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The Horror and Comedy in Kafka's The Metamorphosis

By slswimgirl Oct 11, 2012 1365 Words
Franz Kafka’s 20th century short fiction story, “The Metamorphosis” is a story about a man’s overnight transformation into a vermin. Kafka was a very influential writer during his time. He used many different feelings and emotions such as comedy and horror in much of his writing. “The Metamorphosis” is a great example of Kafka’s work that exemplifies both a horror and comedy within the same story. After reading “The Metamorphosis” and reading articles from F.D. Luke and Jean Collingnon, both scholarly writers on Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” I realized that this story can be classified as both a horror story and a comedy. Kafka offers many different concepts and situations which allows the reader to classify “The Metamorphosis” as a horror story and a comedy.

While analyzing “The Metamorphosis” for the first time, I found it incredibly disturbing and depressing, however after seeing the film and reading what Collingnon and Luke had to say about the story I found humor in many of the situations that I once thought were depressing. In Jean Collingnon’s “Kafka’s Humor,” Collingnon mentions several different examples of Kafka’s humor and how much of it comes about. In her writing she asserts that Kafka’s humor is both “oppressed and depressed,” Kafka makes a point to make light of the hardships Gregor faced (Collingnon 53). Much of Kafka’s humor comes from past life experiences that he experienced, such as his experience with the Austro-Hungarian Empire and tedious work (Collingnon 53). According to Collingnon, Kafka creates heroic characters in horrific situations through humor.

Initially Collignon claims that Kafka’s Humor “is the humor of a man both oppressed and depressed who smiles not in order to forget but to assert his independence, and makes plain his determination not be overwhelmed by hardships,” showing where his humor is coming from (Collignon 53-54). Collignon’s writing shows that many of Kafka’s stories focus on how to make the best out of a bad situation. This is clearly shown when Gregor is transformed into an vermin and when he wakes up. Gregor’s primary concern is how he can get up and get to work. He did not sit around and dwell on the fact the he was no longer human; he took actions and tried to make the best out of his situation. He tried to get up and overcome the initial shock of waking up and finding himself a vermin. This brings about a great example of humor to the situation. This humor is expressed throughout “The Metamorphosis,” as mentioned by Collingnon and Luke.

Collingnon also suggests the whereabouts of Kafka’s humor. She suggests that Kafka’s humor comes from much of his past life experiences both good and bad. According to research done by Collingnon, Kafka had suffered under the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He also suffered “from the tedious routine of clerical work in an insurance company” (Collingnon 56). Kafka’s hardships are expressed in a humorous way in many of his writings such as; “The Metamorphosis” and “The Castle.” In these Kafka relates his life experiences, such as his dealing with his father expressed in Luke’s “Die Verwandlung,” and turns them into humor by expressing it in different ways, such as Gregor’s transforming into a vermin. This resulted in his powerless demeanor showing much of how Kafka felt during this time in his life.

Another scholar F.D. Luke, who wrote “Die Verwandlung,” agrees with Collingnon’s thoughts on Kafka’s humor, considering his work a comedy. He also believes that some events in “The Metamorphosis” lead to it becoming a horror story. In “The Metamorphosis,” Kafka has created a central point that Luke finds as both comic and horror aspects to Kafka’s story. Many effects occur from the physical and mental behavior of Gregor after the metamorphosis that is mind boggling. For example when Gregor losses his human faculty of speech, in Gregor’s reaction to metamorphosis, and Gregor’s “flat” reaction to what has happened to him. This is seen as horrific to Luke because of its ‘uncanny’ psychotic character (Luke 238). According to Luke the metamorphosis casts a dreadful and tragic light on human incapability to appreciate disaster.

As mentioned by both Luke and Collingnon, Kafka’s stories have often been compared to dreams and nightmares. Luke acclaims that Metamorphosis is intended to be taken as a real event and not as a symbol of illness or as a dream, as many people believe. The fact that this is intended as a real event adds horror to the story. Metamorphosis is concluded as a reaction to a dream in Luke’s, “Die Verwandlung.” He claims that “This Metamorphosis is intended to be taken literally, as a real (objective) event,” however many relate Kafka’s work to a dream or as a symbol (Luke 234). The transformation of Gregor into and insect has different meanings to different readers; however the argument lies in Kafka’s meaning behind the Metamorphosis itself. According to Luke, “[t]he function of the metamorphosis within the story is to be distinguished from the fantasy in Kafka’s mind” (Luke 234).

Next, F.D. Luke suggest the comic effects in Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” occur from the physical and mental behavior of Gregor after the transformation, when Gregor losses his human faculty of speech, and in Gregor’s reaction to the metamorphosis. An example of this comic is found when Gregor first wakes up to find that he is not human anymore, but that he has been transformed into an insect. This also leads into the comic derived from his loss of his human ability of speech. In Luke’s writing it exclaims that Gregor remains able to understand his family as they talk down upon him, however they are not aware of this fact adding humor to the situation. After the initial shock when Gregor awoke to find that he had turned into an insect his response was not on what had happened to him as a person but he focused on how he could get up and go to work. “His reaction shows the typical Bergsonian comic ‘radeur’; and it is comic because empathy is first stimulated, then rendered superfluous” thus bringing out Kafka’s comic writing in the story (Luke 238). Comic is found all throughout Metamorphosis in many different situations regarding Gregor and his personal effects and reaction to the formation.

F.D. Luke offers a horrific side to Kafka’s writing as well. Gregor’s “flat” reaction to what has happened to him is seen as horrific to Luke because of its ‘uncanny’ psychotic character. Horror is expressed throughout much of Gregor’s transformation because of the deformation of him as a human. It is dreadful and horrifying to think about the physical and mental disturbance of Gregor as a person. Many of the same points that are comical in “Metamorphosis” are also horrifying. Kafka does a good job of tying the two emotions together. For example comic and horror are both found in Gregor’s speech. According to Luke, “the horrific effect here tends to overlay the comedy of the speech” that Gregor and his family both had (Luke 241). Kafka’s “basic theme, both comic and tragic” is expressed in the struggle and reason faced by Gregor after becoming an insect (Luke 242).

Kafka does a great job of leaving a lot of emotion up to his readers. There are many different views and emotions that can be taken from “The Metamorphosis.” My personal opinion, along with that of Collingnon and Luke, is that this story is a comedy and a horror story. Both comedy and horror can be found in many different situations Gregor faced, including his overnight transformation into a vermin. Reading and analyzing “The Metamorphosis” have allowed me to realize that stories can have many different feelings and emotion within the same situations. A story does not have to be put into a particular category but can fall under many different categories like “Metamorphosis.”

Works Cited
Collignon, Jean. “Kafka’s Humor.” Yale French Studies 16 (1955): 53-62.JSTTOR. JUSTOR. Indian River State College Lib.,Ft. Pierce, FL. 19 Oct. 2009. Luke, F.D. “Die Verwandlung.” The Modern Language Review 46.2 (1951): 232-245. JSTOR.

JSTOR. Indian River State College Lib., Ft. Pierce, FL. 19 Oct. 2009.

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