This article attempts to critically examine the idea of ‘self’ and the concept of ‘identity’. For this purpose, I have made a humble attempt to analyse Franz Kafka’s famous novella, ‘Metamorphosis’ which was published in 1915. The article also attempts to interpret two profound works of a distinguished philosopher and a scholar, Sir Muhammad Iqbal, widely known as Allama Iqbal,- ‘Asrar-e-Khudi’ (Secrets of the Self), a philosophical poetry book published in 1915, and Rumuz-i-Bekhudi (Secrets of Selflessness) released in 1917.
A person is best when s/he struggles against his/her individual nature. Fighting for life, Franz Kafka studied existentialism and many of his stories, including ‘The Metamorphosis’, revolves around this school of philosophy. Metamorphosis is a story about Gregor Samsa who one day wakes up and realises that he has turned into a bug. Kafka uses existentialism through Gregor’s consequences and struggles in dealing with being a bug, mainly as a metaphoric symbol of his lack of humanity. The instance when his father, Mr Samsa, wounds him by throwing an apple has a great significance in itself that I specifically would like to bring forth.
Apple is a metaphor for wisdom that makes us distinguish between good and bad. In the garden of the paradise. Adam and Eve were allowed to eat the fruit from any tree except the fruit of the tree that gives knowledge of what is good and what is bad. But since their temptation by the evil made them eat the forbidden fruit; they were exiled from the garden of the paradise. Therefore, an apple may also signify the beginning of an exile or suffering.
Similarly, when an apple hit Gregor, it struck him like a sudden realisation from within. And since the entire family was dependent on Gregor, earning money by working in a job that he doesn’t like was as bad as an exile. “By the apple, your eyes shall be opened;” and their eyes opened too. Gregor realised that his life has certainly changed now. He is different from what he was before. A burdensome, horrible, and verminous creature. And after he is locked in his room all alone, he tries to rebuild the identity that he had sacrificed by living only for others and ignoring his wants and needs. His search for identity seems to be a hapless journey, mostly because he never had an identity of his own. Isn’t that like with most of us?
The apple stays on Gregor’s back, even after his death which depicts the truth, a new identity created by his family. As Gregor approaches death, the apple becomes a burden to him, because he realises he cannot do anything for the family anymore. An apple grows and rots, as the fruit symbolises both knowledge and its result in this case. The decaying fruit implies how the knowledge of his new life and identity also leads Gregor to the ugliness of this situation. A giant cockroach understands a reality which he does not want to face; his family wants him out of the house.
There are fruits of sins and fruits of revenge. As in William Blake’s ‘A Poison Tree’, the apple does not represent the fruit of wisdom. It is a fruit of revenge.
Consuming the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden may be the sin, but now, it is not. If a man does not gain wisdom and discover their own insights, their life will be a tree without any apples, which is meaningless. The sole purpose gets lost. Similarly, the story of that particular man will be like a diary without any entries.
Allama Iqbal, the popular poet of the 19th century, had the extent of Homer, the philosophy of Dante, the flight of Milton, and the depth of Shakespeare. ‘Khudi’ is one of the key themes in Iqbal’s most of the poetries. The term Khudi means ‘self’. This is the beauty of poetry that even a single verse is so deep; depending on what one wants and how s/he understands. Iqbal could do magic by conveying the message in short verses, something that writers and thinkers like Shakespeare did through their lengthy plays and books.
To understand the writings of Iqbal, one has to be a firm believer in god and believe that destiny plays a significant role in one’s life. No doubt, God has power over everything. But man’s efforts are also rewarded. If one’s intentions are pure, destiny can be changed by selfless prayers and with God’s mercy. The feeling of self is heightened as man’s spiritual journey progresses to the extent that man can explore his true power and understand his purpose in the world. Khudi is similar to the word ‘Ruh’, as mentioned in Qur’an. Something divine that is present in each one of us as it was in Adam for which God ordered all his creation to bow. However, it depends on us how we cultivate ourselves to realise that hidden spark within us; Khudi.
One can understand the idea of self and the concept of identity like a seed; every seed has the potential to grow and transform into a tree. But, to become a fruitful tree, it has to go through various processes; withstand harsh conditions, break the ground, absorb light, meanwhile, hold itself tight with strong roots and let the shoot come out. Only then, after passing all the stages with the utmost strength, it bears the fruit. Similarly, Iqbal encourages us to travel multiple stages of the spiritual path, which he experienced, to reach to one’s Khudi. However, one thing to note here is that not all seeds turn out to be trees that bear fruits. Likewise, not all can do a scholar in a specific field. Most of us may or may not complete our schooling even. Only few may cross all the hurdles of materialism in them and reach the Mount Everest of spirituality.
The aim of our life should be the self-realisation and self-knowledge, if we all want to live in peace and harmony irrespective of any caste, religion, sex or creed. We can, indeed. But the question is; do we want to?
Ending with a quote by Iqbal;
“Khudi ko kar buland itna ki har taqdeer se pehle
Khuda bande se khud puche bata teri raza kya hai”