The Metamorphosis: use of comedy and ironyTo what extent did Kafka use comedy/irony to develop his tragic, cynical view of society and family?Gregor Samsa, a young traveling salesman who lives with and financially supports his parents and younger sister, Grete, wakes up one morning to find “himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin” or insect. At first, to my surprise, he is preoccupied with practical, everyday concerns: How to get out of bed and walk with his numerous legs? Can he still make it to the office on time? Most persons would be devastated to find themselves in such a position as Gregor, but he did not seem to care much about himself, but only about his obligations, instead of panicking, he starts cursing his job : “If I did not hold back for my parents sake, I would have quit long ago, I would have marched up to the boss and spoken my piece from the bottom of my heart”, ” Well, I have not given up hope completely; once Ive gotten the money together to pay off my parents debt to him, Im going to make the big break. But for the time being, I better get up, since my train leaves at five.” This is a sort of dry humour; a person in a tragic situation does not seem to notice the predicament he is in.He tries to get out of bed, but his new form does not enable him to do the things he used to do so easily. The way he describes it, can already be seen as comical : “First he tried to get out of bed with the lower part of his body, but this lower part- which by the way he had not seen yet and which he could not form a clear picture of- proved too difficult to budge; it was taking so long; and when finally, almost out of his mind, he lunged forward with all his force, without caring, he had picked the wrong direction and slammed himself violently against the lower bedpost,”, just imagine a giant beetle trying to climb out his bed and clumsily hurting himself in the process.Kafka definitely seemed to love the comic sides of what might otherwise have been seen as a hopeless situation.
But it is not the metamorphosis itself that is relevant, it is the reaction of the world around it. Gregors family might not change overnight or change their behavior towards Gregor and his new form but definitely as time goes by, they slowly become strangers to him. “at that moment a lightly flung object hit the floor right near him and rolled in front of him. It was an apple; a second one came flying right after it; Gregor stopped dead with fear; further running was useless, for his father was determined to bombard him.”.
Now in this scene, Gregor scurries out into the living room and his father starts throwing apples at him to chase him away. This is all because Gregors “breakout” from his room made his mother faint. So a giant beetle is seeking refuge on his little legs from his own father who is bombarding him with fruit. This must be the most tragic part of the book.Desperation must have taken Gregors father, for what father would bombard his own son? This is the moment when the family starts to rebel against Gregor.
They are sick of caring for him and they are afraid. The tragic thing is not the fact that the ammunition is apples, but that one apple got embedded in Gregors back and created a wound that could not be healed. The apple started to rot and got infected. Gregor slowly began to waste away. This one apple would be Gregors death in the end.
The apple represents the apple in the garden of Eden. The difference is that Eve is offered the apple, with Gregor, the apple is thrown at him. Piecing it all together, indirectly, it is Gregors own father who kills him.
Another ironic change is that after Gregors metamorphosis and the discovery of it by the family, Gregors father, takes over the position Gregor had in the family. Mr. Samsa, an “old man” who stayed at home and relied on his son for financial support, suddenly changes to a bank official who is “holding himself very erect”.I find it very ironic in this book that you can see the imminent rebellion of the son against the father. Due to the fathers failure, Gregor became strong and crippled his fathers self-esteem when he took over his position in the family.
But after the metamorphosis, the whole thing reverses: the son becomes weak and the father takes over, the father even kills him. Even though the family tries to cope with the fact that their benefactor is no longer able to take care of them, and try to contain the damage, in the process, they all begin to change their own lives. Grete also gets a job and seems to be on the verge of a new life.It is ironic how Gregors predicament is much like that of any person suffering from severe illness or disability. In Gregors new identity, his senses completely change, his eyesight, his hearing, his voice. Some of Gregors changes are generated from within, others are conditioned by the worlds reactions to his metamorphosis.
This all points to the inevitable, when one changes, the world around him/her changes as well. Kafka used an awful lot of irony and also some comedy to point out how society works. How society can break you down and make you one of their puppets.
He also clearly shows how your own family can turn against you if something out of the ordinary occurs.