Setting of The Metamorphosis: Analysis & Significance

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  • 0:04 Summary of the Story
  • 0:55 Setting
  • 2:55 A Juxtaposition
  • 3:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Krista Langlois

Krista has taught language arts for 14 years. She has a master's degree in teaching and loves researching, reading, and introducing others to the wonders of literature and language.

Franz Kafka's ''The Metamorphosis'' is a novella with a big impact. Kafka attacks themes of isolation and confinement in a uniquely terrifying way. In this lesson, we'll explore the setting of the story and look at its relationship to the theme.

Summary of the Story

Imagine waking up one morning to find you had become a giant insect. This is exactly what happens to our protagonist, Gregor Samsa. The story follows this transformation, Gregor's adjustment to his new form, and his family's reactions to his disgusting new body, eating habits, and movements around the home.

As Gregor begins to adjust to himself, he's also becoming more and more isolated from humanity and confined to his small space. Though he tries to adapt, the loneliness and isolation grow as he realizes he cannot work, cannot go out, and, perhaps most importantly, cannot relate to or communicate with other people, especially his family.

The nightmarish and oppressive feeling that Kafka imbues in the story is indicative of his works and today Kafkaesque is the adjective used to describe things that present people with the same feelings of nightmare-like horror and a deepening sense of oppression.

Gregor Samsa woke one morning to find that he was no longer human but a human-sized insect
cockroach

Setting

The Metamorphosis takes place in the small apartment where Gregor lives with his family. Though we aren't given a specific time period, carriages and horses are included in the story, so it's safe to assume that the novella is set in a time before automobiles.

Gregor's life changes when he becomes an insect. He's trapped inside the apartment. He also eats, thinks, and behaves differently. In Gregor's case, the space in which he can continue his life as a bug, now eating rotten food and scurrying here and there, becomes smaller and smaller as his family becomes more and more freaked out. His apartment underlies the themes of isolation and confinement on a number of levels.

Gregor awakes one morning in his bedroom, tries to roll over, and realizes he is a giant bug. He works to adjust, but his family does not. Gregor's space in the apartment is limited to his bedroom. His inability to leave his room without the wrath of his family traps him even further within himself.

His small room becomes the only means through which he can experience the world. Just as his new compound vision distorts his reality, so too does this setting through which he witnesses the world only through the windowed eyes of his bedroom. There is no escape for Gregor. The apartment traps his bug self and his interactions just as neatly as the insect body traps his essence.

All of the action in the story takes place within Gregor's apartment. This highlights the isolation theme that Kafka builds. Even with the other family members, we see no action outside of the apartment. The only reality is within, just as the real Gregor is within his newly shelled body. The isolation and loneliness literally has Gregor climbing the walls.

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