ of Alyona Ivanovna’s house. The filth, dirt and sickness that surround him are palpable; as he woke up one morning “…and looked with hatred at his room. It was a tiny cupboard of a room about six paces in length. It had a poverty-stricken appearance with its dusty yellow paper peeling off the walls…” [10] Besides Raskolnikov’s disintegration of the mind “….he felt cramped and stifled in the little yellow room that was like a cupboard or a box.” [11] After he finished reading his mother’s letter, he was brought down to a state of despair, derangement and desperation.

On the contrary, the exterior motif River Neva is a recurrent idea that stands for eternal peace and tranquility in Raskolnikov. As he is “Crossing the bridge, he gazed quietly and calmly at the Neva…” [12] the quietness and stillness of the water is thus emphatic of the momentary calmness that he experienced as “he walked right across Vassilyevsky Ostrov, came out on to the Lesser Neva, crossed the bridge and turned towards the islands. The greenness and freshness were at first restful to his weary eyes after the dust of the town and the huge houses that hemmed him in and weighed upon him.” [13] His awry thoughts straighten out every time he looks at the river, which implies that it is pure and evokes his virtuous side.

The impoverished and destitute city of St. Petersburg exudes the criminality of Raskolnikov. Dostoyevsky describes the weather of these streets on numerous occasions, primarily in the opening sentence: “On an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged in S. Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards K. bridge.” [14] ; that sets the tone of the novel. “The heat in the street was terrible: and the airlessness, the bustle and the plaster, scaffolding, bricks, and dust all about him, and that special Petersburg stench, so familiar to all who are unable to get out of town in summer-all worked painfully upon the young man’s already overwrought nerves.” [15] Raskolnikov leaves his apartment with a sinister agenda in his mind. The airlessness signifies suffocation that persists in St. Petersburg. In addition to that, the use of the word “stench” describes the infernal nature of the crime that was committed later as the plot unfurled. The sweltering heat of the place seems to mirror his turbulent mind; the street reeks of unemployment and immorality that existed in the society during Dostoyevsky’s life.

Motifs have played an integral part in both the novels. Both the authors have used diverse motifs which are specific to their particular work. They seem to share a common view on the use of the literary device, motifs. Since these literary elements serve to transform the personalities of the protagonists, the authors have used the same motifs throughout the novel but attributed different meanings and ideas to them according to the progressing plot. Hence, the thoughts of the authors are better understood through the use of motifs, even though the time period and the location at which the novels are set are different. These recurrent ideas make their works distinctive and a class apart from the clichéd novels.

Word count: 1389 words