Theme of Magical Realism
In his novella, the metamorphosis, Franz Kafka applies magical realism which blends magical elements with the real world. As asserted by (Wechsler, 293), the ordinary is turned into extraordinary by manipulation of daily life. Kafka presents a dream-like scene through the presentation of surreal and unexpected events in a realistic setting. The novella begins with what seems like an everyday situation for a normal human being. It then turns out to be what could be described as a nightmare due to the fantastic changes that occur which are beyond human understanding. This happens as Gregor Samsa, the protagonist of the novella wakes up as usual ready to report to his work station only to find that he has changed into a monstrous insect.
Kafka’s choice of use of magical realism in this particular novella is influenced by his personal life which is filled with pessimism and reproach (Ryan, 133). Apparently, throughout his life, Kafka suffered from resentment from his father who did not appreciate or approve of his creativity. Kafka, therefore, felt isolated and unappreciated. Through Gregor, Kafka portrays the misery and torture he went through all his life wondering the transgressions he may have committed to going through such. Like Kafka’s father, Gregor’s father is resentful and unsupportive of him, especially after the transformation. This resentment eventually leads to his death when his father throws an apple that stuck and rots on his back.
In reference to Wechsler (297), magic realism can be relevant to the readers inviting them to read further and equally frustrating due to its ambiguity. The ability to grasp the content if magical realism is mostly hindered by the same components that attract readers to it. Though Kafka’s novella the metamorphosis is written in an easily understandable language he is intention is not comprehensible. His writing is in kind of a parable that only he can understand and interpret (Neuse, 266). He does not give any explanations for the introduction of the surrealism at the beginning of the Novella. This form of authorial reticence evident in the metamorphosis does not only arouse suspense and the urge to read further but also leads to confusion in an attempt to comprehend the reason.
Further, Kafka’s novella echoes contemporary society. The nature and the impersonality of the society is a common theme in magical realism (Wechsler, 294). Exploitation at workplaces has been depicted at the beginning of the novella by Gregor. As a traveling sale person, he had a busy schedule exchanging trains with meager earning. Though he would have wished to resign the strenuous economic status of his family could not allow him. The estrangement of Gregors’ family towards him after his transformation also depicts impersonality. They mistreated him when he needed their emotional support the most. Kafka also implicitly criticizes the society especially the elite through Gregor. He has settled in mediocrity doing a job that he does not like claiming to hold back for his parent’s sake. It is ironical that the same parents who he allegedly claimed to bar him from taking a risk found a way to solve their economic situation after his transformation. There is also criticism of the authority and depiction of struggle with the authority. As in most of his writings, the authority is portrayed as an embarrassment to itself (Myers, 82). Greg or’s manager is an example of authority. He shows up at Greg or’s house upon his lateness to work to warn him about the consequences. Greg or’s father is also an embarrassment as the head of the family as he depends on Gregor and only finds a job after his transformation.
In his writing, Kafka alludes to a religious philosophy of Samsara which subscribes to suffering in life, old age, death, and later rebirth. Being a troubled soul he transmigrates himself in his writing is a new body and a new life. In The metamorphosis, he is reborn as a big vermin (Ryan, 137). He suffers alienation and stigmatization from his own family. He is often left in his room with an unpleasant room and is drawn to solitude by being locked in his room.
According to Wechsler (294), symbolism is an important element used by magical realists. In his novella, Kafka applies symbolism through his title to symbolize transformation and further explores it throughout the novella. The transformation of Gregor (the protagonist) into a monstrous insect. The author indirectly portrays his life miseries and pessimism through Gregor. Thus the transformation to an insect and later dying offers an escape route from life’s unfairness and misery. Other transformations symbolized by the title include the changes the Mamsa family had to go through after Gregor’s changes. The family has to look for income-generating means as Gregor could no longer work. Grete, Gregor’s sister, who was young during Gregor’s transformation, also went through personal transformation. She had to help her parents to take care of her brother. Her parents soon realized that she had matured and contemplated finding her a husband. The whole family further went through emotional transformation whereby they were no longer understanding of Gregor’s new situation and viewed him as a burden.
Finally in his novella, the application of the metafiction cannot be ignored. The reader is self consciously aware of the reading as a work of fiction. This is mainly due to the personification of the Monstrous bug that Gregor turns into. Though he is an insect throughout the novella, he is not fully transformed as he can still reason and think like a human being. Additionally, Kafka evokes puzzlement and uneasiness for the reader a common characteristic of magic realism (Wechsler, 294). The impromptu transformation of Gregor at the beginning of the novella is puzzling and gets the reader hoping it was part of the unsettling dreams that Gregor woke up to. The readers’ uneasiness is further heightened by his effort to try and open the door. It raises anxiety about his parent’s reaction to their first contact with him.
Ekdahl, Graydon, “Franz Kafka: literature corrective punishment by Franz Kuna”, vol 49, No.39 (1975), pp 547-548.
Myers, Richard. K, “ The problem of Authority: Franz Kafka”, Journal of Arabic literature, Vol.17 (1986), pp. 82-96.
Neuse, Werner, “Franz Kafka”, Book abroad, Vol 9, No.3 (Summer 1935), pp 226-268.
Ryan, Michael P., “ Samsa and Samsara: Suffering, Death, and Rebirth in “The Metamorphosis”, the German Quarterly, Vol 72, No. 2( spring, 1999), pp. 133-152.
Wechsler, Jeffrey, “Magic realism: defining the indefinite”, Art journal, vol 45, No. 4( winter 1985), pp. 293-298.