Analysis of Portrayal of the Protagonists in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Abe’s The Face of Another Through Sartre’s Concept of Alienation.

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Skripsi ini menganalisis dua buah novel, yaitu The Metamorphosis karya Franz Kafka, dan The Face of Another karangan Kobo Abe. Fokus utama analisis adalah penggambaran watak tokoh utama kedua novel di atas dan kaitannya dengan teori pengasingan dari filsuf Jean-Paul Sartre.

Kedua novel tersebut berkisah tentang seseorang yang terasingkan dari orang-orang di sekitarnya. Kedua tokoh utama sama-sama terasingkan karena penampilan fisik mereka. Akan tetapi, sifat-sifat mereka sendiri juga menyebabkan mereka merasa terasingkan. Masing-masing tokoh menghadapi pengasingan dengan cara yang berbeda. Tokoh Gregor dalam The Metamorphosis tidak dapat berbuat apa-apa karena wujudnya yang bukan lagi manusia, sementara tokoh tak bernama dalam The Face of Another berusaha untuk berbaur kembali dengan masyarakat lewat penciptaan topeng yang sangat menyerupai wajah manusia. Di akhir cerita, kedua tokoh tersebut tetap tidak dapat diterima kembali oleh orang-orang di sekitarnya.










Synopsis of The Metamorphosis ……… Synopsis of The Face of Another ………... Biography of Franz Kafka ……….. Biography of Kobo Abe ………...




Background of the Study

Humans possess an inherent capability of questioning everything around

them. Back in the ancient times prior to Common Era, a number of great thinkers

of the Western World such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle contemplated, from

their own different perspectives, the meaning of the universe and all that exists in

it. Their philosophical views influenced many modern schools of thought,

including existentialism. In general, existentialism focuses on the individual

existence and freedom in searching for the meaning of life, which will be

elaborated more in the next chapter.

Many writers reflect the philosophy of existentialism in their works,

although most of them never pigeonhole themselves as existentialists – one of

them is Czech writer Franz Kafka. He is considered by many one of the most

influential writers of the twentieth century. The surreal and enigmatic realm of his


literature. His name has lent itself to the English term “Kafkaesque, which is

widely used to refer to something that has the absurd and nightmarish qualities of

his writing (“Franz Kafka Biography”). His work has influenced many critically

acclaimed writers, including Albert Camus, Gabriel García Márquez, and Haruki


Similar to Kafka, Japanese writer Kobo Abe is an important figure in

contemporary literature whose writings also echo the idea of existentialism. Abe’s

works have been often compared to those of Kafka and Samuel Beckett for their

surreal and grotesque images of the contemporary society (“Kobo Abe facts”).

Before his death in 1993, Abe earned prestigious Japanese literary awards, namely

the Akutagawa Prize, the Yomiuri prize, and the Tanizaki prize (“Abe Kobo”).

His works have all been best sellers in Japan; some of them have been translated

into English, and adapted into full-feature films.

The majority of both Kafka’s and Abe’s works have the recurring theme

of alienation (“Kobo Abe facts”), which is one of the main issues of existentialism

that will be discussed in Chapter Two. There are several concepts of alienation in

philosophy; therefore, it is important to clarify that the concept used in this thesis

is the one by Jean-Paul Sartre, which will also be explained in the next chapter.

Sartre’s concept of alienation is reflected in Kafka’s most famous novella The

Metamorphosis (1915), which tells the story of a man who, upon discovering he

has transformed into an insect, is more concerned about not being able to work

than solving the mystery of his transformation. It is also evident in Abe’s


scientist with a deformed face who creates a life-like mask to cope with human


Not only do Kafka and Abe share similarities in their theme of alienation,

but they also share strength in the portrayal of the protagonists. Portrayal, which is

the way an author presents a character (Kenney 34), is distinctive in both Kafka’s

and Abe’s works. Kafka’s typical protagonist is confused, hopeless, guilt-ridden,

frustrated, and lacking in understanding of their surreal world. Abe’s typical

protagonist, on the other hand, is a persistent individual who attempts to

rationalise the absurdity of the world (Keffer).

Thus, this thesis will analyse the portrayal of the protagonists of Franz

Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Kobo Abe’s The Face of Another using Sartre’s

concept of alienation.

Statement of the Problem

The problems to analyse in this study are:

1. How do the authors portray the protagonists?

2. What are the purposes of the authors in creating such protagonists?

Purpose of the Study

Based on the statements of the problem above, this study is done:

1. To reveal the characteristics of the protagonists.


Method of Research

I use library research that includes reading and understanding the primary

texts, which are the novels, and other references, in order to make an objective

and non-superficial analysis in the process of the study. Next, I analyse the

portrayal of the protagonist in each of the novels. Lastly, I draw some conclusions

from my analysis.

Organization of the Thesis

The thesis is divided into five chapters, which are preceded by Abstract.

Chapter One is Introduction, which consists of Background of the Study,

Statement of the Problem, Purpose of the Study, Method of Research, and

Organization of the Thesis. Chapter Two contains the elaboration of the

theoretical framework. Chapter Three contains the analysis of the portrayal of the

protagonist in Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. Chapter Four contains the

analysis of the portrayal of the protagonist in Kobo Abe’s The Face of Another.

Chapter Five contains the conclusion of the analyses. The thesis ends with

Bibliography and Appendices, which consists of the summary of the two novels




Based on the analyses of the protagonists of The Metamorphosis and The

Face of Another I present in this thesis, I will now provide a number of

conclusions. As I have stated in the beginning, the purpose of the analysis is to

show how the authors portray the protagonists and what the purpose of the authors

is in creating such characters.

First, we follow the story of Gregor Samsa in The Metamorphosis, which

begins with Gregor waking up as a giant insect. He is a static character with

selflessness and dutifulness as his major traits. Instead of questioning the mystery

of his physical transformation, he desperately tries to get back to work so that he

can provide for his family. He prioritises his family’s well-being than his own as

he is a selfless person. Besides being selfless, he is also a dutiful son and

breadwinner; he tries his best to meet his family’s needs despite his

discontentment of his job. Upon discovering Gregor’s metamorphosis, his family


as they cannot bear the sight of him. Thus, Gregor experiences alienation that is

by his physical appearance. However, he also experiences a different kind of

alienation, one that is actually a non-direct consequence of his characteristics, and

it is not only estrangement from others but also from his own self. His selflessness

and dutifulness come with an awareness that he is an object of judgment by his

family, and make him sees himself the way his family sees him, which in Sartrean

term is known as shame. Because of the metamorphosis, Gregor’s family sees him

as a worthless, horrifying creature. Moreover, prior to Gregor’s metamorphosis,

they only see him as the breadwinner of the family. By seeing him that way, they

deny the possibilities of Gregor as a complex individual, which alienates Gregor.

Next, in The Face of Another, we follow a nameless scientist with a

deformed face who narrates the story. He is a static character portrayed as an

obsessive and observant person. As an observant individual, he notices how

people, including his own wife, behave in an alienating way towards him after the

accident that costs him his face. The way people alienate him makes him obsessed

with face and its significance in the society. Then the narrator creates a new face

to cope with his alienation. Although his appearance is the obvious, visible cause

of his alienation from others, his being obsessive and observant also alienates him

from both others and himself. From the way people behave towards him, he is

aware that people judge him and see him as a monster, which indicates that he has

the Sartrean shame. He sees himself the way people see him even though he

personally believes that a man’s worth is not determined by his looks. Thus, he


The purpose of the authors in creating such characters is to illustrate how

alienation comes from within an individual. Both stories show how the

protagonists are being estranged by the people around them because of the outer

part of the individual, which is their physical appearance. However, if analysed

with Sartre’s concept of alienation, the source of alienation is actually from the

inner part of the individual. Their characteristics induce shame, which means they

realise that they are judged by others and see themselves the way others see them.

The feeling of shame eventually leads to alienation, which affects an individual in

determining one’s own existence. As depicted in the novels, alienation

overwhelms the protagonists without them realising it. Being estranged from

others, Gregor gradually loses his will to live, and the narrator becomes consumed

by a conviction that is against his own. Thus, in my opinion, it is an implication

that humans have a subconscious need for connecting with others, and that the

existence of others has an impact on an individual’s existence.

The Metamorphosis and The Face of Another share some similarities.

Both novels revolve around individuals who experience alienation. Moreover, the

alienation they experience is a consequence of not only their appearances, but also

their characteristics; in the Sartrean term, both protagonists experience shame,

which leads to alienation. Furthermore, both protagonists share a similar fate: they

end up alone and cannot overcome their alienation. Gregor dies on his own inside

his room; the narrator is left alone by his wife.

Besides similarities, there is also a contrast between the two novels. The


he is trapped in his insect body whereas the narrator tries to overcome it by

creating a mask, although he eventually fails to achieve his goal, which is to

connect with his wife and other people.

Finally, in my opinion, The Metamorphosis is better than The Face of

Another. In terms of its relevance with Sartre’s concept of alienation, The

Metamorphosis depicts Sartrean shame more aptly. Gregor is an individual who

willingly accepts what others think of him whereas the narrator of The Face of

Another constantly denies other people’s opinion of him. More generally

speaking, the absurd nature of the first novel leaves more spaces for the readers to

explore and interpret aspects of the story, such as the reason as to why Gregor

metamorphoses, why he takes the physical form of an insect, what the

significance of the painting in Gregor’s room is, and so on. In that way, it is more

involving for the readers on a personal level. However, it is undeniable that The

Face of Another also has its own room for interpretations. Nonetheless, it is more

realistic; therefore, the interpretations are more limited. Furthermore, in terms of

universality, The Metamorphosis is more universal. Although it is written with

European background, international readers will find it easy to relate themselves

to the novel. The Face of Another, on the other hand, contains a few aspects that

are specific to Japanese culture so that the readers from outside the culture will

need to acquire additional knowledge to grasp the context and essence of the story



Primary texts

Abe, Kobo. The Face of Another. Trans. E. Dale Saunders. New York: Vintage,

2003. Print.

Kafka, Franz. The Complete Stories. Trans. Willa and Edwin Muir. Prague:

Schocken Books Inc., 1995. Print.


“Abe Kobo.” Encyclopedia Britannica. N.p. n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.

Davachi, Azadeh. “Existential Absurdity and Alienation in Kafka’s The

Metamorphosis and Hedayat’s The Blind Owl.” Universiti Putra Malaysia

Institutional Repository. Universiti Putra Malaysia, 2010. Web. 25 Apr.


“Dutiful.” Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. 8th ed. 2010. Print.

“Existentialism.” The Basics of Philosophy. N.p. n.d. Web. 23. Aug. 2015.

“Franz Kafka.”Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2015. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.

“Franz Kafka Biography.” Biography. N.p. n.d. 2016. Web. 26 Apr. 2016.

“Introducing The World Of Noh.”The Noh. N.p. n.d. 2016. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.


Keffer, David. “Kobo Abe.” The Modern Word. N.p. n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2015.

Kenney, William. How to Analyze Fiction. New York: Monarch Press, 1966.


“Kobo Abe facts.” YourDictionary. N.p. n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2015.

Lavine, T. Z. From Socrates to Sartre: The Philosophic Quest. New York:

Bantam, 1985. PDF file.

“Observant,” Def. 1. Merriam-Webster. Web. 29 May 2016.

“Obsessive.” Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. 8th ed. 2010. Print.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness. Trans. Hazel E. Barnes. New York:

The Philosophical Library, 1993. PDF file.

“Selfless.” Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. 8th ed. 2010. Print.

“Shame,” Def. 1. Oxford Dictionaries. Web. 7 May 2016.

Zahavi, Dan. "Shame and the exposed self. " In J. Webber (ed.): Reading Sartre:





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