ENG200.002 -- Introduction to Literary Study

Prof. Eileen Joy

Spring 2010

SHORT PAPER #3: Perspective/Point-of-View

Figure 1. panel from Peter Kuper's 2007 comic-book adaptation of Kafka's The Metamorphosis

At a crucial moment in Kafka's story The Metamorphosis, after the three lodgers have discovered the presence of the Gregor-insect in the apartment, the sister exclaims in anguish to her parents,

"We must get rid of it . . . that's the only thing for it, Father. You just have to put from your mind any thought that it's Gregor. Our continuing to think that it was, for such a long time, therein lies the source of our misfortune. But how can it be Gregor? If it was Gregor, he would long ago have seen that it's impossible for human beings to live together with an animal like that, and he would have left of his own free will. That would have meant I didn't have a brother, but at least we could go on with our lives, and honour his memory. But as it is, this animal hounds us, drives away the tenants, evidently wants to take over the whole flat, and throw us out onto the street." (Norton Introduction to Literature, p. 485)

This passage points us to some critical differences within the story with regard to point-of-view. The third-person narrator hews close to Gregor's thoughts, which we, as readers, have access to (and therefore we can sympathize with his somewhat tortured position), while the other characters do NOT have access to that, which means that they cannot see things from his point of view (especially because he also cannot communicate with them using human speech). But what they do have is a history with Gregor that predates his transformation--in other words, for better or worse, they are a family who have lived together for a long while in close quarters. And the interesting question is raised: does the family need access to Gregor's inner torment and anxieties in order to understand what he is going through or in order to care for him in a certain, or better, way? However we might think through this difficult question, each main character in the story (Gregor himself, mother, father, and sister) each have a distinctly different viewpoint on the situation, which is partly shaped by the fact that each of us can only ever see anything from a particular orientation in space and time. Our orientation to the world often affects what we can and cannot, do and do not, see any given moment, and that means orientation also affects our understanding of any given situation.

Through a VERY CLOSE reading of the language of the story itself (and further, of the thoughts, speech, and actions of each character), outline what you see as the main defining features of each character's perspective on the "metamorphosis." And since it is often said that all stories are ultimately about change or transformation, also contemplate how Gregor himself and his sister are ultimately changed by the end of the story--not externally, but internally (in other words: psychologically). Finally, aside from the fact that Gregor turns into an insect, which is a jarring, supernatural event, what do you think this story tells us about all families?

Give me 2-3 double-spaced & typed pages. Include as many specific details as possible from the story, being sure to include direct quotations where they help to illustrate a specific observation or point you want to make. Demonstrate that, whatever ideas you have, you have paid close attention to the text itself.