Surrealism in The Metamorphosis

Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

Gregor Samsa turns into an insect in Franz Kafka's ''The Metamorphosis'', but this event is only the beginning of the incredible occurrences in this classic work of surrealistic literature.

What Is Surrealism?

Surrealism in literature is characterized by a dreamlike narrative that often features incredible or even absurd elements. Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis is a classic example of surrealistic literature.

Surrealistic Plot

The plot, or events of the narrative, place The Metamorphosis squarely in the surrealistic tradition. As the novella begins, Gregor Samsa awakes to discover that he is no longer human. ''As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.'' Gregor's sister and parents are horrified by the transformation. No explanation is ever provided for Gregor's metamorphosis, however, and the family never seeks any kind of explanation or diagnosis.

The Samsa family's reaction to the change in Gregor seems strange, but Gregor's own reaction is just as absurd. He spends a few moments examining his new body and wondering what has happened to him. After these brief moments in the narrative, Gregor never again considers why he may have undergone such a transformation, and his thoughts immediately turn to his job. ''Oh God, he thought, what an exhausting job I've picked out for myself!''

Gregor continues to think about his obligations and even ruminates on the repercussions of being late for work. ''The next train went at seven o'clock; to catch that he would need to hurry like mad and his samples weren't even packed, and he himself wasn't feeling particularly fresh and energetic. And even if he did catch the train he couldn't avoid a tirade from the boss, since the messenger boy must have been waiting for the five o'clock train and must have long since reported his failure to turn up.''

Other Characters' Reactions

In addition to the unusual reactions of Gregor and his family, other characters also seem to accept his condition without wondering how he came to be a beetle. Gregor's parasitic family members, who have needlessly relied him for their sole support, eventually have to take in boarders to help with the change in their financial situation once Gregor is no longer able to work. The boarders seem to take his physical appearance in stride, again without questioning what terrible occurrence could have caused Gregor to become an insect.

When Gregor, starving and dirty from neglect, appears in one of the common areas of the house, they complain: '' 'I herewith declare,' said the boarder, lifting one hand and looking also at Gregor's mother and sister, 'that because of the disgusting conditions prevailing in this household and family'--here he spat on the floor with emphatic brevity--'I give you notice on the spot.' '' The boarders seem to take issue with the notion of living in the house with a dirty beetle without giving any thought to the cause of Gregor's astonishing transformation.

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