Herman’s life began in a well-to-do family in Arlington, Virginia. His father, a successful lobbyist, and his mother, a devoted attorney, held strong beliefs about racial justice in America. Despite their privileged lifestyle, they were determined to ensure their son’s success. However, from an early age, Herman failed to demonstrate exceptional talents according to private educators.
Frustrated by these assessments, his mother insisted on exposing him to numerous cultural and artistic activities, hoping to uncover hidden abilities. Yet, Herman remained mediocre at best, leading to a childhood filled with constant pressure from his parents. As a result, he became inhibited and self-conscious, lacking the confidence to explore his own interests.
At the age of 18, Herman entered Brown University, where he encountered an intense focus on social justice ideologies, mirroring his parents’ beliefs. However, it was during his time at Brown that Herman’s worldview was about to be challenged in a profound way through his friendship with Steven, a moderate Republican.
Steven had faced disciplinary action at Brown for expressing unpopular political views. Despite being labeled a “Nazi” by Herman’s parents, Steven believed in the power of free speech and argued that students should be able to express their opinions anywhere on campus, protected by the First Amendment of the United States. His stance led to his suspension for a semester, a consequence of his argument against unlimited affirmative action.
When Steven and Herman spent time together, their conversations often revolved around the struggles Steven faced at Brown University. Steven drew parallels between his experiences and Franz Kafka’s protagonist in “The Trial,” hoping to awaken Herman to the repressive nature of bureaucracies. He believed that understanding the true nature of such systems would help Herman find his voice and speak out against the injustices he saw.
However, Herman’s response was unexpected. Instead of delving into “The Trial” and identifying the parallels Steven had drawn, Herman found a stronger connection with another work by Kafka: “The Metamorphosis.” In this story, the main character wakes up transformed into a monstrous vermin. For Herman, this allegory resonated deeply, as he saw himself as a monstrous vermin in the eyes of his peers due to his white cisgender identity.
Rather than seeing the university administrators at Brown as the Kafkaesque reptilians Steven had described, Herman internalized the notion of being a societal outcast. He felt that his very existence as a white cisgender man was seen as disgraceful and oppressive by those around him. This conviction only solidified his determination to take on a lifelong vow of silence, viewing it as a way to avoid further contributing to the perceived harm caused by his identity.
With his vow of silence, Herman retreated from engaging in conversations and discussions, further isolating himself from the world. His refusal to speak became a symbol of his self-perceived monstrousness and a rejection of the system that he believed deemed him unworthy of expressing himself.
In his pursuit of understanding and meaning, Herman found solace in the transformative tale of “The Metamorphosis.” However, this newfound connection led him down a path of silence and withdrawal, rather than empowering him to challenge the repressive nature of the bureaucracies he encountered.