I read Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis for the first time in high school AP English class. At that time, I loathed it. I don’t exactly remember why, except that the apple rotting in Gregor’s back really grossed me out. I wrote a mediocre essay about how the novella urged us to accept those with differences. I guess I was on the right track with it, but I certainly didn’t give it the credit it deserved.
For years now, I’ve toyed with adding it to my own AP Literature curriculum. This was the year that it finally happened. After the reading the second part of the novella, during a class discussion, I shared this quote from “Reading for Constructions of the Unspeakable: Teaching Kafka’s Metamorphosis” by Margaret Sönser Breen:
One of the most challenging issues confronting secondary and university teachers is how to teach subjects that have been labelled “off limits,” either by school boards or institutional policies or, more pervasively if vaguely, by cultural norms. Discussions of non-normative or minority genders and sexualities are for this reason muted or silenced within educational contexts, ironically the very contexts ostensibly committed to social change and betterment. Teachers are often caught in a battle between idealism and pragmatism: how is one to afford students opportunities for thinking about such typically unspeakable matters as non-normative genders or sexual practices if, in doing so, teachers face the very real risk of not being tenured or of losing their jobs?
This really cracked the story open for the students and made it meaningful to them–they’re in a maelstrom of sex and gender identity issues and rights. By the time we got to the end of the story, many were properly creeped out by the physical, sexual objectification of Gregor’s sister Gretta, seeing the onus of gender expectation now falling heavily on her shoulders. They also easily identified it as an allegory for mental health diseases, especially depression.
And of course, reading it as an adult and being a much better reader in general, this story has become deeply affecting to me. So between correcting the wrongs of my education with my students and transforming my own understanding of the novella, teaching The Metamorphosis this year has been a total win.
Even more so have been some of the student projects created. Here are three student film shorts all reinterpreting The Metamorphosis. Enjoy!
The first is a “Bohemian Rhapsody”/Metamorphosis parody.
The next is a parody of the Sarah McLachlan animal cruelty ads.
The last is a short film loosely based on The Metamorphosis with a touch of “Harrison Bergeron” thrown in. It’s my favorite.