The Threats of Sleep in The Metamorphosis

Rebecca Chenoweth

Abstract


Kafka’s writings are often lauded for their treatment of the absurd.  In “The Metamorphosis,” this absurdity is most visible in Gregor Samsa’s transformation into a giant insect, but most tellingly also expresses itself in his attitude toward his transformation.  In a text that deals so closely with the inversion of the dream-like and reality, Gregor’s relationship to sleep speaks volumes about the nature of his metamorphosis. When engaging the theme of sleep in Kafka’s works, literary critics have often examined its “dream-like” elements, as well as Kafka’s own relationship to sleep.  This paper examines a third perspective on this theme: the role of sleep as a physical act, and what it reveals about Gregor’s state.  Gregor sees sleep at times as the cause of and other times as a possible cure for his metamorphosis.  His inability to sleep is a troubling indicator that he is losing his grip on life and humanity after his transformation, but his relationship to sleep before the metamorphosis shows how long he has really been dehumanized. . . .


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