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Looking at literature in a general sense, it can be seen that some pieces which use a distorted literary style, instead of the straightforward directness of realism, can, when written effectively, be very useful and highly informative, if for no other reason than the higher level of thought required and inspired by their unnaturalness. Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis is an obvious case of effective distorted literature, where several important factors of the story are altered in some way to exaggerate the gravity of the protagonist’s actual position in life. In the story, Kafka uses abstract symbols, like Gregor’s family members and his relationship with them, combined with, or more likely caused by Gregor’s physiological metamorphosis to reflect the real degree of Gregor’s social and familial worth, and moreover allegorically highlight the shortcomings of society and the nuclear family.
At first glance, this story really appears to be about very little and superficially offers its readers minimal information from which to draw conclusions about Kafka’s purpose. The story seems too difficult to an uninvolved reader to be effective, because it exists in a world with which we are not presently accustomed. Kafka creates a world where a person can change overnight into an oversized insect and worry less about the metamorphosis than the work they are missing. Because the story is written in this manner, because it is distorted, it requires a more in-depth approach than reading something written in the style of realism. With realism, certain details are afforded the reader and much more is explained; everything, generally, can be taken at face value, but distortion asks more of its readers. It requires the story to be read on a higher level and prompts more questions than can be easily answered. For these reasons, the conclusions drawn from reading a distorted story, as opposed to a realistic piece, will be more profound, more important and longer-lasting.
The first and most obvious case of distortion in The Metamorphosis is Gregor’s actual physical transformation from man to bug. The importance and effectiveness of this story hinges on this occurrence and the reader’s ability to accept it as fact. By making the protagonist of the piece an insect, Kafka is trying to raise questions about the significance of the physiology, but is at the same time trying to avoid hang-ups over the feasibility of the metamorphosis. At no point in the story does Kafka allude to the idea Gregor may not be an insect, but actually dreaming or hallucinating; instead, he uses vantage point and point of view to limit the audience’s area of concentration and force them to focus on the ideas which occupy Gregor’s mind. For instance, in the beginning of the story, Gregor bounces back and forth between noticing the changes of his body and thinking about how he loathes his job. Because these are the focuses of Gregor, so do they become the focuses of the reader, and we are likely to regard his physical change with as much passiveness as is in Gregor’s nature. Also, because Gregor never questions the possibility of this change, the reader also will not question its possibility, and we can move forward, using this metamorphosis as a fact and a hub from which all other distortions vein and the overarching truth may be realized.
The physical metamorphosis itself is indispensable, but at the same time we must remember it is an abstraction of truth and a distortion of reality, which is more likely represented in this world by withdrawal and depression. Gregor, throughout the story, thinks often about his life prior to his change, namely how he hated his job and responsibility. He resented the obligations he had to support and protect his otherwise incapable family. So he gave up, essentially, and began to withdraw from his family and society. In this case, it becomes possible that he actually wanted this physical change to relieve him of his burdens, and it’s also likely he subconsciously willed this state into being. This sort of will power is an obvious deviation from reality, but helps the reader better understand the degree to which Gregor abhorred his responsibility. Giving this event its due consideration, the reader may also notice Kafka’s existentialist ideas floating to the surface.
Following Gregor’s metamorphosis, this existentialist idea is given credence and the audience is made to realize in which ways Gregor will be held responsible for his own actions. Because this story takes place within a very confined area and with a limited number of characters, these relationships are highlighted and become glaringly important. Only by distorting Gregor’s physical nature is the audience able to gain any perspective on the truth behind the facade and understand what’s real in Gregor’s life. The first morning following Gregor’s metamorphosis, his chief clerk shows up at his home with questions and accusations, not worries or concerns which would be more characteristic. Through the chief clerk’s dialogue, and Gregor’s previous thoughts and feeling about his job, we realize his relative unimportance at work. The only reason the clerk showed up is because he suspected Gregor may have tried to make away with some money with which he had been entrusted. The clerk represents the business world where time equates money, and Gregor, with his slipping performance and recent absence has now physically become what his boss viewed him as; he is the vile loathsome insect who would dare break conduct and be late to work. The rest of his relations deteriorate in a similar manner. Gregor’s mother is content to believe her son is well in his new form as long as she doesn’t have to see him in the flesh, or whatever his new body is covered with. His sister is initially content to take care of him, but it is obvious because of the way she lays out his food and water that she views him as no more than an insect. Gregor’s father, who had been physically incapable of work was now forced to support the family once again. He changed from being passive, a nearly etheral presence in the household to a forceful, mock-important man in a doorman’s uniform. He lashes out violently at Gregor several times, because he is unhappy with this new situation. All of these events must remind the reader Gregor wished to be relieved of his responsibility, and now he was, but at a certain price. His mother deteriorates mentally, his sister lords herself over him, his father is vile and ruthless and his boss reveals his negative feelings for Gregor. Because this is what Gregor wanted, we do not pity him, but, in this sense begin to hold him responsible for his own actions and understand the negative happenings of his acquaintances to be his fault.
The Metamorphosis serves well to illustrate the misgivings of the family and society, and highlights Kafka’s existentialist ideals. This is a story where the primary interest of the characters is self, and not a higher power. It shows how the selfishness of one person carries negative repercussions which are revisited upon the offender tenfold. Kafka distorts reality to toggle the degree of backlash, and provoke thought which will guide his readers to be more careful about the events for which they wish.
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