In The Metamorphosis, what do the word choices associated with Gregor's appearance reveal about his potential to self-control? And, what do these same word choices about Gregor's appearance and...

In The Metamorphosis, what do the word choices associated with Gregor's appearance reveal about his potential to self-control? And, what do these same word choices about Gregor's appearance and behavior reveal about his personal reaction to his surprising transformation?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis proposes a narrative to readers that should not be read without some understanding of the author's life as well as the literary movements of Surrealism begun by André Breton and Expressionism. For one thing, like the novels of Dostovesky, there is much of the author's inner conflicts, dreams, and musings in his work. In his "Introduction" to the Bantam edition of The Metamorphosis, Stanley Corngold writes,

It is possible that the obscurity and irrevocableness of Gregor's sentence describes Kafka's fate as a writer.

Substantiating his sentence with a passage from a Kafka story entitled, "Wedding Preparations in the Country," Kafka describes a beetle of magnificence that corresponds to his literary "power and performance." Kafka writes in 1912,

The special nature of my inspiration...is such that I can do everything, and not only what is directed....When I arbitrarily write a single sentence....'He looked out of the window,' it already has perfection. 

Unfortunately, as has been previously mentioned in another posting on another by a distinguished editor, Kafka himself experienced several of the same anxieties as Gregor Samsa as he, too, worked for an insurance company, he suffered from stress and anxiety, and his health deteriorated. Therefore, his perspective altered and he perceived a different fate for himself, writing in 1914,

What will be my fate as a writer is very simple.  My talent for portraying my dreamlike inner life has thrust all other matters into the background; my life has dwindled dreadfully....Nothing else will ever satisfy me. But the strength I can muster for that portrayal...perhaps...has already vanished forever....I waver on the height; it is not death, alas, but the eternal torment of dying.

Thus, in The Metamorphosis Expressionism provides the dichotomy between the real world and the inner world of Gregor. That is to say, Gregor may not really be "a monstrous vermin"; for, after all, he has awakened from "unsettling dreams," dreams that may be surrealistic rather than realistic. Perhaps, Gregor perceives himself in terms of reflections of his office manager who personally calls upon Gregor to apprehend why he has not come to work. Seemingly incongruous, too, is Gregor's attempts to pacify the manager, saying that he will take the eight o'clock train and report to work. This statement can only be explained as the expression of his overwrought mental state, a state that does not parallel any state of Gregor's being a "hard-armored" insect. 

Despite his words to his manager said in obeisance, Gregor is so distraught and debilitated by the anxieties that are suggested by his words and expressed by his father and family that he cannot move what he imagines are his "hard-armored back" and "lamentably thin" and "little legs" that move with "excessive painful agitation." Thus, Gregor translates his inner anxieties, his compromised health and life, and the dysfunctions of family that he feels he has caused by being the main breadwinner, leaving his father inept, his mother crying, and his sister ineffective. The "gargantuan pest" that Gregor has become in his mind represents his overpowering negative affect upon his family's dynamics, and his debilitating psychological and physical state.

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