Situational Irony in The Metamorphosis: Examples & Quotes

Instructor: Lauren Posey

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

In this lesson, you will learn about situational irony. In particular, we'll take a look at examples and quotes related to situational irony in Franz Kafka's novella, 'The Metamorphosis.'

Defying Expectations

When you begin a story and start to see the plot unfolding, you can't help but have expectations about what is going to happen. When an author subverts (goes against) these expectations, it can make the story and characters even more interesting. In literature, when what happens is the opposite of what you expect given the situation and characters, it is known as situational irony. One story that is full of situational irony from start to finish is The Metamorphosis, a novella by Franz Kafka.

This story has many examples of situational irony.
The Metamorphosis

In the Beginning

The irony in The Metamorphosis starts right away. As a reader, you don't expect your book to begin with a character transforming into a giant beetle overnight, with no explanation given. Yet this is exactly what happens. The first line of the story is, ''One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin.'' We are never told how he got that way.

In fact, Gregor himself doesn't seem to care why. His reaction to the transformation is ironic as well. You would expect a character to be upset, or at the very least wide awake from shock. Yet Gregor thinks to himself, ''How about if I sleep a little bit longer and forget all this nonsense.'' This reaction certainly subverts expectations.

Once he is truly awake, Gregor's reactions continue to be an example of situational irony. He is not horrified, distraught, or disgusted by his new self. Instead, he is completely focused on getting into work on time. He thinks, ''First of all though, I've got to get up, my train leaves at five…'' This reaction goes against what you would expect of a character in his situation.

Behind Closed Doors

Gregor's family, on the other hand, is completely horrified, and this leads to another piece of situational irony. Before they realize what has happened, his family and the clerk from his job are trying continuously to get him to open his bedroom door, which is locked. Gregor's father tells him, ''the chief clerk… wants to speak to you personally. So please open up this door.'' This is one of several requests from his family.

After they discover Gregor's transformation, no one has any desire to enter his room again. Gregor sits in there and waits, noticing that ''Once during that long evening, the door on one side of the room was opened very slightly and hurriedly closed again; later on the door on the other side did the same; it seemed that someone needed to enter the room but thought better of it.''

The irony is that when his door was locked everyone wanted to get in, yet once it is unlocked they avoid coming in as much as possible.

Animal and Man

The reactions of Gregor's family are ironic on another level as well. First, let's look at his father. When he sees what has happened to Gregor, he is horrified and chases Gregor back into his room using a broom. We see that ''Nothing would stop Gregor's father as he drove him back, making hissing noises at him like a wild man.'' It is ironic that Gregor's father, who is human, is acting more like an animal than Gregor, who has turned into a giant insect.

The final overarching irony of the story lies in the fact that when he was human, Gregor had supported his family completely for the last five years: ''Gregor had later earned so much that he was in a position to bear the costs of the whole family, and did bear them.''

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