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In the 1840s, Karl Marx described alienation at work in a manner that remains relevant to this day. The industrial revolution compelled people to take up redundant and unfulfilling jobs in the factories. Most of the jobs ended up estranging the people. The problem persisted through the twentieth century into the twenty-first century, especially in low autonomy jobs. In the modern setting, factors like the division of labor and the inherent displacement of some skill owing to technology use continue to alienate people. The key factors causing alienation in the contemporary society remain similar to the 1840s and point to the systemic dehumanization of workers by the capitalism (Marx 03). In his 1915 novella entitled The Metamorphosis, Frank Kafka demonstrates the extent alienation in the contemporary society by showing the adverse effects of dehumanization of people by the modern economic system.
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From a sociological perspective, alienation refers to the feeling of meaninglessness, powerlessness and estrangement because of the inability to find fulfillment at work. Karl Marx argued that the industry and machine manufacture replaced the agrarian handicraft economy, which provided great diversity, creativity, and flexibility during the industrial revolution. The new capitalist economy compelled people to take up jobs in factories that involved taking up repetitive routines primarily to survive. Workers in factories go to work and take up the boring assignments mainly to safeguard their survival while creating immense wealth for the factory owners. The same is the case in the novel. Gregor Samsa took up a job he hated and endured ungrateful managers simply to survive. He worked hard despite his dissatisfaction to help sustain his family, “He felt very proud that he had been able to provide such a life in so nice an apartment for his parents and his sister” (Kafka 2.3).
Life in today’s society has become increasingly difficult. Employers place immense pressure on their employees. Gregor endures immense pressure to improve his productivity. His employers view him as a resource useful only as long as it can cause desirable returns. The employers expect him to report to work on a daily basis without fail. They do not admit even such practical excuses as sickness. When Gregor wakes up for the first time to find that he had turned into a large insect, he feels sad that he was late for work. His managers even come to his apartment to find him. The manager scolds him for his lateness and reprimands him for the flailing quality of his work. The manager does all these without considering the plight of the employee “He was a tool of the boss, without brains or backbone” (Kafka 2.1). He threatens him with stringent punishment including a sack. Such is the case in today’s society, as employees must work round the clock in poor working conditions and restrictive working environments for employers who rarely appreciate their pressures.
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To worsen the situation, the scarce resources have led to a situation where a single person with a job supports a large family. The growing number of dependents coupled with the soaring cost of living has further enhanced the severity of alienation in today’s society. So many people work in deplorable conditions and for meager income merely to sustain their families among other dependents. Young employees have a series of dependents who include their aging parents, siblings and their children. The prevailing economic conditions compel the youthful population to work round the clock with some having multiple jobs. The growing problem of overreliance denies people a sense of life despite having jobs. Marx believed that jobs should provide people with a degree of fulfillment and self-expression. However, the substantial economic burden the society places on people denies even those with a sizable income to enjoy the sense of self-fulfillment.
Technological innovation in today’s society has further enhanced alienation and caused widespread dissatisfaction with jobs. Technology has displaced numerous skills while creating a set of other opportunities that require improved skills to undertake. Factories have displaced humans by automating most of the repetitive tasks. Basic information processing and transactional jobs have undergone automation in most companies. The result changes of the system is the polarization of opportunities characterized by a growing demand for the highest skilled jobs like IT and diminishing demand for the lowest skilled jobs. Correspondingly, the pattern has led to a growing pay gap thereby alienating people with low skills as they struggle to make ends meet.
In retrospect, alienation remains a major social problem in today’s society as it was in the 1840s. Karl Marx provided a comprehensive analysis of the problem by establishing that the rise of capitalism increased the severity and prevalence of alienation. The deplorable working conditions in factories following the advent of the industrial revolution coupled with the inherent meager remuneration for the jobs led to large-scale dissatisfaction. The dissatisfaction in today’s workplace a major managerial concern as employers strives to find ways of enhancing productivity. Frank Kafka’s novel covers the alienation of workers by presenting a disgruntled employee and non-concerned employers who view their workers in terms their productivity level.
- Marx, Karl. Notes on James Mill. London: OUP, 1844. Print.
- Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1915. Print.