In this essay I shall look at the role of the narrator in the book Die Verwandtlung and discuss what effect it has on the way the story is told. I shall firstly look at the narration and discuss what form it takes, then I shall consider ideas about what effect it has, looking for examples in the book. I shall conclude by summarising the main points as to what form the narration takes and what effect it seems to have overall in the book. In the book the form that the narration takes is a complex one.
It changes between a 3rd person narrator, focalised through Gregor Samsa and the seeming thoughts of Samsa himself. For example, in the second section we can see that the narrator only knows what Gregor can find out: “Mit welchen Ausreden man an jenem ersten Vormittag den Arzt und den Schlosser wieder aus der Wohnung geschafft hatte, konnte Gregor gar nicht erfahren… ” However, at various times throughout the book the narrative lapses into thoughts that Gregor would probably be having. Like when he looks at the alarm clock on the first morning and sees that it is very late:
Sollte der Wecker nicht geli??utet haben?… Ja, aber war es mi??glich, dieses mi??belerschi??tternde Li??uten ruhig verschlafen? Nun, ruhig hatte er ja nicht geschlafen, aber wahrscheinlich detso fester. ” This shows that the narrative is still in the 3rd person but takes the form more of Gregor’s flow of consciousness than a traditional narrative. This form has a somewhat disjointed effect in reading; it is slightly disorientating to be introduced to the story through a narrator but for the narration to be disrupted by the flow of consciousness of the main character.
However, the narrator is necessary in order to bring certain perspective to the reader, otherwise the reader would not be able to gain all the information needed to ascertain what is actually happening to Gregor. His movements are needed to explain his thoughts and the narrator also describes what he can see. It also shows that there is a gap between what Gregor is thinking and what is actually going on. In this essay I shall be looking specifically at the disjointed feel of the narrative and discuss what effect it has.
In his book, Kafka1 (Oliver and Boyd: London, 1962), Charles Osbourne suggests that the dislocated narrative helps the reader to accept that Gregor has been turned into a beetle and also presents one of the potent questions in the book whether “Gregor dies because he is not sufficiently human, or because he is not sufficiently loved. “. This disjointed and uneasy narrative emphasises the unease that the reader feels at being presented with a situation in which there is no easy answer, where it is difficult to say who was at fault – there is no easy moral to the story, it provides no answers.
This is shown at the end where, once Gregor dies, the narrative slips seamlessly over to the consciousness of Mr. and Mrs. Samsa, if the narrative suddenly lacked Gregor’s consciousness then it would be a message that it should not have been a relief that the family were rid of him, but instead the narrative continues. This unease is reinforced by the situation faced in the story, the blending of the real and the surreal – the normal family and situation and Gregor’s transformation. The gap between the two kinds of narrative gives scope for some humour.
For example the first morning, when his boss from work is coercing him out of his room. On the one hand, his boss is telling him he is a useless lay about and no use to the company and Gregor is worrying about being fired for being late. But on the other hand the reader knows the fact that Gregor has turned into an insect and has much greater difficulties to deal with than even he himself seems to have considered. He unsuccessfully trying to get out of bed when his thoughts are actually on having to get up early for work illustrates this:
Er glitt wieder in seine fri??here Lage zuri??ck. ;;Dies fri??hzeitige Aufstehen;;, dachte er, ;;macht einen ganz bli??dsinnig… ;;” The humour is not funny outright and has a somewhat black aspect, so the reader is not sure, like with the ‘moral’ of the story and also with the narrative, whether it is humorous and this adds to the reader’s unease. The tracking of time is one function of the narrative in the story. Although Gregor starts off looking at his alarm clock constantly, throughout the story he no longer thinks about it and loses track of time.
This is reflected in the narrative as the time scales become increasingly vague, however, the time scales are essential in order for the reader to realise Gregor is no longer as aware of the passing of time as he was in the beginning. For example, the start of the first section is punctuated with Gregor’s glimpses at the clock to see how late he is. Then, in the second section of the book, time is already beginning to slide away from us: “Erst in der Abenddi??mmerung erwachte Gregor… ” and then, during the third section, it has slipped even further and times are measured in months.
This function to make the reader aware of changes in Gregor can also be seen when Grete, his sister, brings him food to eat and he likes the old cheese that he had only recently refused to eat. Whereas the narrative is needed to make the reader aware of the changes in Gregor, the stream of conscious is needed for the reader to give Gregor a humanity and stop him from being seen as an insect, as his family start to see him because as they cannot understand what he is saying to them, they believe he cannot understand them either. But to the reader his humanity remains through his thoughts.
For example when he hears his sister playing violin, and the question is posed: “War er ein Tier, da ihn Musik so ergriff? ” this question strikes the reader as it not only shows that Gregor still seems to have what would be considered a very human trait of being moved by music, but he is also still reasoning like a human being. In conclusion, the narrative in Die Verwandtlung has a disjointed style, swapping between the two styles of normal narrative focalised through Gregor and the narrative that describes Gregor’s thoughts to the reader.
This style creates unease throughout the story that is reflected by the questions posed by the story, over Gregor’s humanity, and the juxtaposing of the real family and surreal transformation in the story. The gap of information given by the two styles of narrative give opportunity for humour, but the humour is also ambivalent, like the narrative, one does not know if it truly is humour this increases the reader’s unease.
The narrative also tracks the passage of time and makes the reader feel that Gregor was still human to the last. All of these aspects of the narrative combine to give the feeling that the reader cannot be sure of any moral stand-point in the story and is not able to come to complete conclusions – this means the reader is left with questions rather than answers and must therefore involve themselves in the story more.