Dramatic Irony in The Metamorphosis: Examples & Quotes

Instructor: Laura Foist

Laura has a Masters of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition and has taught college Science.

Franz Kafka's ''The Metamorphosis'' uses a lot of dramatic irony throughout the story. In this lesson, we explore some examples of it through Gregor's transformation into a giant insect.

Dramatic Irony in The Metamorphosis

Have you ever known something that your friend didn't know? Then, based on that knowledge, your friend's actions seemed somewhat humorous? When situations like this occur in literature it is called dramatic irony. Dramatic irony is when the audience knows something that the characters do not know, making the actions of the characters seem out of place or humorous.

Since the main character in the Metamorphosis has changed into a beetle, no one understands his thoughts and feelings

The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka, uses a lot of dramatic irony. We, as the audience, know what is happening with Gregor and what he is thinking and feeling, but his family does not. This leads to several situations where the family acts in ways that don't make sense. The resulting humor is very dark; Gregor finds himself in a sad situation.

The Initial Revelation

The novella starts out one morning with Gregor waking up to find he has transformed into a beetle. When his family realizes he hasn't left for work, they try to wake him up. However, since he has locked his bedroom door, they don't yet know about his transformation. So, his family continues acting as though everything is normal and are simply confused as to why Gregor hasn't gone to work.

The first contact with the family is with his mother, as she gently knocks on his door and calls to him: ''Gregor, it's quarter to seven. Didn't you want to go somewhere?'' This seems like a pretty normal thing for his mother to ask, gently trying to ensure he gets up for work. Yet, as the audience, we know something that his mother does not know: Gregor has turned into a beetle. If she knew this, his mother wouldn't be treating the day like any other and (as we see from her later reaction) would instead turn away in horror.

Each family member comes to Gregor in the same manner. They are somewhat confused as to why he hasn't left for work but still treat it like any other day. Meanwhile, behind the locked door, Gregor continues to rock back and forth with his legs wiggling in the air, trying to simply get out of bed.

The Chief Clerk

The chief clerk is then sent to find out why Gregor didn't come to work. When he arrives, he makes a speech:

''Mr. Samsa, what is wrong? You barricade yourself in your room, give us no more than yes or no for an answer, you are causing serious and unnecessary concern to your parents and you fail - and I mention this just by the way - you fail to carry out your business duties in a way that is quite unheard of. I'm speaking here on behalf of your parents and of your employer, and really must request a clear and immediate explanation. I am astonished, quite astonished.''

He then reprimands Gregor for not coming into work and hints that he may soon be fired. Once again, this long speech would be fitting under normal circumstances, but we know something that the chief clerk does not know. Once the chief clerk realizes what has happened, ''he leapt down several steps at once and disappeared; his shouts resounding all around the staircase.'' He leaves in such a hurry that he leaves his stick behind. This is how you would expect someone to respond to a giant beetle in place of a man, not simply trying to convince him to come out of his room and threaten him with being fired.

The Violin Playing

Grete's breaking point comes when she is playing the violin for their new tenants (they take in tenants in order to make money, since Gregor had been the primary breadwinner before his transformation). Gregor always loved listening to his sister play the violin, so when she starts playing for the first time in months, he cannot help but go and join the family.

Gregor didn't wish to scare everyone away, but he felt that his continued connection to music was proof that he was still human, somewhere within himself. He enters the living room but is spotted by the tenants, and they run away in horror.

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