illustration of a giant insect with the outline of a man in a suit standing within the confines of the insect

The Metamorphosis

by Franz Kafka

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Focusing on either Kafka’s The Metamorphosis or Lu Xun’s “Diary of a Madman,” examine how one aspect of the modern world is depicted. Examples might include the workplace, the city, family relationships, science, medicine, psychology, the role of the individual, and so forth. In what ways can either of these texts be interpreted as a response to the conditions of modern life?

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Focusing on Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, you could easily write about several of these topics, but to get you started, let's reflect on family relationships, the workplace, and medicine.

Gregor has a huge problem at the beginning of the novella. He wakes up one morning to find that he is now a giant bug. His family has no idea how to handle Gregor in his new condition. Gregor lives with his parents and his sister, but they apparently are not an especially close family. Gregor's mother faints in terror when she sees her insect son. His father beats him and pushes him back into his room. Only his sister, Grete, continues to care for him. But after a while, even she agrees with her parents that they must do something to get rid of Gregor. The unfortunate Gregor is ultimately killed by a wound given to him by his father. We can see the story, then, as an exploration of the disintegration of family life in modern society. Everyone wants Gregor when he can do something for them. No one wants him when he cannot.

We could also explore this story through the lens of the workplace. Gregor despises his job as a traveling salesman. He is working to support his family, to pay his father's debt, and to try to help Grete pursue her dream of studying music. But he is miserable. The boss of the company seems to hate Gregor just as much as Gregor hates his job. Gregor's work is impersonal, apparently tedious, and extremely dull, yet he keeps going. Later in the story, Gregor's family members must all go to work when he no longer can. We should notice that the story reflects on the unsatisfactory nature of the modern workplace and the drudgery of performing a job one hates.

Finally, this tale could support a meditation on the role of medicine. In Gregor's case, modern medicine, as advanced as it may be, can do absolutely nothing to help. There is certainly a message here about the limitations of medicine in some areas of life.

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