Fear, jolting, trapping in a sense, and awakening in a more literal one, a nightmare is a dream forged from the inner reality of yourself. In “The Metamorphosis” by Kafka a traveling salesman named Gregor is mysteriously turned into a dung beetle, which not even his family can learn to accept let alone understand. His family is now faced with a lack of money, since Gregor was the only person working, leaving him to feel worthless and like a disappointment as opposed to the importance that he once held. Kafka’s tone and overall style according to Russian author Vladimir Nabokov makes The Metamorphosis a “striking contrast to the nightmare of the tale.” Enhancing this nightmarish quality of this novella are Kafka’s limited third person perspective, a matter-of- fact tone and clear black and white preciseness.
Due to the limited third person perspective darkness is created surrounding the reader making uncertainty and alienation inevitable. Set apart from the story directly the reader must take in Gregor’s story in a relationship almost fitting more with the readers’ own life rather than a simple story about one man. From the very beginning of this novella it is made clear that this perspective with not explain thoroughly the exactness of Gregor’s dilemma, leaving a nightmarish quality of chaos and insecurity. Gregor’s thoughts awaken the reader to the strange circumstance that he is in in his own mind, but limiting Gregor’s vulnerability in the eyes of the reader.
“What has happened to me? He thought. It was no dream.” (1) In this passage Gregor expresses his broad feelings about what has happened although Kafka confines Gregor from an in depth look at why, how and even if he has really turned into a beetle. The narrating voice has no more knowledge of the events of the story than Gregor does. It is confined with him in his room, it listens at the keyhole, it follows his dreams, it departs when he faints, and it returns when he wakes, however it seems almost detached. The seclusion in which this puts Kafka’s protagonist allows the reader to absorb the situation differently as they might in his situation. Forming an entrapment into the novel, even unto the unavoidable demise of Gregor, his ultimate nightmare.
Simplicity is the clarity of expression, shown in this novella by the straight forwardness of the characters, making a dream state even more clear. Gregor hated his job as a traveling salesman but accepted it by telling himself that when he repays the debt he owes his family he will do something that satisfies him. However, Kafka’s writing makes his dreams hopeless by turning Gregor into a beetle, lacking acceptance from his own family. There is no hope for Gregor in Kafka’s novella. The family seems to have decided that they cannot depend on Gregor anymore and therefore not even acknowledge him is the clearest betrayal, written in such a matter- of – fact tone that its significance cannot go undermined. This wounds Gregor more than his own feelings of guilt in leaving the family to endure what he thinks will follow, poverty.
However, even before Gregor’s metamorphosis, his father had disclosed his secret that his business had not fallen completely and the family had enough money to provide for themselves until they got jobs themselves. The lack of trust for Gregor from his father shows the reader the extreme loneliness, which Gregor has endured probably all of his life and the superficial pride he had felt when he was working for his family. The startling aspects of this writing seem to be that without pausing to stress these horrible conditions of the main characters life, Kafka systematically adds to Gregor’s disappointment until he finally ends his misery.
Kafka includes no metaphors or other writing elements to symbolize the struggle of his protagonist and the other characters in the novella. His writing is a black and white view of cause and effect, no matter what they are. The elements of his style do not sympathize with Gregor and seem to point out the meaningless nature of wording to hide the true meaning of his story. Gregor’s metamorphosis, alienation, fear and awakening to this traumatizing experience is written with an eerie calm that makes these facets of the novel even more sincere and understandable.
Throughout the novel Gregor is portrayed as an outcast, even in his own family. They do not accept him and distrust him as a human and are ultimately relieved at his death as a beetle. The nightmarish quality Kafka’s The Metamorphosis includes the limited third person perspective, a matter-of- fact tone and clear black and white specificity. The qualities mentioned pull the reader into the novel even as Kafka shows the horrors of his life. Although Kafka does not allow the narrating voice to sympathize with Gregor’s circumstance the readers through their own humanity are able to understand. This writing provokes this feeling of understanding through a nightmare of subtle calmness that is broken in the end of the novella when the reader is jolted awake through disgust at the family’s relief.
Courtney from Study Moose
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