Examples of Personification in The Metamorphosis

Instructor: Lauren Posey

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

Few stories give an animal human traits to the same degree as 'The Metamorphosis' by Franz Kafka. In this lesson we will explore Kafka's use of personification in the story.

What is Personification?

Think about the last story you read. Were there times when an animal or non-living object was given human traits? This type of imagery often appears in literature, and it is called personification. An example would be a sentence such as, 'The wind howled mournfully.' Being mournful is a human trait, but wind is not human.

Personification often appears as a one- or two-line piece of imagery. However, this is not always the case. In 'The Metamorphosis' by Franz Kafka the personification spans the entire story.

'The Metamorphosis'

Before we can delve into Kafka's use of personification, let's look at a brief summary of the story itself. In the story, traveling salesman Gregor Samsa wakes up one day having transformed into a giant dung beetle. He is aware of the transformation the moment he wakes up. At first, he is convinced it must be a dream and that even if it is real it will go away and he can continue his life as normal. This hope disappears once he encounters his family. They are (understandably) terrified and lock him in his room.

The story spans a few months. Gregor's sister looks after him, though she will only come into the room if he is out of sight under the couch. At one point he escapes and his father throws apples at him, injuring him. From then on his door is left open. He can barely move, but he is able to see the family and hear them. Over time he does not eat and he weakens. Eventually, after a confrontation between his family and their tenants, Gregor dies and the maid takes care of disposing the body. The family is relieved.

Gregor wakes up as a giant dung beetle.
Dung beetle

Almost Human

Gregor is not human, starting from the time he wakes up in the first line of the story. Yet the story is from his point of view, and we see him thinking human thoughts and having human emotions. As a result, the entire story is an extended example of personification. Using personification allows Kafka to juxtapose (set side by side) human emotions with insect-like action, which gives the story more weight than it would have if the personification was not present.

One example is when Gregor is still in bed on the first morning. He looks out the window and ''Drops of rain could be heard hitting the pane, which made him feel quite sad.'' Sadness is human, but Gregor is a dung beetle. He continues thinking human thoughts, worrying about his career and how he is going to get back to work.

These thoughts are more striking when we see his actions. For example, ''He was especially fond of hanging from the ceiling; it was quite different from lying on the floor; he could breathe more freely; his body had a light swing to it…'' In this quote he is acting like an insect, climbing up the walls and hanging from the ceiling. Yet he is feeling human emotions at the same time. We see this level of personification throughout the story.

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