The Myth of Perfection :
Perfection is a much sought-after quality…yet is completely impossible to obtain. Because we do not have a clear definition of what perfection truly is when a person attempts to become perfect, they are usually transforming into what seems to be perfect to. In both A DOLL'S HOUSE and THE METAMORPHOSIS, we see that human beings cannot achieve a state of total perfection. When Gregor Samsa from THE METAMORPHOSIS attempts to be the perfect provider that his family expects him to be, he inadvertently turns his life into an insectoid existence. Likewise, when Nora from A DOLL'S HOUSE tries to live up to her husband's expectations of a perfect wife, she builds up enough self-hate to leave everything that she loves and start an entirely new life. Striving to be this ideal person, like attempting to acquire any other impossible goal, is damaging to the characters in both cases. The fortunes of these characters illustrate the harm in attempting to achieve these impossible objectives.
As human beings, we have no conception of any absolute values, such as perfection and imperfection or hot and cold. We can only perceive changes or comparisons based on what we already know. Through experience, we can tell what is hotter or colder, but never actually tell what the absolutes are. This is a central aspect of what makes perfection impossible to achieve. What exactly is perfection? Seeing as we have no inherent knowledge of what is perfect or imperfect, these ideals are usually set by the expectations of others who are in positions of control over us. Therein lies one of the fundamental dangers in attempting to achieve perfection. When the aims and goals of our lives are governed by an outside force, we are transferring a great amount of power over ourselves to someone else who may not have the best intentions.
Those who have power over us, in most circumstances, will use it to their own benefit. This is Gregor Samsa's main problem. He transfers control of his life over to his family, who hardly had the best intentions for Gregor's well-being. They merely wanted a way to get money and food to support themselves. With Gregor working, his father has an excuse to continue doing nothing, and allows the family to remain stagnant at the level that they are at. Directly and indirectly, his family enforces the view that a son should work to support his family and not himself. They did this by showing love and commending Gregor when he brought them food and money, showing him that this was their idea of what a perfect son was.
He (Gregor) felt a certain pride that he had managed to provide his parents and his sister with such a life in such a beautiful apartment. What now if all calm, all prosperity, all contentment should come to a horrifying end?
At this point, Gregor shows how much working for his family has come to mean to Gregor. Needing a source of love in his life took this opportunity and became a working man in order to help his family. Gregor obsessively sacrifices his social and professional life for a group of people who take his sacrifices as if they were due to them. In his pursuit of perfection, Gregor turns what is usually an admirable quality into a self-destructive one.
In the same way, Nora allows too much power to Helmer and finds herself in the uncomfortable position of having her life governed by a man whose ideas of female perfection were completely different than what her character was like.
HELMER: There, there! My little singing bird mustn't go drooping her wings, eh? Has it got the sulks, that little squirrel of mine? Nora, what do you think I've got here?
Helmer uses his control over Nora in order to get the adulation that he needs to support his ego. He enforces the ideas of submission on Nora so that she will fit into his view of what women should be like. In very much the same way as Gregor, Nora is controlled by the flow of money. In an attempt to fit into a view of perfection, she sacrifices herself to become what another perceives as good.
When one attempts to become perfect often they must sacrifice vital parts of ourselves to fit into the image that they desire. Nora is, at heart, a strong character. Nora first demonstrates this when we learn of the hardships that she had to endure because of the IOU. A truly subservient woman would not risk herself in this way or presume to be able to help a man in his area of expertise. However, this is not the only place in which Nora's strength of character shines through.
NORA : You speak disrespectfully of my husband and I'll show you to the door.
KROGSTAD : So the lady's got courage.
Nora shows her resilience in this passage. After Helmer has enforced his ideas of female submission into Nora, she retains a some of her original strength in resisting Krogstad. This, unfortunately, does not last long. While in Helmer's presence, Nora does everything that she can to fit into his narrow vision of what a woman should be. She performs as a circus animal would, jumping for treats and always being obedient, merely for Helmer's praise. Her strength is fully exposed in the last scene of the novel, when Nora renounces her family, her social status, and her husband, an action which would undoubtedly give her intense emotional pain for years. As we can clearly see from Nora's actions in the play, it is not at all in her true character to be either submissive or obedient.
Mirroring Nora's self-sacrifice, Gregor sacrifices his own personal whims and desires. "If I weren't holding back because of my parents, I would have given notice long ago. I would have marched straight up to the boss and told him off from the bottom of my heart."
Obviously Gregor does not enjoy the job in which he works, but is trapped into staying at it by his obligations to his family. Through the picture of Gregor on the table, we can see that he was not always the subservient vermin that he is for the duration of the novel. In the picture, Gregor was a strong, handsome military man. Like Nora, we can see that at one time he had potential to be a strong character. However, he contrasts Nora in the way that he did not live up to his potential. Gregor was too worried with keeping his job and supporting his family to consider ways of escaping the rut in which he had dug for himself. Instead of fighting back and becoming stronger, Gregor becomes addicted to the love he receives from his family and slowly degenerates until his untimely demise. Ironically, near the time of Gregor's death, they preferred the image of Gregor from the photo as opposed to what he had become to help them.
If we wish to become better people, we must learn to perceive our imperfections and accept them. Perfection is a concept which is far too abstract for anyone to strive for. Because of this abstraction, we are forced to look to others to help us understand what being perfect is. Upon observation of the characters in these books, it becomes clear that attempting to become perfect will only result in emotional pain and distress. Thus, both Kafka and Ibsen illustrate a negative attitude to the concept of perfection.
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