Contemporary World Literature
Monster, a Metaphor?
The terms “symbol” and “metaphor” are often used interchangeably in everyday language, but you should keep in mind that literary theorists and scholars distinguish between them. For the time being, let’s stick with the term “metaphor.” In language and literature, a metaphor is used as a substitute for another word or expression and furthermore, it invites an association or comparison. For example, in “He is a snake,” we take “snake” to be a metaphor since it is extremely unlikely that the sentence would be taken literally, and “snake” is a substitute for the qualities that this particular man may have. We can then say that we are comparing the man to a snake: he is vicious, deadly, dangerously aggressive and unpredictable. In your reading of Gregor’s transformation into a monster insect, you will want to ask yourself in what sense and to what degree the monster insect is a metaphor.
What about Allegory?
The term “allegory” is closely related to metaphor. In fact, you might think of allegory as being a metaphor on a much higher level. Allegories are often stories composed of metaphorical characters and actions that tell a larger story about human existence. Fables are often allegories. For example, the story of the tortoise and the hare is composed of metaphors (the tortoise stands for slow and steady; the hare stands for quick but perhaps less determined), and the story overall says something about our own lives: “slow and steady wins the race.” The fable is much less about the fact that a tortoise beat a hare in a race one day; most people think about the moral of the story, or in other words, its allegorical meaning.
Given that you will be provided very few, if any clues about an interpretation of The Metamorphosis, you will probably feel inclined to come up with one yourself. You will likely find this to be the case with other works we read throughout the course. There is no set rule about how to interpret a work of literature. Indeed, literary scholars are very much in dispute about this, but most agree that one should follow certain guidelines.
Guidelines for Interpretation
First, a literary critic should always be objective. Whether or not you like or dislike the work, the characters, or the plot should not enter into what you have to say. Literary criticism is different in many ways from what the movie or theater critic writes in your local newspaper.
Secondly, what you say about a work, particularly the conclusions you draw, should be supported by evidence. While scholars dispute among themselves about what kinds of evidence should be used, you may employ any number of resources available to you.
One kind of evidence comes from the primary source, that is, the story itself – the words that Kafka himself wrote. This is also called textual evidence. To note one example, as you read Kafka’s story, you can find specific examples that show the attitude and communication style of the narrator. Your evidence is in the words and phrasing. Specifically, you find that this fantastic and hard-to-believe story is narrated so matter-of-factly that the reader has the impression of having read a newspaper article. In other words, you detect from the primary source a wide discrepancy between the extraordinary events of the story and the style in which they are written. This creates certain impressions in the reader, especially in the area of what to expect next.
Another kind of evidence comes from secondary sources. These are all of the materials that other people (mostly literary critics) wrote about Kafka. Secondary sources include what you learn about Kafka when reading the Introduction, Kafka’s biography, articles about Kafka from your college’s online library, or books you have checked out of a local library that are about Kafka. One interesting example of this is a “secondary source” article where it is written that when Kafka first read The Metamorphosis to a group of close friends, there was much laughter in the room. Why did Kafka’s friends laugh? We don’t know, but it raises the critical question: Can this story of a man turning into an insect be understood as comedy? That’s a question worth pursuing, and it stems from research from a secondary source!
Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosisis considered by some to describe the human condition in the modern world.
1. Focusing on Gregor and his life, what would you consider to be particularly modern? Name two or three things. (Keep in mind that the book was published in 1915; “modern” thus refers to the early 20th century, not the present day. Think: Modernism and its concerns!).
2. Then in a paragraph or two, explain why you think Kafka chose to turn Gregor into the insect instead of another member of his family. In other words, what did Gregor as an insect represent?
This paper should be 1-2 pages and in APA format.
Please include a reference page and site sources within the paper.
Be sure to include a cover page, essay format that includes an introduction, body discussion and conclusion.
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