In The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, what are examples of figures of speech?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Figures of speech are often used by writers to add more meaning, a freshness of expression, or emphasis to phrases, sentences, or passages.

In his novella The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka certainly employs figures of speech in his terrifying and bizarre—yet comically absurd—exploration of the feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and isolation.

For one thing, Kafka's work uses techniques of parody in certain passages as, for instance, the narrator mocks the narratives of fairy tales in which the beauty saves the prince who has been transformed. For in this novella, the sister, who is "the beauty," is so repulsed by Gregor that he hides under his bed, even drawing a sheet over the part of him that sticks out whenever she enters his room in order to clean it and open the window to let the fresh air dissipate his odor.

Here are some examples of figures of speech:

  • Chapter 1

Gregor Samsa awakens in the first morning, and he ponders his existence as a salesman:

He was a tool of the boss, [a metaphor, an unstated comparison between two unlike things] without brains or backbone. [alliteration: repetition of consonant sound of /b/]

When the manager comes to the Samsa house to learn what has caused Gregor's tardiness, he is ushered to the hall. As he talks to Gregor outside his door, he tells Gregor,

"I'm amazed, amazed [repetition for emphasis] you suddenly seem to want to start strutting about, flaunting strange whims." [alliteration is used with the repetition of /s/]

The words of the manager are also ironic since the manager has no idea of the contrast of the situation with how he pictures it. He knows nothing of Gregor's transformation.

  • Chapter 2

There is more alliteration in this chapter. For example, one paragraph begins,

In the course of the very first day his father explained the family's financial situation.... [Repetition of the /f/]

Then, later in the narrative,

Often during Gregor's short stays in the city the Conservatory would come up in his conversations with his sister [Repetition of /s/ and /c/. This repetition of the s sound is also called sibilance.]

There is also figurative language: 

...he might have believed that he was looking out his window into a desert where the grey sky and the grey earth were indistinguishably fused--

and parallelism ["grey sky and the grey earth"] that provide a freshness of expression:

  • Chapter 3

More figurative language appears in this chapter:

The family feels it is their duty "to swallow their disgust" (Since no one really swallows anything like disgust, this is figure of speech.)

What Gregor did was run away from the he was very hot with shame and sorrow. [figurative language and alliteration of the /s/]

There is another example of sibilance is in this line from Chapter 3:

"sweet milk in which swam small bits of white bread."

A simile, a comparison between two unlike things using the words as or like, is used in this chapter:

And now if Gregor, because of his wound, had... lost his mobility and, like an old invalid...

The once very active and hard-working Gregor is now compared to an invalid.

booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the beginning of Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, one figure of speech that is used is personification, which is giving an inanimate or non-human object a human characteristic.

...Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams...

The dreams are not anxious, though Gregor may be. Another figure of speech is found in the use of a simile. This is when two dissimilar things with similar characteristics are presented as the same thing, while using "like" or "as" in the comparions.

Other travelling salesmen live like harem women.

The salesman and the harem women are different, but the life of leisure that Gregor imagines they share is similar. The next figure of speech used is hyperbole. This is when exaggeration is used to create a certain effect.

Yes, but was it possible to sleep peacefully through that noise which made the furniture shake?

Obviously, the alarm clock must be loud, but it certainly is not loud enough to make a table or chair shake. The impression Gregor is trying to impart is that with such a loud alarm, it makes no sense that he could sleep through the sound; we can assume this has never happened before.


Read the study guide:
The Metamorphosis

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