What are examples of pun, refrain, foil, metonymy, and logos in Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis? Why are they important?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Logos is a logical appeal or logical argument. Anytime an author or speaker uses facts, theories, or logical rationales to convince a reader of an argument, we call that logos. In Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, while we may not see any arguments in which the author, narrator, or even a character tries to convince us of something, we do see the protagonist Gregor try to reason his way out of his situations. One example can be seen in the very first paragraphs of the book. When he awakens to find he has tremendously transformed, he tries to rationally explain away the situation for himself. One rational argument he makes to himself is posed in the form of a rhetorical question, "How would it be if I kept sleeping for a little while longer and forgot all this foolishness ..." (Ch. 1). By proposing more sleep, he is suggesting to himself that the changes he is seeing are merely just a dream, which rationally makes sense on a level considering the narrator also reports Gregor had "restless dreams" all night long; it is certainly logical for Gregor to assume he is still dreaming as an explanation for what has happened to him. Plus, since assuming he is dreaming is a rational way to explain the situation, it certainly serves as an excellent example of logos. Another example of logos can be seen in his much longer following statement:

Oh God ... what a strenuous occupation I've chosen! Always on the road, day out, day in. The rigors of the job are much greater that if I were working locally, and, furthermore the nuisances of traveling are always imposed upon me--the worries about train connections, bad meals at irregular intervals, fleeting human contact that is ever-changing, never lasting, and never expected to be genuine. (Ch. 1)

Again, Gregor is using this argument to explain the transformations he is seeing. At this point, he probably more fully believes he has transformed and is not just dreaming because he's just had a battle with himself in which he tried a hundred times to roll over onto his side to sleep some more and failed, even injuring his side somehow. If he can feel pain, then he can no longer be fully convinced he is still dreaming. Therefore, his next step in the process of rationalizing what has happened to him is to relate the transformation to stress due to his job. In his eyes, all of the above have severely impacted his health and somehow led to this transformation. Again, since what he argues above certainly is rational plus full of facts, we see that his self-rationalization is again a perfect example of logos.

A metonymy is very difficult to find in The Metamorphosis as it is not frequently used. A metonymy is a form of figurative language in which we use a word referring to a physical object to represent a more general idea. Dr. Wheeler gives us several examples: (1) a crown is often used to refer to an entire royal family, not just the physical object crown; (2) in English playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton's famous saying, "The pen is mightier than the sword," the word pen is being used as a metonymy to refer to writing or education, while sword is being used as a metonymy to refer to "military force"; and (3) the words White House are used as a metonymy to refer to both a physical house and the United States' government ("Literary Terms and Definitions: M"). In the first chapter of The Metamorphosis, Gregor refers to the "boss's errand boy" as a "minion," meaning servant, "without backbone or intelligence." Literally, a backbone is a physical object or bone but has also come to represent bravery, since bravery is viewed as the ability to stand erect and face the enemy; therefore, saying that one has no backbone is the same as saying that one has no bravery. In Chapter II, the narrator spends some time describing the family's mealtime and then describes the father leaving the table; the narrator describes, "Now then he stood up from the table." The word table is a physical object that can be used as a metonymy to refer to the common event of mealtime.

Refrains can be difficult to find in prose as it is a term usually reserved for poetry. In fact, one can question if prose contains any refrains at all. Refrains are repeated words and phrases, specifically repeated throughout the entire poem and normally repeated after each stanza. We certainly don't see any words or phrases being repeated after each paragraph in The Metamorphosis nor likely in any work of prose. The closest we get to a refrain can be seen in the beginning of the first two chapters though not in the third. Both chapters open with Gregor waking up. The first chapter opens with the words, "As Gregor awoke one morning ...., while the second chapter opens with, "Gregor woke up." While these words are similar and the idea is the same, one can hesitate to truly call this a refrain because the words are not identical, and refrains in poetry are always identical. We can also hesitate to call this a refrain because the pattern is not repeated in the third and final chapter.

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wismer-aryeh | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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     A pun: Gregor spends a great deal of time in the first part trying to wrestle his cumbersome insect body off his bed and on to the floor. Rocking back and forth and attempting this way and that to roll off the bed he injures himself several times and becomes frustrated. His boss comes to investigate why he has not shown up to work and chides him though the door insulting his honesty and insinuating that he has been lazy of late. Here the boss says:

     "Your turnover has been very unsatisfactory of late"

     How how ironic and very much a pun on the word "turnover" which here references his attempts to roll off the bed, which was very unsatisfactory; and his recent work as a salesman, as in to turn products into profit. This innocuous phrase cruelly taunts his predicament and insults his work as well. A major theme of The Metamorphosis is the cruel and senseless world which Gregor has no choice but to accept right along with his family responsibilities. This casually cruel remark the stoic working man takes in stride along with the rest of his predicament.

     A Foil: Gregors father is described as almost an invalid when Gregor was able to support the family. Retiring from a harsh job the father is now able to relax and has become sedentary. His body has become fat and weak and he barely moves from bed or chair as described here:

     "...who was hardly even able to stand up but, as a sign of his pleasure would just raise his arms..."

     When Gregor becomes an invalid himself as a giant beetle the father undergoes his own transformation into a businesslike and dignified man once more as described here:

     "He was standing up straight enough now; dressed in a smart blue uniform with gold buttons, the sort worn by the employees at the banking institute; above the high, stiff collar of the coat his strong double-chin emerged; under his bushy eyebrows. his piercing, dark eyes looked out fresh and alert..."

     Gregor and his father mirror each other, as one rises the other falls. This is a meaningful comment on the state of affairs between father and son as head of household. As the father deteriorates son improves and when the son deteriorates the father improves. They are the same but are a sharp contrast at any one time.

     Logos: It is clear that Gregor accepted his situation as a breadwinner in his family. He accepted that his father should no longer work and works thanklessly to support his family having no hobbies he does not even complain. When faced with the absurd event of transforming into a giant beetle he applies the same stoicism to his new situation even though it outside the realm of believability Gregor soldiers on. This is an application of his previous logic to an illogical situation. His attempts to reconcile his new body with his lifestyle is impossible but he continues through part two to try. This is a logical conundrum: what choice does he have but to attempt a rational view in an irrational universe?

Note: I confess I could not be certain of a metonym in The Metamorphosis that couldn't be called an analogy and for a refrain I was completely baffled. I invite another to provide these.

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