Kafka, Expectation, And Boredom

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic vermin.”

Everyone knows that Kafka’s Metamorphosis is the story of a man who wakes up one morning to discover he has turned into a giant insect. The plot of the story is strange, but the plot announces itself without amibguity in the very first line. With the first line, all the rules are thrown aside. The story defies expectation, anticipation, and any dramatic question. Some one might reply that the dramatic question of the novella is, “What will happen to Gregor?” However, the man turns into a giant insect in the first line. Could anything be outside the realm of possibility? We all know that the Metamorphosis is the story of a man who turns into a giant insect, but is there anything less absurd about Kafka’s “masterpiece” being the story of a man who first turns into a giant insect and later turns into George Washington? Any story obtains dramatic tension through a fear that this or that will happen, but Kafka explodes the possibility of surprise in his story by beginning beyond the realm of surprise. We cannot fear that this or that certain thing will happen in the Metamorphosis, because this and that are definite, particular, but Kafka deals in the realm of the absurd, where there is nothing definite and nothing particular. Nothing intriguing can take place in the Metamorphosis because nothing at all can take place in the Metamorphosis.

I have sometimes found students delighted by the prospect of reading Kafka’s Metamorphosis because the story has an iconoclastic reputation. The Metamorphosis is a story that must be taught because it is a classic, albeit a strange classic. “This will be exciting,” students think, “for it’s not your run of a mill story about aristocrats and tea cups or warriors and glory. This book is going to be crazy. A man turns into an insect. So wild!” And yet, more often that not, they are very bored before ten pages go by.

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