A Literary Theory – TLWM 8C

Jane Summers blinked several times, shifted uncomfortably in her chair. In only their third meeting, Sumeet had grown to know this young woman well enough to know that hesitation was unusual for her. Then she flicked her head, as if dismissing the feeling that had descended on her, then nodded behind and to her left. “The mosquito — looks so much bigger than the ones we have today.”

“I guess I had never noticed that before.” Sumeet had also learned that continuing with polite banter was the best strategy for having Jane open up.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about another bug lately — ever since I woke up that Monday morning, and the world had changed.” She lowered the ball, looked directly at Dr. Patel. “Have you ever read the story called ‘Metamorphosis’?”

Sumeet’s eyes widened, his head tilted back in recognition. “Ah, yes! Kafka.” Comparative Literature, junior year, completed his humanities requirement. “Perhaps the greatest first line in literary history!”

Jane smiled. “When Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from unsettling dreams . . .

Sumeet took the hint from her trailing voice. “. . . he realized he had turned into a giant dungbettle.

“Cockroach, actually.”

“My professor explained that the actual German word he uses is best translated as vermin.” Sumeet was pleased at how the story and his professor’s lectures came back to him so quickly. “Kafka never does say exactly what type of creature Gregor turns into.”

“Or how he got that way.”

Sumeet tilted his head back again. “So you’re saying that Gregor’s experience is a lot like your own.” There was no hint of a question in his voice.

Jane snorted. “Well I don’t remember having bad dreams Sunday night, but the part about waking up and everything being different and you can’t figure out why — yeah.”

“But Gregor turns into a cockroach. Is that how you feel?”

Jane snorted again, smiled derisively as she waved a hand in dismissal. “See, that’s what everybody gets wrong about the story.”

Literary analysis was not one of Sumeet’s strengths or even interests — in just two sentences, he had already stated all he could remember about Kafka — but it was evident that Jane’s interest in the story was significant. “Please, go on.”

Jane Summers stood, walked back to the bookshelf, her face coming in then out of the fading light from the autumnal sun angling through the windows, and picked up the amber ball. Stared down at the mosquito trapped inside. “I was reading the story again last night, and remembered what struck me the first time I read it, about a decade ago.” She looked up at Sumeet. “You ever wonder why Gregor Samsa stays so calm after he turns into a bug?”

“Hmmm.” Sumeet actually had never wondered, in fact hardly remembered anything about the story after its memorable opening sentence. “It’s been a long time since my undergraduate days, Jane. Could you refresh my memory?”

He never complains.” Jane walked over to Sumeet’s desk, placed the amber ball down. “Never asks, why is this happening to me? Doesn’t try to figure out a cure. What he worries about, is how he’ll keep his job, and take care of his family, and keep all the furniture in his room.” She spread her arms wide. “Now that he’s this giant cockroach.”

Sumeet twitched his head in agreement. “All right, you’ve identified some kind of theme in ‘The Metamorphosis.’ May I ask — ” he extended his right arm towards Jane — “why do you find Gregor’s reaction so interesting.”

Jane lowered her arms, then picked up the amber ball, walked back to the shelf where she had found it. “Gregor remains calm — because he thinks he’s normal.” She placed the ball back on the shelf, turned suddenly to Dr. Patel. “The only thing that’s wrong, is that everyone else doesn’t realize that they’re just like him. That we’re all just a bunch of bugs.”

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