The Metamorphosis: Study Guide | Literaturexpres
1. Question: Bring out the tragic and comic elements in The Metamorphosis. Or, discuss the significance of tragic and comic elements of The Metamorphosis.
The subtle but powerful combination of humor or comedy and tragedy in Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is not an accident. Kafka coordinates these genres to perfectly mirror the cruelty of life with a mixture of emotions. The main character Gregor Samsa is used to portray the betrayal that may be present in the family unit as well as in the place of employment. Together, Kafka is making strong comments about life in order to express his feelings of desolation and cynicism about society and the family.
Focusing on excessive materialism
Gregor’s insect transformation, his annoying thoughts about his life, the jokes surrounding his parents and sister, all culminates in the arrival of the Chief Clerk. The chief Clerk gives Gregor a funny speech, reminding him of his business responsibilities and demanding an explanation for his crime of absence. He repeats that he is simply surprised at Gregor’s sense of responsibility because he accepted Gregor as a calm and reliable person but right now Gregor seems determined to make a ridiculous vision of himself. The clerk also mentions that this morning the director suggested a possible explanation for Gregor’s disappearance. Such irrelevant expressions are the symbols of a selfish materialistic world. But Gregor desperately attempts to convince his office manager of his predicament. But the chief clerk runs off suspecting that the gigantic insect is coming to attack him.
Focusing on cruelty and narcissism
When the clerk says:
“However, now when I see how incredibly stubborn you are, I no longer have the slightest desire to defend you”
It is ridiculous because Gregor was only two hours late and Clark is clearly objecting more. At this point, it is clear that a ruthless, narcissistic, and recalcitrant man is the chief clerk. Although he is Gregor’s only co-worker, Kafka uses this character to represent the brutal behavior of society as a whole.
Another striking example of the comic element is presented when Gregor’s father bombs Gregor with the apples. Gregor actually tries to convince his sister Grete that he is still very caring for her but she misreads him and rushes to her father to save herself. Gregor’s father throws apples at Gregor very cruelly. As a result, Gregor gets injured on his back. This scene must rise laughter but the hidden truth is that human beings are very selfish and cruel.
To remind yourself
Kafka used The Metamorphosis as an outward expression of his frustration in the face of controversial artist society In the early twentieth century. He continues to develop the connection between Gregor and the ideal artist of his time by showing how selfless and forgotten Gregor is. When Kafka has Gregor say,
“But for the time being, I better get up, since my train leaves at five”.
He is introducing subtle humor because Gregor believes he is able to get up and get ready for work. Could you imagine that a giant beetle is trying to walk with a view to attending office? Kafka has thus introduced Gregor’s irrational hope. It is also universal because Kafka has created Gregor to represent the humility and sensitivity found in the stereotypical artists in general. Kafka felt that the modern world did not tolerate passionate and intelligent artists as we see in Gregor’s.
To symbolize the conflict between society and artists
when Gregor’s body was mutilated and reduced, it seems to have all his human sweetness revealed in him. His selfless selflessness, his constant preoccupation with the needs of others – it is the great relief in the context of his abominable misery. Kafka’s art incorporates on the one hand the characteristics of Gregor’s insects and all the tragic details of his insect disguise and on the other hand, includes Gregor’s sweet and subtle self in keeping it bright and limpid before the reader’s eyes. In this way, Kafka uses Gregor’s sensitive nature and horrific transformation as a symbol of the conflict between society and the artist, where society misunderstands the artist and is capable of extreme cruelty. With brilliance, Kafka presents the dramatic tone of Gregor’s early discovery that he is a giant insect with a sense of humor.
Great relief from disgust
The precursor of the ultimate tragedy of Gregor is heard in the declaration of his loving sister “We must try to get rid of it”. Early in the morning, the cleaning woman comes. She finds Gregor lying motionless on the floor. She thought he is pretending that his feelings are hurt. She ultimately opens the bedroom door and shouts at the top of her voice, “come and have a look, it’s lying there dead as a doornail”. Though the tragedy deepens in the death of Gregor, it is a great relief to his parents and sister.
The Metamorphosis is full of dark humor but very philosophic. The novel usually captivates readers, but it is hard to see how a man is neglected when he loses his power. The philosophy here is that The only way to survive from the inconsistencies and contradictions of life is the total acceptance of the combined comic and traumatic elements of life that one must face every day.
2. Question: Discuss the dehumanization in The Metamorphosis. Or, Gregor’s metamorphosis is a metaphor of his dehumanization – discuss.
The term ‘dehumanization’ is the process of depriving an individual or a group of positive human qualities. On the other hand, a metaphor emphasizes interrelation or similarity between two things that are not otherwise related. In Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”, we can trace universal metaphoric or allegorical dehumanization.
Kafka’s Metamorphosis covers a strange time in Gregor Samsa’s life. This gets started when he wakes up one morning to discover that he has become a giant insect. This understandably changes the dynamics in his family dramatically. In Metamorphosis, Kafka is interested in examining how Gregor has undergone such dramatic transformations over time, as well as how it affects his loved ones. Over time, as Gregor’s insect condition becomes more common for the family we can see Gregor slowly becoming more like an insect, and his family gradually commencing to look at him not as an individual but as an insect.
At the outset
Just after Gregor is transformed into an insect, he still tries to go through life as if it were a temporary push. Gregor, for example, tries to contact his family and his boss, who appears at the apartment to find out why Gregor missed his morning train. Gregor doesn’t realize that he can’t talk anymore until everyone comments that he is not understandable and that the voice from his room sounds like an animal. Gregor takes some time to face his new limitations.
The initial reaction of his family
Gregor’s family reacted exactly as we expected … with shock and horror! His father seems absolutely incapable of dealing with the situation, and his mother is overwhelmed with emotion and unable to communicate with Gregor in any way. Only Gregor’s sister, Grete, is able to overcome her fears and take care of her brother. Grete realizes that Gregor sees himself as somewhat different, even if he looks completely different. She tries to treat him with dignity.
Gregor adapts to his new reality
After a few days, Gregor gets bored of spending all the time alone in his house and he starts to rejoice with his new insect body just like himself. We can quote from the novel here:
‘‘…it was hard to just lie quietly through the night, his food soon stopped giving him any pleasure at all, and so, to entertain himself, he got into the habit of crawling up and down the walls and ceiling. He was especially fond of hanging from the ceiling; it was quite different from lying on the floor.”
This behavior was unimaginable to Gregor just a day or two ago when he was mostly worried about how he could go back to his work. Though it would be too much to say that he has come to terms, with being an insect, at least at this point he seems to be feeling more comfortable in his new skin at this stage.
Emptying Gregor’s Room
Gregor’s sister observes that Gregor could not walk around the bedroom very well, so she and her mother decide to carry away his things inside to make the room spacious. Gregor; however, is not agreed with their plan; he has a lot of fond memories of his own belongings which is why he doesn’t want them to remove anything. In order to stop them from taking away the picture hanging on his wall, Gregor climbs onto it and covers it with his body. When Gregor’s sister and mother return to the room, his mother gets fainted!
Gregor’s father snaps
When Gregor’s father comes home, he learns that Gregor caused his wife to the unconscious. This is the point when he finally loses his temper and starts throwing fruit at Gregor. This comic brutal scene has been illustrated by the novelist in the following way:
”He had filled his pockets with fruit from the bowl on the sideboard and now, without even taking the time for careful aim, threw one apple after another… Another one, however, immediately following it, hit squarely and lodged in his back…”
The indictment of the family and society
Gregor’s dehumanization contributes to his death because his family’s and society’s expectations put unbearable pressure on him, and he can do nothing but die. However, society is not the only source of Gregor’s dehumanization; more importantly, it comes from his own father and sister. Gregor, in his job as a salesman, feels trapped by his obligations to the family and to the Director. He is dehumanized by his lack of self-expression which is symbolized by his transformation into an insect. The pressure exerted on him builds until his family finally rejects him and he dies.
Finally, it is lucid that Kafka in his Metamorphosis like his “A Late Encounter with the Enemy” has used dehumanization to express the tension that exists in human beings between individualism and social obligation, and also the metaphoric prison inside of which we all exist.
3. Question: Discuss the literary techniques used in The Metamorphosis.
In the novella “The Metamorphosis”, Franz Kafka utilizes multiple literary techniques to illustrate unique points and critical situations of modern humanity.
The point of view
The story is told in a limited third-person perspective. This means that the narrator is not a character in the story, but tells the events from a cognizable place. The narrator is able to delve deeper into the character’s thoughts, feelings, and situations to better understand his or her point of view. Kafka has chosen to maintain a single focus on Gregor throughout the plot of this short novel, including minor changes to the other character’s perspectives. Thus, the third-person limited perspective allows readers to get in the character’s head and see what happens outside his room.
The Allegory in The Metamorphosis
The regrettable allegorical concept of the novel Metamorphosis is that modern society separates people from one another. In the story, Gregor Samsa wakes up one day like a giant insect. The rest of his story follows his thoughts and actions when he is locked in his own room and separated from his family and his previous life. Gregor, his job, and his transformation are the allegory for the people of the modern age of how they can be separated from each other.
The metaphor in the metamorphosis
In ”The Metamorphosis”, Gregor Samsa’s change into an insect serves as an extended metaphor. The term “extended metaphor” refers to a comparison between two opposite things or events to reflect the hidden and inner significance of the situation. Gregor feels like a prisoner in his career. He has never missed his office in the last five years. His work continues as a lonely traveling salesman. He never gets time for real interpersonal relationships outside of his home. The people whom he sees are clients and they do not carry any importance in his life. Gregor is also a prisoner in his own family. Here the prison serves as an extended metaphor in “The Metamorphosis.”
Symbols and imagery
The only objects described in detail – Gregor’s childhood desk, the picture of the woman hanging on the wall – are those that connect Gregor with the memories and aspirations of his human life. Franz Kafka uses symbolic imagery to express the more complex themes of the novel The Metamorphosis. The picture has been first mentioned at the outset of the novel, when Gregor looks at the wall, readers realize that Gregor is isolated and lonely. This picture later comes up in the novel when his furniture is removed from his room. He tries heart and soul to keep the picture in his room. This action shows his frustration and longing for a continued human relationship, as the image symbolizes the end of his human relationship. In this situation, the furniture in his room symbolizes his human life, and removing it shows the loss of all human elements from his body and life.
In The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka uses a lot of dramatic irony. Dramatic irony refers to that the audience knows something that the characters do not know. It makes the actions of the characters humorous. Since the main character in the Metamorphosis has changed into a beetle, no one understands his thoughts and feelings. We, as the audience, know what is happening with Gregor and what he is thinking and feeling, but his family does not. This leads to several situations where the family acts in such ways that do not make any sense. As a result, the humor produces darkness for Gregor. The chief clerk’s coming to Gregor’s apartment, the violin playing, and emptying Gregor’s room are the finest examples of dramatic irony.
The allusion in The Metamorphosis
Kafka sketches the character of Gregor Samsa in line with the Bible because Gregor is a man who resembles Jesus Christ. The apple throwing episode can be cited here as an example. Gregor’s father throws apple after apple at him. One of the apples hits the back of Gregor and he is mortally wounded. This incident is allusively similar to the crucifixion of Christ. This explanation also deeply implies that Gregor has to die for the development of his family just as the Christians believe that Jesus had to die to protect his followers from the infernal.
So, simply we can say that the literary techniques used in this novel have flourished it and made it tragic and comic.
4. Question: Is Kafka in his The Metamorphosis cynical? Give reasons for your answer.
Franz Kafka (3 July 1883 – 3 June 1924) expresses the anxiety, inner horror, and cynicism that abound in Gregor’s life. Gregor is the most selfless person throughout the novel. This feature is reflected in his dedication to his work and family.
The key concept of cynicism
Cynicism refers to the belief that people are only interested in themselves and are not sincere. To put it another way, it means the fact of using someone’s feelings or emotions for one’s own benefit.
Cynical attitude to the business world
Kafka has shown his strong cynicism towards the business world that is based on excessive materialism. Through the character of the chief clerk, the novelist has illustrated the business world from a cynical point of view. We can cite a small passage in which the clerk threatens Gregor and shows his heartlessness.
“However, now when I see how incredibly stubborn you are, I no longer have the slightest desire to defend you”
It is ridiculous because Gregor was only two hours late and the Clerk is clearly objecting more. At this point, it is clear that a ruthless, narcissistic, and recalcitrant man is the chief clerk. Although he is Gregor’s only co-worker, Kafka uses this character to represent the brutal behavior of society as a whole.
Cynical attitude to the relationship
The main theme of the story is the effect of others’ control on a person such as Gregor’s relationship with his family, and how the people around him controlled his life. Though Gregor is the most unselfish character in the story, his relationships with his family members are bitter. It can be illustrated in the following way:
Relationship between Gregor and Grete: Gregor’s sister Grete plays the most significant role in his life. It is only because he remains all along intimate to his sister. Even when he is transformed into a superbug, he sleeps with his face toward her room. He still remembers that he once promised to send his dear sister to the conservatory. In fact, he suffers more emotional wounds Grete inflicts upon him than from the apple which his father throws at him, which symbolizes a bullet of heartlessness. However, there is clear evidence that his relationship with his sister carries a strong bond, but as she goes against Gregor, Gregor becomes increasingly lonely and shocked. Grete’s brutality and selfishness can be felt in the following passage.
“We must get rid of it” his sister now said exclusively to her father, since her mother was coughing too hard to hear anything. ‘It will be the death of you two. I can see it coming”.
Thus, Grete insists to her parents that they should no more allow going things from bad to worse. She suggests them to realize the gravity of the situation. So, now it is transparent that Kafka is starkly cynical.
Gregor’s relationship with his father: The most unpleasant part of the story ‘The Metamorphosis’ is the relationship between individuals, especially between Gregor and his father. The senior Samsa is tyrannical, selfish, cruel, and has no hesitation to exploit his son. He has no idea that the nature of a person can be deformed by the continued degradation he or she suffers. Soon after Gregor transforms into an insect and ceases to earn for his family, he becomes almost non-existent to his near and dear ones, particularly to his father. However, Gregor’s father is a big hypocrite because he pretends to be sick despite being physically fit. The truth is that his father has far more money than he knows about. Gregor has all along tried to keep his family happy even by selling his soul to the company. Though before Gregor’s transformation his father loved him for money but from the first day of his new life Gregor’s father deals with him brutally. He only believes the severest measures are suitable for dealing with him. here we notice that Mr. Samsa does not take any steps to cure his son. So, we cannot but say that Kafka is acutely cynical in sketching the father-son relationship.
Cynicism in motherly love and care
There are some points in the story where his family really seems to have taken care of his life and current situation, but it is a so-called care because his family desires to have Gregor as a fit man for work. It is nothing else but a selfish motive. For example, when Gregor’s voice can no longer be understood because of his insect form, his mother becomes worried and instantly calls for a doctor, probably to ensure that her son is fit to be at work. But Gregor does not understand the real motive behind his mother’s new concern, which is that he is late for work.
In the context of the above discussion, it has been crystal clear that Kafka has focused on the hard realities through his cynical attitudes since the world does not pay heed to a useless person and thing. Besides, there is no value of man without having sufficient opportunity for earnings and accumulating wealth. This is the harsh reality of the world.
5. Question: Discuss the Theme of Alienation in Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”. Or how does Kafka project Gregor Samsa’s alienation in “The Metamorphosis”?
“The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka (3 July 1883 – 3 June 1924) contains a literal variation of Gregor Samsa’s dramatic life. His transformation sheds light on one of the main themes of the novel, isolation or alienation. Basically, today’s society demands according to its norms and if a person refuses to accept these, he will definitely face isolation. Such is the fate of Gregor in the story. Before Gregor was converted, he was cut off from his work, humanity, family, and even his body. The transformation, however, takes the isolation to another level. Gregor’s work in the story feels his isolation from society, his family, and himself.
Only detachment from the physical body
Gregor’s initial alienation is from his physical body, and as the story progresses we see that Gregor’s life as an insect is not very different from his life as a man. From the first few paragraphs, we can realize that Gregor’s transformation has transformed him from a mere body into a less privileged state. He just feels a “dull ache he had never experienced before”. However, Gregor’s transformation does not seem to have caused any emotional change. This is evident when he tries to get up after his transformation and is annoyed that he cannot go to sleep because he cannot turn onto his right side. He also thinks about how he can no longer attend work.
Isolation from himself
Gregor is a traveling salesman, and over time his continuous obsession with his job seems to dehumanize him and make him less personal, but more mechanical. He develops a prudent habit and acquires in traveling by locking all doors during the night, which he brings back into his home, emphasizing the distance between him and his family. We are made to realize, however, that he hates his job. He describes it as “exhausting…irritating work”, and he hates having to travel so much, meeting acquaintances that never become friends, and being mistreated by his boss. He only stays in this position to alleviate his parents’ debts, and dreams of the day he can finally quit and do something more satisfying. Because Gregor can no longer work, he is alienated from the money-driven economy that he lives in, where the norm is that if you are unproductive you become insignificant and repulsive. Gregor’s insect form, which precludes him from earning an income to support his family, strengthens the fact that he is now repulsive in the eyes of his family and society. His value seems just to be a financial one to the extent that family relations have been reduced to economic worth. Thus, before the transformation, Gregor could not realize that he has alienated himself from him.
Isolation from family and society
The idea of Gregor being just a welfare source takes him away from his family. The family only cares about the paycheck that Gregor provides them each month. Gregor may have been slowly changing into a recluse, but his family is blind at this because their only interest is in his provision of funds for them. There are some points in the story where his family really seems to have taken care of his life and current situation, but it is a so-called care because his family desires to have Gregor as a fit man for work. It is nothing else but a selfish motive. For example, when Gregor’s voice can no longer be understood because of his insect form, his mother becomes worried and instantly calls for a doctor, probably to ensure that her son is fit to be at work. But Gregor does not understand the real motive behind his mother’s new concern, which is that he is late for work. Gregor’s family does not know that something is seriously wrong with him until he emerges from his room in a form clearly unfit for work. His father reacts at first by clenching his fists, then breaks down and weeps. His father’s reaction from anger to grief seems to mean that he would likely have had if Gregor had simply announced that he had quit his job. Thus, Gregor becomes the victim of social and familial detachment.
Gregor’s family life does not change much after his transformation because the loss of his relationship with his family members is nothing new. It only takes his isolation to a new level. Gregor dies of a broken heart. He is ostracized by society and his family and is forced to be alone. His work eventually led to his separation from things in life. His transformation brings him to his final state of realization that his life has become meaningless and purposeless.