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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What does the first paragraph of Kafka's The Metamorphosis reveal about the main characters?

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Well, any reader picking up this story and wondering what the title refers to will very quickly have their question answered! Kafka tells his readers in the very first paragraph what "metamorphosis" he is referring to by introducing us to his protagonist, Gregor Samsa, waking up in his bed from "anxious dreams" only to find that he has been transfigured into an enormous (to use Kafka's word, "monstrous") bug.

We can assume, from the description in the first paragraph, that the bug is approximately the same size as a human, given that Gregor is still in his bed, although the blanket is about to slide off him. The bug is possessed of an "armor-hard" back and has an arch-shaped abdomen, which is divided into stiff sections. The legs of the bug are extremely thin in relation to the rest of its body.

We can also tell, given that we are seeing all this from Gregor's perspective, that the transformation has been only physical; Gregor is still able to think, to be anxious (justifiably so), and to wonder what on earth has happened to him.

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In the first paragraph of The Metamorphosis, Kafka reveals that his main character—Gregor Samsa—has turned into a giant verminous bug. Straight away, Gregor realizes that this is no dream but a living nightmare. As he lies on his armor-hard back, he lifts up his head and looks down in shock at the full-length of his hideous new body. His numerous insect legs are tiny and scrawny, forming a stark contrast to the large, brown abdomen from which his blanket threatens to slip off at any moment.

There's no messing about here with Kafka; he dives straight into the action without hesitation. The shock that the first paragraph gives us is all the more effective because it mirrors Gregor's own feelings at waking up one morning and suddenly realizing that he's turned into a giant bug.

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