Cockroaches and Prisons

1. What is the relationship between Gregor and his family? What clues in the story suggest that his relationship with his family, particularly his father, is unsatisfactory?

Gregor and his family seem to go through life without really seeing each other. Gregor gets up every morning, goes to work to pay his parents’ debts off, and comes home (when he’s not travelling for his job). He’s bored with his life, but doesn’t do anything to change it — his first thought when he wakes up as a cockroach was that he was late for work! And not only is he bored, he tends to blame his family for his unhappiness and the job he has; apparently, his parents are in terrible debt to the owner of the company where Gregor works. His family doesn’t seem to think much of him either; though they were at first happy and relieved to accept his paychecks every week, it becomes part of the routine and are soon accepted without emotion. Gregor’s father, in particular , doesn’t really seem to care much for him. After a little while as a cockroach, the father begins trying to beat him back with a cane, and later throws apples at him.

2. Discuss the central events in each of the three sections of the Metamorphoses. In what ways do these events suggest that the weakening of Gregor results in the strengthening of the family as a whole?

When Gregor first turns into a cockroach, the family is (obviously) shocked: since when do people just wake up as cockroaches!? However, since he was the only breadwinner in the family, someone clearly needs to get working to provide some kind of income. They call a family meeting to discuss finances and we learn that although they aren’t quite destitute, they also don’t have a huge amount of savings. Later, while learning to deal with Gregor’s “condition’, the family comes together to figure out what to do. We learn that Gregor’s entire family have all taken jobs and that one room of the house has been rented out to boarders to make up for his lack of income. Then, after Gregor’s death, we see the family come together once again when they decide to move to a smaller and cheaper apartment. I wonder what happened to Gregor’s body? No one ever seemed to want to even get close to him, let alone touch him.

3. How effective do you find Akhmatova’s Requiem as a political protest? Requiem was not published until well after the purges were over and Stalin was dead; is it, then, totally lacking in influence?

I loved this poem, even though it described the horrors of war, revolution, and dictatorship. Had she been allowed to publish it while Stalin was alive, Requiem would have been one heck of a political protest. It invokes images of a weeping mother standing at the gate of a prison, along with hundreds of other mothers, waiting to see her son, imprisoned for some made up charge. Even though the protest came too late for it to be effective against Stalin, I’m sure it also reminded the public of the terrors that dictatorship can bring, and I’m sure no one wanted that again!

4. How should we interpret the famous command at the end of Archaic Torso of Apollo?

From what it sounds like, Rilke had somewhat of a traveler’s heart, never happy in one place for too long and always searching for his meaning in life. By portraying the statue of Apollo’s torso as a living, breathing thing that glows with purpose and intent, Rilke is saying that “You should change your life’ — or find the meaning in it, and go out to find your happiness.

3 thoughts on “Cockroaches and Prisons

  1. kjs93

    I agree that the Requiem would have been a good political protest. The government likely saw it as propaganda however. I do wonder how much tragedy has been prevented since the Requiem was published.

  2. jtodd

    I also enjoyed Requiem. I think that it would have had significant influence if it had been published when Stalin was alive and in power. Given the images this poem depicts it is still a very influential piece of work and speaks out against tyranny and oppression.

  3. swhoke

    The quote from Rilke’s poem I agree could be read as advice to live your life looking for happiness, but I also found that it could be seen as a threat, as it states “for here there is no place that does not see you” this could be a biblical type threat, or not. great post I enjoyed reading your views.

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