Kanishk Hemani A0067293X Understanding Irony Presentation and Class Discussion: The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka Franz Kafka

wrote many short stories but his longest work, The Metamorphosis, is the one that has garnered him the greatest acclaim. My presentation was about Kafka, The Metamorphosis, the irony involved in it and after the class discussion my initial perceptions and inferences have not been greatly changed but definitely been added to. The Metamorphosis deals with the protagonist, Gregor Samsa’s overnight transformation into an Ungedziefer, in English “a monstrous verminous bug.” The story is split into three chapters all gradually moving towards the climax but all within a certain framework that Kafka creates very astutely. Gregor wakes up and seeing his transformation- with a hard armoured back and numerous thin legs - is mildly perturbed and is much more interested in getting back to work. He gradually presents himself to his family only to be hurriedly “shooed” away by his father into his room. The subsequent describes how his family copes with Gregor’s metamorphosis and also his lack of financial contribution. Gregor had been the sole breadwinner and his sudden transformation had rendered him more of a liability, with his sister taking up the responsibility of caring for him. The second chapter recounts the happenings in the household when Grete, his sister and his mother decide to provide a larger crawling space for him. This entailed the moving of furniture out of Gregor’s room and to prevent the removal of a portrait of fur-clad lady, Gregor makes himself visible and scaring his own mother. When his father returns, he is pelted with apples and one of them gets lodged in his back and mortally wounding him. Chapter 3 goes on to and tells of the way Gregor’s family is adapting economically by finding jobs and providing for themselves by renting a room to three lodgers. Gregor makes another foray outside his room of confinement as he is moved by Grete’s music. A commotion arises in which Grete decides she is done taking care of her brother and it is time to rid the family of him. That night Gregor passes away quietly. His family move on and take a ride into the country with Grete signalling the new dawn. There are multiple themes in this piece by Kafka, the complexities of human relationships, alienation, economic dependence and freedom or escapism. These themes are perfectly suited for a domestic issue such as this and very aptly brought to the fore. The notion of human relationships seems to be at the heart of understanding the story. Gregor the dependable son, being incapacitated, is the source of disgust and revulsion to his family. Even though they take care of him, it’s out of family duty rather than actual compassion. Each of Gregor’s forays outside his room lead to an altercation or commotion in which Gregor is physically hurt but his pain of rejection from his family is the most telling. He yearns to come out and be accepted, yet each effort is rebuffed. Finally, as rejection and his sister’s declaration that it was time to be rid of him hit him, he becomes weak and gradually dies. Even though the other themes are of great importance, this complexity of being rejected by his own family is the one that has primary relevance in relation to the irony that Kafka presents in this piece. As discussed in class previously, there have to be expectations and fittingness between these

expectations and the actual event – usually the fittingness is a direct contradiction and the expectations are not fulfilled. In Gregor Samsa, we have a man who has undergone a massive transformation that makes him a total stranger to his family, yet he expects to be treated as part of it and still harbours the feeling that he belongs in it. However, the repeated rejection and his death are what make it so fitting and ironic. Among all the different forms of irony that we have learnt, this definitely comes under the sphere of situational irony. However, the irony isn’t pronounced, the contradiction to the expectations is present and still the fittingness is slightly lacking. It might seem that a situation and the one mentioned above is commonplace and need not necessarily be ironic. But put in context, it is essential to understand who is expecting and whether what he is expecting a plausible and realistic expectation. Gregor Samsa is an insect, how does he think he can fit in to a world dominated by humans and still be treated as a human being? The in-class discussion brought up the possibility that such an expectation need not be geared towards providing a pillar for our model to understand situational irony. The expectation may be ridiculously foolish in its absurdity and need not be ironic. But this was debunked with a valid supposition that relied on Kafka’s framework. Kafka begins the first sentence, “One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in his bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug.” a sentence like this doesn’t do justice to the gravity of the situation. It comes across as matter-of-fact without any pretensions or any hidden meaning. The possibility of something as absurd as the metamorphosis given underwhelming attention conveys a form of normalcy to the absurd events. This brings us to the model we devised in class regarding how to comprehend irony in an absurd world. The juxtaposition of a backdrop where absurdity is expected and the possibility of realistic normal expectations bring the previous model of expectation and reality meeting in fittingness becomes applicable. This is because the absurd world will prevent the normal expectation from being met only for absurd events in direct contradiction to the expectation to prevail. In The Metamorphosis, Gregor’s expectations of being wanted by his family are fairly normal, yet the absurd framework set up by Kafka where the reality is that Gregor is an insect prevents it from being realised and so the normal expectation seems the most improbable realisation. This is in essence is the irony present in The Metamorphosis and also shows that are previous models worked on in class are adaptable to varying degrees. Other observation from the work can be made and they are poignant in their ability to confuse and also clarify certain issues. Beginning with the confusions that persist and the theories that were spun in class, we look at the significance of the fur-clad lady. Gregor acquires that portrait from a magazine and frames it, treating it as his prized position and also risking his health to protect and prevent it from being taken away from him. Turns out that here lies Kafka’s own representation in the story and his relation to the lady in the Venus of Fur’s written by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Kafka seemed to have been fixated by that portrait and to such an extent that she has been made Gregor’s prized possession. Gregor, the man painted as strictly work and solely altruistic towards his family is shown to be taken by a girl in a portrait, so much so that it borders on eroticism and his desperation not be separated from her. This theme of eroticism is something that’s coated under all the drama that’s unfolding that it almost goes unnoticed and it is rises to prominence in Chapter 3, where the rest of characters are gathered to hear Grete playing the violin.

“For him it was as if the way to the unknown nourishment he craved was revealing itself. He was determined to press forward right up to his sister, to tug at her dress, and to indicate to her in this way that she might still come with her violin into his room, because here no one valued the recital as he wanted to value it. He did not wish to let her go from his room any more, at least not so long as he lived. His frightening appearance would for the first time become useful for him.” (Kafka) This quote above highlights the element of closeness between Gregor and his sister and his understanding of her talents. Yet there seems to be something mildly incestuous and baseless possessiveness. The allusion to his profound appreciation of her music seems like good looking reason however, this is followed by “…Gregor would lift himself up to her armpit and kiss her throat…” Emotions such as these expressed are definitely not in accordance to a normal brother sister relationship and make the underlying eroticism explicit. Other aspects such as what is responsibility and how it may cause a strain on human relationships and the distribution of “energy”, with reference to the “energy bar” analogy make one realize that the metamorphosis is just an excuse to bring out the deeper emotions at play. The strained relationship between Gregor and his father is a recurring theme and constantly creates tension but even though Kafka doesn’t make it explicit through his writing, the tension is palpable. Unsurprisingly, using the “energy bar” analogy, the weaker Gregor became the more his father grew in stature in his blue uniform with golden buttons. The relationship between Gregor and his father is very similar to that between Kafka and his own father and in some ways The Metamorphosis takes on the form of an autobiography. The Metamorphosis is an interesting book dealing with complex human relationship set in a domestic situation and comes across as a real and likely situation due to the tone of the conveyance, barring the fact that Gregor is an Ungedziefer and that’s what makes it ironic, normalcy in absurd situations.

*My presentation materials are attached with this work and serve as complimentary to the other salient points that I may have skipped to accommodate a more in-depth analysis of the class discussion.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful