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...

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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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One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug.

So opens Czech writer Franz Kafka's famous and enigmatic novella The Metamorphosis, written in German and published in 1915, one of the few works published in his short lifetime. The Southern writer Flannery O'Connor's quotation is an apt one to apply to Kafka, whose works are often compared to parables without a set or obvious meaning.

The "distortion" she speaks of is evident from the first line, in which the helpless protagonist wakes up as a giant insect (what kind is never specified) and remains so for the entire story, until his death at the end. Like O'Connor's, much of Kafka's work employs unusual or unexpected devices in order to get his readers to see and think in a different way.

A key difference between O'Connor and Kakfa is that the former was a practicing Catholic, and her stories often have a deeper meaning about God, redemption, or sin. While Kafka was Jewish, I'm not sure how religious he was; many of his works are open to interpretation, and many have written about what The Metamorphosis means. Is it his pessimistic view of humanity? Is it about his fraught relationship with his own father? The father in the story throws an apple at Gregor, and it gets lodged in his back, wounding him. Whatever the reader takes away from it, the powerful image of a man turned into an insect will provoke and even confuse but will never be forgotten.

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