illustration of a giant insect with the outline of a man in a suit standing within the confines of the insect

The Metamorphosis

by Franz Kafka

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How does The Metamorphosis's narrative perspective impact the reader's understanding?

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The narrator's voice and point of view in The Metamorphosis are flat and detached, creating a sense of realism that helps the reader to accept the fantastic events as commonplace. This allows us to experience what is happening with Gregor's emotions without being overwhelmed by his sense of loss and alienation.

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The narrative perspective in The Metamorphosis is third-person. The story is told largely from Gregor Samsa's point of view, though the story continues after his death. The impact on the reader is to limit us to a very narrow perspective: the narrative "camera" focuses very tightly on Gregor and his...

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family, hardly leaving the claustrophobic apartment where Gregor lives out his days as an insect and seldom moving from what he himself can see and experience. There is never a moment where the narrator pulls back and offers a larger, omniscient perspective or any explanation of what has occurred, leaving it to the reader to conduct his or her own analysis. This narrow perspective helps us, however, to understand the narrow, constricted life Gregor leads.

By focusing on Gregor's perspective through most of the story, the narrator shows us in a direct way what Gregor is thinking and feeling and what it feels like to him to wake up transformed into an insect. This helps engage us in his drama. At the same time, Kafka's narrative voice is flat and deadpan, unemotionally recording events and thoughts as they occur to Gregor. By taking on this flat tone, Kafka creates a disjuncture between the extraordinary nature of what has occurred—a man turning into a giant insect—and the matter-of-fact way it is recorded as if it is nothing special. This detailed, realistic narrative voice makes it easier to accept what has occurred, because, other than the fact Samsa is now an insect, this is an utterly ordinary life in an ordinary family. As he awakes and notes the change, we learn that:

His many legs, pitifully thin compared with the size of the rest of him, waved about helplessly as he looked. "What's happened to me?" he thought. It wasn't a dream. His room, a proper human room although a little too small, lay peacefully between its four familiar walls. A collection of textile samples lay spread out on the table—Samsa was a travelling salesman—and above it there hung a picture that he had recently cut out of an illustrated magazine and housed in a nice, gilded frame.

The narrator's flatness and detachment in describing what is happening helps us accept the fantastic aspect of the scene, because everything else is so entirely banal.

The detached voice also creates room for the reader to feel the emotions the narrator does not express. This helps create a sense of identification with Samsa as he struggles over time with being increasingly rejected by his family as a burden because he is creating work while doing nothing to contribute to the family finances. We feel a deep sorrow for his plight that neither the narrator or Samsa expresses.

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