Comedy and Tragedy in Kafka's "The Metamorphosis"

Topics: Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis, Vladimir Nabokov Pages: 7 (2619 words) Published: November 11, 2008
The subtle yet powerful combination of comedy and tragedy in Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis was not an accident. Kafka combined these genres in order to convey the mixture of emotions that accurately mirrors the cruelty of life. The main character, Gregor Samsa, is used to illustrate the betrayal that can exist in a family unit as well as a place of employment. Together, Kafka is making a strong commentary on life in order to express his own feelings of desolation and cynicism regarding society and society’s microcosm, the family. The only way to survive the inconsistencies and contradictions of life is the total acceptance of the combined comic and tragic elements of life that one must face daily. Kafka used The Metamorphosis as a vehicle to express his own frustrations with being a conflicted artist confronting society in the early twentieth century. Kurt Fickert who wrote Kafka’s Search for Truth in His Last Stories supports this contention when he said, “Establishing the mutuality of the concerns of artists and their counterparts, people of no particular sophistication, is the task Kafka assigned himself” (64). Kafka has thus created Gregor to represent the humility and sensitivity commonly found in the stereotypical artist. Kafka felt that the modern world did not tolerate the emotional, intelligent artist, and so in Gregor we see the slow punishment of the sensitive soul. The respected Russian author, Vladimir Nabokov, remarks on the importance of Gregor’s personality in his Lectures on Literature, It should be noted how kind, how good our poor little monster is. His beetlehood, while distorting and degrading his body, seems to bring out in him all his human sweetness. His utter unselfishness, his constant preoccupation with the needs of others-this, against the backdrop of his hideous plight comes out in strong relief. Kafka’s art consists in accumulating on the one hand, Gregor’s insect features, all the sad detail of his insect disguise, and on the other hand, in keeping vivid and limpid before the reader’s eyes Gregor’s sweet and subtle self (270). When Nabokov says, “Kafka’s art consists in accumulating on one hand, Gregor’s insect features, all the sad detail of his disguise, and on the other hand, in keeping vivid and limpid before the reader’s eyes Gregor’s sweet and subtle self” (270), he is pointing out how Kafka wanted the reader to be absolutely clear about the irony that such a nice person was in essence being tortured. Nabokov believes that Kafka uses Gregor’s sensitive nature and horrific transformation to symbolize the conflict between society and the artist, where society misunderstands the artist and is capable of extreme cruelty. Brilliantly, Kafka offsets the dramatic tone of Gregor’s initial discovery that he is a giant beetle by introducing humor. In the opening scenes of The Metamorphosis Kafka describes Gregor's passive acceptance of his transformation into an insect, his resentful thoughts on his life, the comic rushing around of his parents and sister, all brought to a climax by the arrival of the chief clerk. The clerk makes a funny speech to Gregor, reminding him of his business responsibilities and demanding an explanation of his delinquency. Just prior to this Gregor finally succeeds, following a frustrating struggle, in throwing himself out of bed. The clerk, standing outside Gregor's closed door, hears the sound of Gregor landing on the floor, and responds: Something fell down in there... I am speaking now in the name of your parents and of your director, and I beg you in all seriousness to give me a complete explanation at once. I am amazed at you, simply amazed. I took you for a calm and reliable person, and now all at once you seem determined to make a ridiculous spectacle of yourself. Earlier this morning the director did suggest to me a possible explanation for your disappearance-I am referring to the sums of cash that were recently entrusted to you-but I...

Cited: Carrouges, Michel. Kafka versus Kafka. Alabama: U of Alabama P, 1968.
Fickert, Kurt. End of a Mission: Kafka’s Search for Truth in His Last Stories. South Caroline: Camden, 1993.
Kafka, Franz. “The Metamorphosis.” Trans. John Siscoe. Literature An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. New York: Pearson, 2005. 336-370.
Lawson, Richard H. Franz Kafka. New York: Ungar, 1987
Nabokov, Vladimir, Lectures on Literature. New York: Harcourt, 1980.
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