Magical Realism and Fantastic Literature in The Metamorphosis
The longer story The Metamorphosis, first published in 1971, was written by Franz Kafka. He was born in Prague in 1883 and lived until 1924, and he has written many other stories along with The Metamorphosis. The Metamorphosis appears to be a fantastic piece. After reading The Metamorphosis, I do believe that there are many similarities between magical realism and fantastic literature. Kafka showed many fantastic issues in The Metamorphosis.
While reading The Metamorphosis, I did not feel that it had any magical elements in the story, but had many fantastic elements. In my opinion, I think that the story did have some realist elements. For example, there was a lot of tension with the family. Although it had to do with Gregor Samsa who turned into the insect, that tension is still real. Families do have arguing along with tension, even if most of the time it was due to Gregor being an insect. Most of us should know that, when a person wakes up one day and is all of a sudden a bug, that change cannot be magical. There is not any other way to look at that. A person just cannot appear to be an insect one day and wake up with these enormous legs and be a bug.
A magical element in The Metamorphosis is that a person could see or picture this monstrous vermin or insect. The boy turning into an insect could be somewhat magical because here there is a human body lying on the bed, and then within the blink of an eye, it is a bug. I feel that magical elements and fantastic literature are similar. For example, Gregor’s father was throwing apples at him and one got stuck in his back, and became infected. Then he eventually died. I can see that example as magical, but I could also see it as a fantasy.
Angel Flores felt that the metamorphosis was magical, although many other critics disagree. For example, while reading Amaryll Chanady felt that fairy tales cannot be considered magical realist because they adhere to relatively uniform plots (129). But what is particularly found problematic is the apparent contradiction in the definition of magical realism as ‘an amalgamation of realism and fantasy’ such as The Metamorphosis (129).
Many things are fantasy, but now since I have learned what magical realism is, I see magical realism in The Metamorphosis. I feel that waking up and being something else is magical and a person hearing his family talking and being scared to leave his room is magical. Also, he had to learn how to walk differently, lie differently, and even eat differently. I feel that part is more magical than fantastic.
The Metamorphosis did have some realist elements as well. Before Gregor Samsa turned into an insect, he was a young traveling salesman who lived with and financially supported his parents and his young sister. Another realist element I found was that it is true that insects do not like the same food we eat. Gregor’s food habits changed. Even though he was an insect, his sister still found the time to feed him, and when she fed him, she gave him bread and milk because that was his favorite. When Gregor went to eat it as an insect, he no longer liked the taste. He began eating scraps. He also liked staying under the furniture. All insects like to hide, and even though he went from a human to a bug, he is doing the things that an insect would naturally do. Therefore, I feel that acting as a bug would is a realist element.
Later on in The Metamorphosis, Gregor’s mother and sister had been moving things around in his bedroom so he could maneuver more easily. Gregor’s mother, not being used to him being an insect, saw him crawling on the wall and screamed. After seeing that it was Gregor who was crawling on the wall, she screamed in a loud hoarse voice: ‘Oh God, oh God!’ Gregor’s mother fell with outspread arms over the sofa as if giving up, and did not move (119). Afterwards, Gregor’s sister was yelling at him, and that event the first time that she had addressed him since his metamorphosis into an insect (119). On the other hand, Gregor’s father did not want to have anything to do with him. I feel that his family being afraid of him was more of a fantastic element because a human is not going to have to worry about their son or daughter turning into an insect. Therefore, I feel that it is a fantastic element.
Gregor’s sister was the only one who really cared and had anything to do with him. He would anxiously wait for Grete to feed him every day. She would bring him a variety of food because she was not sure what he liked to eat. There were days when he would eat all of his food and other days when he would not. For example, when he would eat all of his food, she would say ‘Well, he liked his dinner today.’ When he did not eat his food, she would say almost sadly: ‘Everything’s been left standing again’ (109). Even though her brother was not the brother she had before, she still cared for him in the same way. I felt that the fact that she was giving him food and taking care of him was a magical element. I thought that it was magical because even though her brother is no longer the same, she still loves him and takes care of him. That is why I felt that it was a magical element.
Eric S. Rabkin commends Todorov for the ‘many excellences’ of his analysis but criticizes him for radically limiting not only fantasy but also the fantastic to the realm of a single genre for locating the affect of the fantastic in ‘the reader’s hesitation’ (9). His own concept of the fantastic is ‘the fantastic does more than extend experience; the fantastic contradicts perspectives,’ which means the truly fantastic occurs when the ground rules of a narrative are forced to make a 180 degree reversal (10). He also said that ‘the fantastic has a place in any narrative genre, but that genre to which the fantastic is exhaustively central is the class of narratives we call Fantasy’ (11). While reading The Metamorphosis, I feel that it took a 180 degree reversal. The fact that Gregor ended up being a bug. Not only did he end up being a bug, but they treated him as a bug and moved things around in his room so he could maneuver like a bug.
However, Tsvetan Todorov focuses upon the response of uncertainty, while Rabkin is concerned with astonishment (11). Todorov’s system of the fantastic accepts literature that requires either a natural or a supernatural explanation of apparently supernatural events and rejects works that are resolved through poetic or allegorical interpretations (11). Todorov and Rabkin are the only two literary theorists who have attempted to conceive systems or working methods by which fantastic literature can be evaluated and analyzed (12). Rabkin’s system presents a vision of the fantastic which is distinct from many other views. Todorov’s structural analysis of the fantastic is said to be overworked and overused, ‘so much that applications of his criteria to a text soon began to draw impatient boos and groans from the audiences’ (14). It is also an invaluable tool for systematically understanding the fantastic in literature. The hand out also said that The Metamorphosis could be recognized as fantastic fiction (21).
Fantastic literature could be characterized as something that a person might think can happen and it cannot. In The Metamorphosis, Gregor’s father was angry at him because his appearance frightened his mother and he thought that Gregor was trying to hurt her. He was angry and started throwing fruit at him. Gregor got an apple stuck in his back, and it became infected. That situation could be something that a child might think would happen, and it cannot. There is no way an apple can get stuck in an insect’s back. The apple is too big for such a thing to happen. It would end up smashing the insect. Therefore, in my opinion, I feel that it is more of a fantastic element.
Also, his family woke up one morning and saw that he was no longer human. A fantasy is something that can be imagined, and this occurrence was not imagined. They actually saw this happen. It was not a dream, but it was a shock to them. This is one reason why I feel that the story is not magical realism. When Gregor’s father started throwing fruit at him, and then an apple was stuck in his back, he became ill. I do not think that incident has a whole lot to do with magical realism. In my opinion, it is obvious to see that throwing fruit at a bug is not real and could not be magical. However, the fact that he woke up and was something else could be magical. I feel that element is related to magical realism. We might all think that it is a fantasy, but if a person learns more about magical realism and reads what Todorov and Rabkin wrote, then one might understand why I myself feel that it deals with magical elements.
After reading The Metamorphosis, I do believe that there are many similarities between magical realism and fantastic literature. Kafka showed many fantastic issues in The Metamorphosis. I felt that the fantastic elements were similar to some magical elements. If he or she needs to know more about how to compare magical elements to fantastic elements, I would recommend him or her to look up information on the internet or find books. There are many different things a person can find to relate to.
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