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Expressionism Quotes in The Metamorphosis

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

In this lesson, we will explore elements of the Expressionism movement. Specifically, you'll learn about how expressionism appears in Franz Kafka's short story 'The Metamorphosis.'

What is Expressionism?

When you think about World War I, the first thing that comes to mind may not be the artistic and literary movements, but they were certainly there! The period during and just after WWI saw the rise of several very influential movements, including expressionism. Expressionism was an artistic and literary movement that focused on individual emotions and reactions to situations rather than trying to stay true to life. Expressionists were more concerned with conveying emotion than showing how life actually was at the time.

One story with strong expressionist aspects is The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. This story was published in 1915, a few years after expressionism began to take hold.

The short story contains significant expressionist elements.
Metamorphosis

Subjectivity

One major focus of expressionism is on the subjective, or how people are thinking and feeling rather than facts and statistics. Expressionist authors use point of view as well as descriptive elements to show how the world, or at least a particular situation, is seen by an individual. In The Metamorphosis, that individual is Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman who wakes up one day as a giant beetle.

Clearly, given the circumstances, Kafka is not trying to depict reality. The story opens with ''One morning when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin.'' The rest of the story is told entirely from Gregor's perspective. We only see things as Gregor experiences them, and the only impressions we are given come from his emotions.

For example, though his family seems understandably horrified by his transformation, we do not experience horror because Gregor doesn't. Even as the clerk from his work is trying to flee, and his mother has fallen to the ground in shock, the emotion of the scene is light. Gregor thinks that ''for the first time that day, he began to feel alright with his body; the little legs had the solid ground under them; to his pleasure, they did exactly as he told them; they were even making the effort to carry him where he wanted to go…'' He is almost happy, in direct contrast with everyone else.

This contrast provides an emotional shock to the readers by going away from what they expect. Shock and strong emotions are both significant aspects of expressionism.

Social Commentary

One of the driving forces behind expressionism is social commentary. Expressionists want to show the negative aspects of society, especially materialism and how differently the lower class are treated. Kafka uses Gregor's job to represent how modern society affects workers. Gregor's first thoughts turn to his work when he wakes up. He moans that ''...the torture of traveling, worrying about changing trains, eating miserable food at all hours, constantly seeing new faces...'' These job-related stresses seem to be the cause of his situation.

Immediately upon waking up as a beetle and blaming his job for the change, Gregor realizes he is late for work and becomes intent on getting ready and what he will say to his boss.

He briefly considers calling out sick, but realizes, ''His boss would certainly come round with the doctor from the medical insurance company, accuse his parents of having a lazy son, and accept the doctor's recommendation not to make any claim as the doctor believed that no-one was ever ill but that many were workshy.''

Keep in mind, this is how he thinks they will react to finding him transformed into a giant beetle. When the clerk sees him and tries to flee in horror, Gregor's first reaction is ''...that it was out of the question to let the chief clerk go away in this mood if his position in the firm was not to be put into extreme danger.'' Kafka uses Gregor's concern about losing his job, despite his life-altering situation, as a form of social commentary.

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