"The Metamorphosis" is a German short story by Franz Kafka published in 1915. The story is about a young salesman, Gregor Samsa, who mysteriously transforms into an insect. Samsa is ostracized by his family as they try to hide his bizarre vermin-like behavior and unusual appearance from neighbors. Kafka uses narrative techniques to weave a tale that's vividly descriptive and heart-wrenching. Kafka wants readers to sympathize with Samsa's plight as he struggles to find personal identity amid isolation and feelings of abandonment.
Point of View
Kafka uses the third person point of view in "The Metamorphosis." This narrative technique allows readers to understand Samsa's thoughts, fragile emotions and anxieties associated with his transformation to an ugly insect. As a result, readers only see the story through Samsa's eyes as he deals with frustrations, insecurities and isolation. The third person point of view is less personal than the first person, but it creates a sense of objectivity. Kafka wants readers to read the story introspectively, asking tough questions such as "How does society treat outcasts?" and "How do families respond to internal conflicts?"
"The Metamorphosis" is full of symbolism and imagery. Kafka uses Samsa's transformation to represent the lack of connection between individuals and society and the emotional divide between people and their families. For example, Samsa's father throws an apple at him, symbolizing his rejection of Samsa's new insect-like state. Samsa's family removes all the furniture from his room, signifying their disapproval and unwillingness to accept his cockroach behavior and eating habits. Symbolism and imagery give readers a clear picture of the loneliness and humility Samsa experiences.
Backstory helps readers understand the deeper meaning behind the story. Before the metamorphosis, Samsa is described as a dedicated, hardworking individual who provides for his family. Samsa's family respects and appreciates him because he meets their financial needs. However, after the transformation, Samsa's family views him as an outcast, realizing he won't be able to keep his job and maintain the family's reputation. Nevertheless, the transformation forces Samsa's family members to step out of their comfort zone and make their own ways in life. Kafka uses backstory to show how society's affirmation of individuals who have money and prestige is shortsighted and shallow.
Kafka uses the narrative technique of irony to help readers understand Samsa's internal struggle. Even though his transformation is horrific and humanly impossible, Samsa views it as a mere inconvenience. Ironically, his biggest worries are that he won't be able to get around at work and will feel uncomfortable in his small bedroom at home. Samsa's family also responds to the situation as if the metamorphosis were just a common, detestable disease. No one in the story seems to realize that the transformation is beyond the bounds of nature. Kafka wants readers to sympathize with Samsa's insecurities, isolation and fears as if he were going through an ordinary human experience.
- University of North Carolina School of Education: Learn NC: The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
- Kirkus Reviews: Kafka: The Decisive Years
- Washington State University: Kafka, The Metamorphosis; Dr. Michael Delahoyde
- The Metamorphosis; Franz Kafka; A New Translation by Susan Bernofsky
- The Metamorphosis; Franz Kafka
- Photo Credit Bob_Eastman/iStock/Getty Images
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