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Verbal 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.

If you've ever heard someone being sarcastic, then you've experienced verbal irony! In this lesson we look at examples of verbal irony in Franz Kafka's story, ''The Metamorphosis.''

Everyday Irony

Have you ever seen someone step in dog poop and then say, ''Wonderful!'' Or have you ever said ''perfect'' when your plans are ruined? Clearly you don't mean exactly what you're saying in that situation. This is an example of sarcasm, where what you say is actually the opposite of what you mean. When you use sarcasm, you're using a type of verbal irony. Verbal irony is when what is said is the opposite of what is really happening, or when someone says the opposite of what they mean.

In addition to being common in everyday life, verbal irony is also prevalent in literature. This technique can help readers understand how a character views their situation. The Metamorphosis by Franz KafkaOne story uses several examples of verbal irony.

Sarcasm is a type of verbal irony.
Sarcasm

Work and Health

In The Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning to find he is now a giant beetle. He spends a few paragraphs lying in bed, blaming his job for his situation and thinking about how he is going to get to work. He thinks, ''…what a strenuous career it is that I've chosen! Travelling day in and day out...''

This quote is ironic because Gregor actually 'didn't' choose this career. He was forced to join the company to pay off a large debt that his father owes the boss. Kafka uses verbal irony here to show how absorbed Gregor has become in his work. He still plans to leave the company when the debt is paid off, but in the meantime the job is his whole life.

Later, the clerk from his job comes to see why he hasn't shown up for work. He talks to Gregor through the door and says that his job is in danger if he doesn't come in to work. Gregor replies, ''I'm slightly unwell, an attack of dizziness, I haven't been able to get up. I'm still in bed now. I'm quite fresh again now, though.''

The verbal irony here is clear: Gregor has turned into a giant beetle, yet he is claiming to be only ''slightly unwell,'' and saying he feels much better now. Since he is still a beetle, he can't be feeling that much better! This quote shows the reader that Gregor feels his situation is temporary, and that he can continue his life as normal despite the transformation.

In the Home

Another example of verbal irony comes later in the story. Gregor is watching through a crack in his door as his family goes about their normal evening, such as his father who sits and reads the paper. Gregor comments, ''What a quiet life it is the family lead.'' Gregor's statement is ironic because of the current situation. A household where one member turns into a giant beetle cannot accurately be described as 'quiet.' This quote once again shows us the denial Gregor is in regarding his situation, and that he believes nothing in the family will really change.

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