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ANALYTICAL ESSAY & CLOSE READING on

THE METAMORPHOSIS

 

AP Open Question from 1988:

   Choose a distinguished novel or play in which some of the most significant events are mental or psychological; for example awakenings, discoveries, changes in consciousness.  In a well-organized essay, describe how the author manages to give these internal events the sense of excitement, suspense, and climax usually associated with external action.

    In Kafka's The Metamorphosis, some of the most significant events are mental and psychological: the thoughts, awakenings, and discoveries which Gregor has throughout his bizarre experiences, and these help to create excitement and suspense in the story.

    It is with this line that the story opens: "When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin."  This is quite a strange and unlikely event, but it is Gregor's discovery of and his reactions to this metamorphosis which add the interest and excitement to the story.

    What makes Gregor's thoughts so unusual is that he doesn't seem to realize what an unlikely, surreal occurrence it is for a man to wake up one morning and find himself changed into a beetle-like insect.  Gregor's thoughts are described as he looks out the window, just after he has discovered his change in appearance: "The overcast weather... completely depressed him."  How can he possibly even be thinking about the weather when he is lying in bed transformed into some huge insect?

    Later after Gregor confronts his family and his manager who have come searching for him, he worries about catching the eight-o'clock train to go to work.   He doesn't consider how he could possible accomplish this task as a gigantic beetle, or even give a thought to why he would attempt such a thing in the state he is presently in.  These strange thoughts and worries of Gregor help to create the suspense in the story, because they add to the uncertainty and unpredictability of the plot.  In such a world, anything could happen and nothing seems real or logical.    

    The importance of the mental and psychological action going on inside of Gregor's mind to create excitement and suspense is evident, because for every page of description of the physical events of the story, there are several more devoted to Gregor's mental processes.  As Gregor's mother and sister move the furniture out of his room (see below, the second "close reading" for an excerpt of his scene), the most important action is going on mentally.  With the even of the removal of his furniture, he awakens to the fact that he desperately needs this furniture to hold on to whatever human is left in him.  Though his mother and sister have good intentions to create more crawling space for Gregor, removing the furniture, what is so familiar and normal to him, makes Gregor become even more alienated from society, his family, and his former self.

    The events of this story create action, but each event has an equally important mental reaction by Gregor.  These thoughts, discoveries, and mental processes further the excitement and suspense of Gregor's surrealistic and bizarre experience.

 

Here are two more past AP open questions that would apply well to The Metamorphosis:

AP Open Question from 1973:

    An effective literary work does not merely stop or cease; it concludes.  In the view of some critics,a work that does not provide the pleasure of significant closure has terminated with an artistic fault.   A satisfactory ending is not, however, always conclusive in every sense: significant closure may require the reader to abide with or adjust to ambiguity and uncertainty.

    In an essay, discuss the ending of a novel or play of acknowledged literary merit.  Explain precisely how and why the ending appropriately concludes the work.

 

AP Open Question from 1978

    Choose an implausible or strikingly unrealistic incident or character in a work of fiction or drama of recognized literary merit.  Write an essay that explains how the incident or character is related to the more realistic or plausible elements in the rest of the story.

 

CLOSE READING

   This amazing and bizarre opening description does an excellent job of preparing the reader for the events to come:

  When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.  He was lying on his back as hard as an armor plate, and when he lifted his head a little, he saw his vaulted brown belly, sectioned by arch-shaped ribs, to whose dome the cover, about to slide off completely, could barely cling.  His many legs, pitifully thin compared to the size of the rest of him, were waving helplessly before his eyes.

    unsettling dreams:  This is perhaps a connection to the strange, illogical world of dreams and the equally surreal experience which Gregor goes through.

    monstrous vermin:   I read the note on these words, and there was quite a lengthy explanation.   Because this is a translation, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to find exactly the right word which captures all the meanings and feelings associated with the author's original choice of words.  There are other translations of this story that use the word "insect" instead.  Although I can understand the reasoning behind the choice of the word "vermin," I'm not sure if I agree that that is the best word.  When I hear this word, I think of a rat-like animal and definitely not an insect.  I guess you just have to keep in mind that these words are not the original and no translation can capture the full intentions of the author.

    The explanatory note on these words says that the original words "ungeheueres Ungeziefer" has a sense that no English words can capture.  The "un-" prefixes of both of these words are "linguistic negations," which "Go back to a dialectical process of separation."  And the word "ungeheuer" (translated as "monstrous"), actually has the original meaning of "without a part in the family," which describes accurately Gregor's alienation from his family after his metamorphosis.

    lying on his back, pitifully thin, waving helplessly:  All of these words covey the helplessness and frustration of Gregor's situation, to suddenly loose the comfort of his familiar human form.

 

    This scene describes the removal of Gregor's furniture through his mother's and sister's good intentions to create more crawling space for him, and Gregor's mental struggle with this event:

    Although Gregor kept reassuring himself that nothing out of the ordinary was happening, that only a few bits of furniture were being rearranged, he soon had to admit that all this trotting to and fro of the two women, their little shouts to each other, and the scraping of the furniture along the floor had the effect on him of some vast disturbance coming from all sides at once, and however much he tucked in his head and legs and pressed his body to the floor, he had to confess that he would not be able to stand it much longer.  They were clearing his room out, taking away everything that he loved; the chest in which he kept his jigsaw and other tools was already dragged off; they were now loosening the desk which had almost sunk into the floor, the desk at which he had done all his homework when he was at the commercial academy, at the secondary school before that, and, yes, even at the primary school--he had no more time to waste in weighing the good intentions of the women, whose existence he had by now almost forgotten, for they were so exhausted that they were laboring in silence and nothing could be heard but the heavy scuffing of their feet.

   only a few bits of furniture were being rearranged:  Gregor is trying to deny the obvious fact that the furniture was not just being rearranged, it was being removed, taken away, from Gregor.  This futile denial shows Gregor's struggle between accepting what his mother and sister are doing and holding on to whatever human is left of him.

    tucked in his head and legs and pressed his body to the floor:  An interesting description of Gregor's physical reaction to his mental struggles- very insect-like.

    almost sunk into the floor:  This description shows how long the desk had been there, how important it was to Gregor because of it's constant presence in the past.

    he had no more time to waste in weighing the good intentions of the women:  Up until now, Gregor had been doing his best to take into account that his mother and sister were helping him.   This shows his thoughtfulness towards his family and his desire to be loved in return by them.

    whose existence he had by now almost forgotten:  Clearly, the removal of the furniture is a terrible event for Gregor, which has such an impact on him that it is all that he can think of.   It is not only the removal of furniture, it is the removal of his connection to his family and to his former human self.