In this essay I am going to explore how responsibility is a driving force which determines choices which influence the manner in which the protagonists shape their lives, in the two works’ Mother Courage and Her Children: A Chronicle of the Thirty Years War’1 by Bertolt Brecht and’ The Metamorphosis’2 by Franz Kafka. I will explore The responsibility taken up by both the protagonists does not have a positive impact on either, in fact it is one of the reasons for their suffering. Responsibility in both cases can be interpreted as a strong sense of duty, which urges them to make the kind of choices that they do. It is therefore the sense of responsibility that they feel, which has an impact on their emotions, actions and their well-being.
Both the works Mother Courage and Her Children by Bertolt Brecht and The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka deals with the protagonists who have a strong feeling of duty and responsibility toward the well being of her family with a strong feeling of duty and responsibility towards the well being of their families w. Mother courage and Gregor are forced to make harsh choices in their life in order to fulfill the responsibilities that they have towards the members of their family. Mother Courage who appears to be a very bold and strong person in the beginning of the play emerges as a weak, disoriented and shattered person. She is forced to earn a living in battle torn regions, by selling provisions to soldiers, in pursuit of money. Similarly in The Metamorphosis, the sense of responsibility felt by Gregor is so strong that he feels guilty at the thought of being unable to fulfill his responsibilities towards his family. In fact he continues with a dull and unexciting job—–. He feels burdened and anguished, as he is mentally pressured to provide for his parents and sister. He believes that his father is in debt and he wants to save money in order to send his sister to the music conservatory; “he had the firm intention of sending her to the Conservatory”3. It is sad that because he feels that he has failed his family both his parents and his sister that he is engulfed with anxiety and probably this leads to his physiological transformation in a bug.
It cannot be disputed that the only reason Mother Courage went full force into the thick of battle with her wagon and her family was to be able to provide for them financially. She appears to be a very logical and down to earth person who realizes that a war brings benefit to no one, yet she needs to depend on war for a livelihood. The first song of the play, which Eilif sings, brings out the irony of war where every soldier believes that he is going to be a hero in the war and finally ends up dying an inglorious death. Mother Courage says in her song, “heroic deeds don’t warm me!”4. Yet she is willing to brave the turmoil of living in a battle struck region, to make a living out of the war, In order to prove she to be a concerned and caring mother to her children.
Mother courage is shrewd an clever yet she is eventually outwitted by the soldiers who are able to identify her vulnerable point, which is the profit motive of a tradesman, which is an outcome of her acute awareness of responsibility. Mother Courage is engaged in the kitchen in the process of hard bargaining with the commanders cook over the sale of a capon in scene 2; “My price for a giant capon is fifty hellers.”5 She demonstrates here how profits can be made in wartime by seizing the right moment for inflating prices. Her emotional crisis through the tension between her love for her son and anxiety over her means of survival is touching when Swiss Cheese is arrested she haggles over the bribe to save his life by the difference of just a few gilders and miscalculated time; “It’s only a matter of money”6. Mother courage there after suffers unbearable guilt. She has failed in keeping her family safe. The audience sympathizes with her in understanding her painful and tragic situation. Also how she and her dumb daughter would be able to survive and continue with their life without their wagon to earn a living intensifies her suffering, as she feels she is in charge of the family.
Mother Courage reveals her sense of responsibility in this play even though in this play Mother Courage’s hard heartedness appears to be unnatural and painful. She seems to have become a distorted “hyena of the battle field”7 not for glory or renown but to survive the rigors of war, to safe guard her children. She, having lost her son to the war, which she had leaned on initially to feed her sons, is now like a scavenger alert towards any threat to her family. However, Mother Courage in scene seven shows a totally opposing view toward the war. She sings praises of the war as a “good business proposition”8 and is once more ready “to start up again in business.9” In fact it is this never say die attitude, her resilience which makes her a survivor, who can take charge of her family. In the last scene Mother Courage’s exit pulling her wagon alone is a total contrast to her cheerful entry with her children in scene one. It truly symbolizes the working classes level of endurance despite hardship and catastrophe.
In the novel Metamorphosis, Gregor nurtures a strong sense of responsibility, which makes him undergo a transformation. He changes from a young man struggling to fulfill his responsibilities towards his family, by continuing with an unexciting job and the onerous routine of everyday existence; “If I didn’t hold back for my parents’ sake, I would have quit long ago”10. The monotony of his life turns him into a beetle. This is an outcome of the drudgery and helplessness he encounters on account of his job “what a grueling job I have picked!”11. Gregor cannot afford to give up this job, as it is the only way he can sustain his family. He feels responsible towards the economic well being of his family and hence allows himself to go through the anguish of continuing with his dull job and a mean boss.
In keeping with his sense of responsibility towards his family he feels the need to provide the resources to send his sister to music conservatory which she dreams of joining. Moreover he also feels responsible to clear the debt that his father has acquired. In other words Gregor feels him self-responsible for the well-being and comfort of his family. While shouldering the responsibility of his family, Gregor feels a strong sense of being in charge of the well-being and the financial comfort of his family. He therefore cannot think of giving up his present job, which makes him travel as a salesman. But physically it provides him with no emotional or intellectual stimulation, making him out almost like a moron who, “could barely cling”12, as the “vermin”13 he believes himself to be.
Gregor withdraws into the lap of idleness and consciously allows the others to take care of them selves. It is in fact almost akin to a self-inflicted punishment a rebellion in which he breaks free from the bonds, which bind him to the drudgery that he despises. It shows not an open rebellion against his situation, but a flight into shirking duty, which has much more severe consequences s on his family than a refusal to continue with his work. In a single blow the family losses its breadwinner. However Gregor cannot be held responsible for this change. Hence Metamorphosis fulfills a function that sickness could not fulfill. Gregor is treated as a very disgusting insect “for his father was determined to bombard him. He had filled his pockets from the fruit bowl on the buffet and was now pitching one apple after the other”14 , not an ordinary son or brother.
This change into a disgusting vermin strikes anxiety and terror into people like his Mother and sister, or induces rage as it does in his father “she stepped to one side, caught sight of the gigantic brown blotch on the flowered wallpaper, and before it really dawned on her that what she saw was Gregor, cried in a hoarse, bawling voice: “Oh, God, Oh, God!” and as if giving up completely, she fell with outstretched arms across the couch and did not stir”15 . Thus the underline impact of Gregors Metamorphosis is birth aggression and helplessness. His sense of helplessness is a direct outcome of his belief that he had failed his family. His aggression is evident from the moment he transforms in shape, “ as he enters the living room he snaps his jaws several times in the air”16 which suggests a strong sense of bestiality and force. Gregors behavior to the office manager is initiated by a strong feeling of revenge against his hated boss. He wanted to topple him from his position of authority. I believe that Gregor realized that he was not able to fulfill all his responsibilities towards his family on account of the severe imposition of the rigid job thrust upon him by his boss. That perhaps is one of the reasons why he transformed physically into a vermin, who lives in a cocoon and is, not expected to fulfill any social and family obligations.
A strong sense of responsibility is the motivating factor in both, the play Mother Courage and Her Children and Metamorphosis. It is the sense of responsibility, which urges mother courage to set out of her home and face the travails of the thirty years war. With her three children and wagon. Inspire of the hardships that she is prepared to encounter, she continues with her journey so as to fulfill her responsibility towards her family. Similarly in the Metamorphosis Gregor Same continue with a cheerless job and a rigid regime to provide fro his parents and sister. However in both cases, in spite of being aware of their responsibility both the protagonists fail in their task. Mother Courage looses her family and so does Gregor Samsa. It is saddening to see that in their efforts to fulfill their responsibility they lose on what they had, before they set out on this onerous path.