The Metamorphosis Questions and Answers
by Franz Kafka

The Metamorphosis book cover
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In questioning the value of literary realism, Flannery O’Connor has written, “I am interested in making a good case for distortion because I am coming to believe that it is the only way to make people see.” How are important elements of The Metamorphosis “distorted” and how do these distortions contribute to the effectiveness of the novella?

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The major distortion Kafka introduces is causing Gregor, who feels like little more than a dehumanized insect, to literally turn into one. Distorting reality by literalizing the metaphor of feeling like a bug is effective because of the shock value it carries. A human being suddenly waking up with a carapace and wiggling six little legs catches our attention and rivets our interest.

A realistic story about a person living a grayed out life as a cog in his society's machine, existing only to earn money for his family at a job he hates, his soul deadened, lacks the verve that accompanies such a person actually changing into something grotesque. We might overlook Gregor's suffering if he remained a human being, but as an insect we can't.

It also forces the entire family to temporarily readjust to a new reality, one that brings out into the open the extent to which they are indifferent to Gregor as a person and only interested in the money he brings in. Once he is of no use to them, they treat him cruelly. His father throw an apple at him that lodges in his flesh. His sister stops feeding him, wanting him to die, and knowing she wants him dead, he wants to die himself.

After his death, we are shocked at how easily the family moves on without Gregor and how little they mourn him. One would think that having a family member turn into a giant insect might cause some introspection, regret, or pain, but the family treats it merely as a nuisance that is happily over. This helps highlight how dehumanized the entire family—and, by implication, their society—truly is.

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