Tone in The Metamorphosis

Instructor: Laura Foist

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

The tone in Franz Kafka's 'The Metamorphosis' is unexpected based on the events in the story. In this lesson, we will explore the tone in this story and explore what this tone reveals about the story's meaning.

The Reaction

How would you react if you woke up one morning to find that you had a hard shell and six tiny legs? I would freak out. My main concern wouldn't be getting to work—it would be 'how did this happen and how can I fix it?!' Over time, I may become used to the idea of being a giant beetle, but I would never fully accept it as though it was all okay and this was simply life now.

How about those around me—how would they react? They would react with horror; they probably wouldn't know whether or not to believe that it was me at first, and would simply freak out that there was a giant beetle in front of them. Once they did realize it was me, they would probably take me to every doctor possible to find a way to cure me. They wouldn't just lock me in my room and hope I would disappear.

This story is about a man who changes into a beetle

The reaction that everyone has to Gregor turning into a giant beetle in The Metamorphosis is a strange one. Gregor simply acts like it isn't a big deal but more of an annoyance, one more thing that he needs to deal with. While his family at least reacts with horror, they still don't seek any assistance, let alone medical care for Gregor. Since the story happens from Gregor's point of view, it is told with a very dispassionate tone, which is an interesting tone to take in a story about something so extraordinary.

Dispassionate Tone

We see the dispassionate tone throughout the entire story. When Gregor first wakes to find himself transformed into a beetle, he takes a brief moment to wonder if it is only a dream, but quickly dismisses that idea and decides to try sleeping a little longer. When this fails, his first thought isn't ''what has happened to me?'' It is ''what a strenuous career is it that I've chosen!'' Gregor doesn't even seem to realize that he has turned into a beetle, even though he is staring at his tiny legs and can't seem to get off his back.

This dispassionate tone leads to a lot of dark humor in the novella. Picture Gregor: a giant beetle, rocking back and forth, trying to get out of bed, his little legs waving in the air—it would be a funny sight indeed. Despite the comical element, we know that Gregor really shouldn't be a beetle and that we would laugh at his predicament makes it dark.

As the story progresses, Gregor never reacts to the fact that he is now a beetle. He tries hiding it from his family for as long as possible, but once they realize what has occurred, he's still mostly concerned about how his boss will react. He still isn't really concerned about the fact that he is a beetle. He takes note that some of his previously favorite foods are now repulsive to him, but beyond that, doesn't really care that he now prefers rotting food.

When his father nearly kills Gregor by beating him, he doesn't seem to hold any malice against his father. He notes the pain in his shoulder, but doesn't seem bothered by the idea that his father nearly beat him to death! When his family finally chases him from his home and he lies dying in the street, he determines that it is true: he must leave and then slowly dies in ''peaceful rumination''.

Tone and Mental Illness

When we look at the dispassionate tone in this story, and how Gregor reacts to being transformed into a beetle, it doesn't make any sense—why isn't he upset? But, if we change the disease afflicting Gregor into a mental illness such as depression, the tone of the story fits.

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